The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol Review – Spiritual Successor Minus The Success

If you know anything about my gaming tastes, then you probably know that my love for Dead Space runs deep. I’ve done deep dives into the design of this title, raved about the incredible zero HUD design for over a decade now, and braved every dark and dingy corridor, fighting all manner of necromorphs as I went.

Even in Dead Space 3, which was a regrettable decision, to say the least. So when I heard that Glen Schofield had essentially got the band back together in the form of the new team, Striking Distance, to form a new Dead-Space-esque title, I was over the moon. A modern-day Dead Space on current-gen hardware, with a Dead Space remake on the horizon. I felt genuinely spoiled.

Well, that was until I sat down with The Callisto Protocol and realized that perhaps Striking Distance had taken the Dead-Space clone label a little too literally. The game keeps some of the finest parts of the beloved survival horror franchise, but also omits some key features, while failing to innovate in areas that could have done with a facelift. Then combine this with a rather generic story, performance issues, hit-and-miss combat, and a lack of tension and dread, and you have a game that simply can’t come close to its inspiration.

Here’s the important caveat though, folks. This game was never going to be as good as Dead Space; if you went in with that expectation, I’ll come out and say it, you were a fool. This game is a great attempt at trying to capture that lightning in a bottle once again, and while it’s far from perfect, it has its moments. That being said, is it worth your time and money? Well, let me answer this and much more in our The Callisto Protocol Review; enjoy!

Dark, Dingy, Delightful

Let’s kick things off with a positive aspect of this game, the way it looks. The Callisto Protocol is an extremely striking game, and it manages to do that with a very muted color palette. Due to the fact that this game largely happens in narrow, dark, borderline claustrophobic hallways, the game has to be very clever in how it presents itself.

Thankfully, the team knocks this out of the park. Every hallway has clearly been hand-crafted and feels different from the last. This is done through the use of innumerable unique vent designs, which often have monsters stuffed in there, waiting to pop out. However, it’s also through the visceral blood splatter, the sludge found in waste disposal, the flora found in the Botanical section, or the sea of guts found in the forgotten colony.

The callisto protocol Shooting
Black and grey as far as the eye can see, yet through great lighting and asset design, the game shines

What I’m getting at here is that with just a small pop of color and some unique, visceral assets, the game keeps areas feeling distinct and fresh. Then when you combine that with the immaculate visual rendering and you have a graphical showcase that’s hard to beat. I do have some bones to pick, though, and that’s purely down to performance. Now I don’t want to be too critical, as this is the first release from what is essentially a AA studio, but if you run with the big boys, you get judged on their level.

During my playthrough, there was a lot of screen tearing, frame drops, and on two occasions, the game decided to crash completely. I don’t expect a lot, but I expect the game to run without crashing. Overall, it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but it was enough to mar it slightly for sure.

It Couldn’t Make You Care

In the paraphrased words of Frank Sinatra, this game’s story could not make me care. Not one bit. Here’s the thing about Dead Space, on the surface, it seemed like a game that leaned on its gameplay, and the story was a bit of an afterthought, which to an extent, was true. However, it made up for this with rich lore and a story that grew as the game went on, letting the player unravel a mystery in the form of environmental clues, logs, and exposition.

The Callisto Protocol tries to go with a more character-led story, complete with very commendable voice-acting performances from Josh Duhamel, Zeke Alton, and Karen Fukuhara. However, that was never what the team was good at.

you cant keep running from what you have done
The performances were strong, but the writing and overall plot were far from it

They were astoundingly good at building rich worlds, packed with lore, and then the player would fill in the blanks to get the full picture. Kind of like a Soulsborne game. The Callisto Protocol sadly only does this through logs that you can’t play aloud as you progress, making them less likely to be listened to, and aside from a few secret rooms hinting at, surprise, surprise, a secret religious cult, there isn’t a lot to discover here. What that leaves is a rather tepid action story where protagonist Jacob Lee, not to be mistaken with My Name is Earl actor Jason Lee, must escape prison and get off the planet, Callisto.

The characters just aren’t deep enough to make you connect with them. The cause of the infection and the lore that connects this world isn’t cohesive or engaging enough, and while the plot twists throughout are pretty cool, it just isn’t enough to make me say that this story is a blockbuster hit. This, in movie terms, is a straight-to-DVD sci-fi film starring probably The Rock or Dave Bautista as the lead, and that, for me, was a little underwhelming.

The Longer The Note, The Longer The Dread

Paraphrasing another great man, Super Hans, the longer the note, the longer the dread. It might not have worked out for Mama’s Kumquat, Curse These Metal Hands, or whatever their band name was at the time, but Striking Distance seems to know how to do excellent horror sound design

. This is hardly a surprise as Dead Space had some truly groundbreaking sound elements like the A.L.I.V.E system, Audio Occultation, and the compositions of Jason Graves, and while The Callisto Protocol doesn’t innovate too much here, these practices are still impeccable in 2022.

