Since it came out back in December, The Callisto Protocol has gotten a few free updates. The first one added a new game + mode on the 19th of January. The second added hardcore mode on February 8th. That’s the one that brought me back to the game after not having played it since starting the new game +. The problem for The Callisto Protocol is that right in between these two dates was the release of the Motive Studio Dead Space remake, otherwise known as the game The Callisto Protocol was succeeding. After having played Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol just felt different than it did the first time.
The Connection Between Dead Space and The Callisto Protocol
You may be wondering why compare these two games. Why not Resident Evil and The Callisto Protocol? They’re both survival-horror. This is because Striking Distance Studios, The Callisto Protocol‘s studio, is led by Glen Schofield, who was the executive producer of the original Dead Space games. Until the remake was announced, Dead Space seemed like a dead series. So when The Callisto Protocol began development and people began to learn about it and who was making it, it was dubbed the spiritual successor of Dead Space‘s legacy.
That isn’t the only reason to compare the two games though. Despite numerous differences in the way the games play, if you’ve played Dead Space you will feel it in The Callisto Protocol. Just playing the two games, you can see the inspirational connections. Whether it is in the aggressive stomping of fallen enemies for loot or the fear that an enemy may jump out of the vents, Dead Space‘s infection of The Callisto Protocol is apparent and that’s great. Now before I get into if the successor matches the resurrected legacy, it’s important to note they’re both great games. As such here are links to check out both The Callisto Protocol and Dead Space which are available on most platforms including PC, Xbox Series X/S, and PlayStation 5.
Both games are in the survival-horror genre and are about aliens using human corpses as vessels. On top of that, they’re both led by Glen Schofield. It makes sense that they would have similar atmospheres of horror and paranoia. Whether on Jupiter’s moon or the USG Ishimura, both have a similar sci-fi infection feel. However, there are aspects of The Callisto Protocol that take away from that feeling.
The pit in your stomach isn’t as deep as you trek the halls of Black Iron Prison. The fear comes more in bursts with jump scares seemingly being the most prevalent method of keeping you on your toes. This isn’t true throughout the whole game as there are parts that are nerve-wracking. There just aren’t as many of them as I expected even in my first playthrough.
Dead Space builds your dread with a few factors including dying crew members right before your eyes and the fact you can be jumped by a necromorph at truly any moment. The Callisto Protocol‘s enemy placement is set in stone and there aren’t any moments like the iconic head-banging scene from Dead Space.
Another issue that takes away from the fear factor is the ease with which Jacob dispatches the fallen prisoners or colonists. There is something so much more intimidating about a necromorph when all you can do is run if they get close. On the other hand, Jacob thrives up close and personal dodging enemies like he’s unlocked Ultra Instinct.
These two games have very different ways to play because of added mechanics in The Callisto Protocol. That being said, the question isn’t of how similar the games are but if the changes are an improvement or a detriment. The Callisto Protocol made a number of innovations, some good, some not so much.
One of the two most frustrating things in The Callisto Protocol is the inventory. If you choose to unlock all the guns, you have a total of six weapons. Thankfully they don’t take up inventory space. Their ammo does though. There are also various valuables to sell at the reforge. These do not stack. There are also your heals, which also do not stack.
Now, this wouldn’t be a big problem, Dead Space is the same way. However, in that, you have a maximum of 30 inventory slots. In The Callisto Protocol, you have a maximum of 12. That means if you have even one out-of-clip round for each of your six weapons, half of your inventory is gone. Forcing players to manage inventory is one thing, but this is excessive. This problem is made worse by the fact that you can’t store weapons so you will always have all six and be collecting ammo for all six.
The Callisto Protocol‘s combat system is very fun. Although as mentioned earlier Jacob’s ease of dealing with Black Iron’s various creatures takes away from the fear factor, smacking grunts in the face with a stun baton is satisfying. It is hard to learn and even harder to master. As you get better at timing your swings though it just feels so good. The combination of using melee attacks and then using the quick shot mechanic to stun-lock enemies makes you feel powerful. It’s also worth noting that it isn’t as important to shoot off limbs.
There are some kinks in the system. Namely, the ranged enemies, known as big mouths and the biggest issue, grab attacks. Big mouths force you to either take hits or maneuver around corners which is nearly impossible when a grunt is running you down. It’s manageable, but can be annoying.
The Grab Attack
Now grab attacks are downright frustrating as they’re unavoidable. You can’t block them, you can’t dodge them, you can shoot the enemy maybe if they’re trying to grab you from a distance (they don’t, they’re always in your face). On medium security and lower, this isn’t horrible.
On max security it is frustrating and on hardcore, it is infuriating to the point of not wanting to continue. Even if you can press whatever key or button it is for you to escape like lightning, they will take out a large chunk of your health for free.
And worse, it certainly feels as if they happen more the higher the difficulty you go. In 5 minutes of my hardcore playthrough, I got grabbed more times than my entire first playthrough, and probably more than my entire time playing Dead Space (at least 5 playthroughs).