When standing still in desolate corridors, crawling through vents, trudging through literal human waste, or blasting chunks off of mutant freaks, the score compliments each action; the ambient noise makes you question whether you are truly safe to turn the next corner, or let your guard down, and the variety of sounds had me thinking, this foley artist deserves a raise, and a big one at that. Great horror starts with great sound design, and The Callisto Protocol takes full marks in this category.

A Literal Swing And A Miss

Okay, here’s where things start to roll downhill, and that metaphorical boulder really picks up speed fast. Right from the outset, in fact, because the melee combat in this game, I don’t think I’m being harsh here, is pitiful. Unlike most survival horror games out there, Dead Space gave players all the tools they could possibly need to take on a mutant horde, and still, the player felt underequipped due to the insurmountable odds of fending off an army of Necromorphs. Whereas in the Callisto Protocol, you still have these insurmountable odds, but now you have a Shock Baton to defend yourself with, and for at least an hour of gameplay, that’s your lot. 

This could be easily overlooked if the melee combat was well implemented, but it fails on two counts. One that I feel is my own personal issue, and one that is just poor game design. Firstly, I just wholeheartedly disliked the blocking and dodging mechanics. The player has to read the movement of the enemy and use the thumbstick to move left or right to dodge. It works to an extent, and I can see why some people like it, but here’s my issue.

You use the same thumbstick to move your character, meaning that you can’t try and move to a better position while you dodge. You have to stand there, wait for the attack, and then parry. So being the dynamic player I am, this led to me waggling the thumbstick manically as I moved to hopefully dodge incoming attacks, and this worked in a pinch. 

walking through a hallway full of blood
Why would I batch them with a stick when I could grind them into mush with this thing?

However, this lack of dynamic movement only serves to highlight the real issue with melee combat. When you have to fight more than one enemy at a time, you’re pretty much screwed. You can’t lock in on more than one enemy, meaning you can’t see incoming attacks unless you have a line of sight, and therefore, melee quickly becomes a terrible last resort option.

Yet the game doesn’t give the player enough bullets throughout levels to completely remove it from the equation, so this mechanic rears its ugly more than it should, and for me, it killed the fluidity of combat. 

All Feels Right For A Moment

Is combat all bad, though? No, not at all. Once the game semi-retires the melee combat and gives you a small arsenal of guns, things are much more fluid and fun. The game gives the player a couple of options like a pistol, a riot shotgun, an assault rifle, and then less notably, another lesser pistol and a pistol shotgun hybrid to maim and dismember enemies.

Gunplay doesn’t quite hit the highs of Dead Space’s beloved dismemberment system, but it finds a happy medium between tactical limb shooter, and mindless, shoot-for-the-head FPS. Which usually means blowing their legs off, and stomping on their head. 

gear selection
The Gunplay, and the upgrades that led to alternative fire options, were probably the highlight of The Callisto Protocol

However, if bullets aren’t your thing, you can also make use of the stasis replacement, the GRP, which allows you to use telekinetic powers to launch projectiles and enemies themselves into conveniently placed contraptions and spiky surfaces.

I would be lying if I thought it was as useful as Dead Space’s stasis mechanic, but it was a pretty satisfying addition nonetheless, and when the bullets run dry, it beats the hell out of melee, that’s for damn sure. 

Yet even with this flurry of fun combat options, there were still issues that caused major frustration, and again, it’s just poor game design. Not something I associate with a Glen Schofield ran project. When you try to switch weapons, you have to use the directional buttons and then pick from a rather tiny menu.

Then as if that’s not awkward enough, the animations take an age to play, leading to moments where you get hit, have to block, or try to fire too early, which cancels the animation and puts you in a tricky spot. 

Dont make a sound graffiti
Okay, I’ll be real sneaky. *proceeds to chuck screaming mutants into spikes*

Then to wrap up combat, we have to talk about stealth, which tries to replicate the sections in The Last of Us where you encounter Clickers, but instead manages to offer a breezy middle section of the game which opens a metaphorical door and lets all the tension out of the room. The enemy UI isn’t intelligent enough to offer stealth sections with any sort of stakes.

You can sidestep each enemy, get behind them and stab them for a quick kill, even when the others are in a cluster inches away from you. Plus, the game has the gall to write ‘Don’t Make a Sound’ in blood on the wall, but here’s the thing. Provided you crouch and don’t shoot your gun, you can do whatever the hell you like.

Stab them, and they’ll let out a horrible scream. No reaction. Use your GRP and pin one into a spiked wall. No reaction. It’s just a missed opportunity to do something great, a trend that seems to repeat time and time again throughout The Callisto Protocol. 

Cheap Thrills

Now, I know there is a contingent of the gaming community that doesn’t put a lot of stock into revolutionary gameplay, or even good gameplay at that. All you care about, is if the game is scary. Well, The Callisto Protocol went big on the marketing for this game, and promised a lot in terms of spooks. I believe the company line was ‘The Callisto Protocol wants to S**t you up.’

This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in my head, as it reminded me of a certain marketing campaign for John Romero’s Daikatana, where he ensured us that his game would make us its B**ch. As many will know, Daikatana didn’t deliver on that promise, and it seems that The Callisto Protocol has fallen into the same trap.

someone asking for help
Moments like this helped remind the player that danger is everywhere

On a positive note, the game manages to keep a base level of tension and uncertainty through premeditated events where enemies run past openings, suck up corpses into vents above, and reanimate for no good reason. Plus, the aforementioned sound design cements the idea that these enemies could be anywhere, meaning players will get in the habit of walking around with their guns raised. When the game lets the atmosphere and general gameplay do the heavy lifting, the game is pretty creepy. However, it’s the bells and whistles that drag down the whole experience. 

In the world of horror, a good jumpscare is golden, but to make a good jumpscare, you must build tension to unbearable levels to make it land, and you have to use them sparingly, or players become desensitized. Well, The Callisto Protocol missed the memo because there are tonnes of them in here, and to make matters worse, they are effectively reused assets.

Things like bugs jumping out of lockers and chests or the extending head enemies reaching out and biting you. It all just feels cheap. You can see it coming a mile away, and even if you can’t, the last one probably happened a few minutes before, so it’s not like the tension has had time to build. 

Frozen soldiers
Wait a minute. Is this a reference to the U.S. Office? It has to be, right?

Oh, and if you happen to anticipate a jump scare, like something around the corner perhaps, the game’s musical crescendo will loop as if the event is happening over and over again while you peer around the corner. If jump scares were used less regularly and weren’t as telegraphed, this probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but now it’s something they’ll need to patch out instead.

I am not a hardened horror gaming fanatic, and I do scare pretty easily, and I was not once scared throughout this game, often meeting jumpscares with a sigh or by mumbling, ‘yep, of course.’ It’s horror 101, and it’s so shocking that such esteemed horror pros have failed at the basics. 

The Missing Parts

Then before we wrap up, I want to talk about some glaring omissions that I noticed in this game when compared to Dead Space, and while I know The Callisto Protocol is its own entity, when you follow the Dead Space blueprint practically to the letter, you invite this kind of comparison.

Firstly, why was there no navigation added within the game at all? In Dead Space, Issac’s suit had a function that allowed you to create a holographic line roughly leading you to your goal. Whereas in this game, you would have to mindlessly wander until you found what you were looking for. This led to a lot of needless backtracking on my end, and there seems to be no good reason why they couldn’t have implemented something here. 

Second, exploration in this game is practically pointless. Almost every side room is empty, and those that have resources tend to be a handful of credits, of which there aren’t enough within the game, in my opinion. Aside from a couple of secret rooms, which are hard to miss anyway, exploration won’t help you stock up on ammo, credits, or anything of note to the extent that you need. This leads to some frustrating checkpoints where you will have to work with what you have through no fault of your own, and you know what that means. Melee combat. 

You do occasionally find Bio Implants, which serve as data logs, but I have a bone to pick there too. Why can’t you listen to them as you play? You have to stop what you are doing, find a quiet, safe space, and then listen to the recording in full, before returning to the action. In late 2022, why is that something we have to endure? It’s along the same lines as unskippable cut-scenes, which should be punishable by death. Okay, maybe a little dramatic, but they do suck, and this feature does too. 

Closest Alternatives

If you were a big fan of The Callisto Protocol’s best Dead Scace Impression, and want some more visceral, gory shooters, or some gripping horror, then you might want to check out this assortment of close alternatives. Check them out below: 

  • Dead Space Series
  • Resident Evil Series
  • Bioshock
  • Metro Series
  • Alan Wake
  • Alien: Isolation
  • F.E.A.R Project Origin 

FAQ Section

Question: Is The Callisto Protocol Hard?

Answer: It can be very challenging if you play on the harder modes, or unlock Contagion Mode. However, on the lower levels, the difficulty tends to come through poor game design rather than actually planned difficulty. The boss sections and ambush sections are definitely where you will find yourself dying most.

Question: How Long is The Callisto Protocol? 

Answer: This depends on how adept you are at games such as this, but assuming you don’t get your head stomped by a big brutish mutant too many times, then you should wrap this one up in somewhere between 10-15 hours. 

Question: How Many Weapons Are In The Callisto Protocol?

Answer: There are five guns that the player can acquire. The Hand Cannon, The Skunk Gun, The Riot Shotgun, The Tactical Pistol, and The Assault Rifle. Then there is also the GRP, and the Stun Baton. 

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