The Callisto Protocol‘s GRP vs Dead Space‘s Kinesis
While stasis has no mirrored ability in The Callisto Protocol, the GRP fills the role of stasis’ crowd control and kinesis’ lethality. Unlike kinesis, which can only interact with pieces of fallen enemies, the GRP can lift whole, live enemies.
It makes for an interesting and fun new way to deal with enemies by throwing them into each other and environmental hazards. While there aren’t sharp objects to shoot through enemies like you can with kinesis, throwing a grunt into a grinder or off a ledge is just as satisfying.
Traversing the World
One of the best changes that the remake of Dead Space made was allowing you to freely roam the Ishimura. While a game being entirely linear isn’t a problem, it isn’t quite as fun. There isn’t a whole lot of exploration of Black Iron outside of what the game needs to tell the story. However, the reason I bring up traversing the world as a point of comparison isn’t because of this difference.
In Dead Space when you are walking around there are only two instances where something grabs you and interrupts your movement. The game also tracks the player and throws necromorphs at you if it feels you haven’t dealt with them in too long of a time. There is never a dull second.
The Callisto Protocol has plenty of them and some of them are forced on you. There are a series of doors early in the game that you are forced to spam a button or key to open. On top of that, the grab attacks return to cause havoc. At any point, you can wrap a corner and a bloodworm will leap out to drag you into it.
You may also open a loot chest only to get nothing but a parasite leaping on you. There is also an excessive amount of vent crawling. These events are likely supposed to help with immersion and keeping you on edge but they just feel cheap and time-consuming. And one more small note, there is no map, you just kinda have to walk and figure things out.
This is where The Callisto Protocol shines in a spot that Dead Space never touched. The stealth mechanic is a great addition allowing you to become the hunter instead of the hunted. It isn’t forced on you, although it’s definitely highly suggested during a certain section. While it isn’t perfect, it is interesting and fun to use.
The only thing that can really be seen as a negative is when it comes to the enemies designed with the sneaking mechanic in mind. This section is easily one of the creepiest in the game because if you accidently bump the blind enemies, you could be dealing with the horde.
You have to use the sneak to avoid fighting all of them at once because they react to sound. It just ends up a little goofy at points. If you sprint a single step near them, they’ll rush you, but if you brutally stab one right in the middle of a group with Jacob grunting, they don’t react at all.
A common thread among a lot of survival-horror games is doing replays. An example of this is Resident Evil where you wanna try to complete the game as quickly as possible. Dead Space incentivizes this with its impossible mode, achievements, and even the opportunity to unlock a secret ending that is only present in NG+.
The replayability of the remake is amazing. There are very few cutscenes that actually stop the player from being able to move. The diverse spawning of enemies always keeps it fresh. Of course, there is also an impossible mode for players who want a challenge. If you’d like some tips you can check out my impossible mode guide here.
The Callisto Protocol has little replayability. The game is fun overall, but there are a lot of things that just bog down each subsequent playthrough. The beginning of the game is long and uneventful for someone who has played it already. The cutscenes are also long and even worse they’re unskippable. Then of course there are the issues I mentioned about the combat and exploration of the world. It makes for a lot of moments where I was left saying, “just get on with it, I wanna fight zombies.”
Dead Space and The Callisto Protocol share similar stories, but they’re different. It is a spiritual successor, not a sequel/prequel. Of course, there are going to be similar elements but they’re unrelated at their core. Both games have a great narrative, a great cast, and a great universe to build/rebuild.
The protagonist of each game deserves a special mention. Of course, Gunner Wright returns as Isaac Clarke delivering a great performance, and Josh Duhamel delivers an equally impressive performance as Jacob Lee. The villains of both are also wonderfully twisted. Dr. Mercer is the creator of the Hunter, the most fearsome necromorph. On the other hand, Warden Cole is pursuing human evolution at any cost.
The Callisto Protocol does have some weird little plot moments that don’t make a whole lot of sense or seem a bit cheesy. That’s to be expected from a brand new universe and it’s nothing that Dead Space escapes from either.
Does The Callisto Protocol live up to Dead Space?
For writing this article I played through both games again, one campaign after the other. Undeniably the remake of Dead Space was better. It’s also important to note that it was built from an already-established game. The Callisto Protocol had to be built from the ground up in every aspect. Did it match its spiritual predecessor? No. Will fans of Dead Space still enjoy it? Probably. Did it capture a similar vibe and bring us something new and exciting? Yes, one hundred percent. It isn’t Dead Space and it was never meant to be.
Like I said in the beginning they’re both fantastic games and I would recommend them both. I do recommend that you play The Callisto Protocol before Dead Space to avoid falling into the comparison trap but they’re both worth playing regardless. Hopefully both games continue with their own separate franchises so we can all get our fill of fighting necromorphs and biophage monsters alike. I know I’m looking forward to The Callisto Protocol‘s dlc which is set to release at some point in the summer.