The wait is finally over and The Callisto Protocol is available. As the first game from Striking Distance Studios, the new development studio led by Dead Space creator Glen Schofield, excitement and hype have been orbiting this game since its announcement. What initially started as a story set within the PUBG universe, The Callisto Protocol officially spiraled into its own entity.
Since the announcement trailer was released at The Game Awards last year, fans of the survival horror genre, and Dead Space in particular, have been anxious for its release. Traveling to the Black Iron prison colony on Jupiter’s moon is now available and the experience is different than expected.
Though gorgeous to look at and listen to, in a grotesque sort of way, the story is rather simple, and the mechanics seem dated. All of this, however, is where the beauty of The Callisto Protocol lies. Despite the obvious flaws and weaknesses, the game succeeds where it matters the most; it is incredibly entertaining.
The Callisto Protocol is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
This review contains minor spoilers for The Callisto Protocol.
Story- A New Approach to a Classic Story
While avoiding major spoilers, The Callisto Protocol does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to science-fiction horror. As it turns out, that is not necessarily a bad thing. New, mind-blowing, innovative stories are always welcome, yet the comfort food of something simple and enjoyable is great for the early winter. A playthrough should take around 6 hours, making The Callisto Protocol the perfect fit for a long evening or a few bursts over the course of a couple of days.
In short, the main character is a cargo pilot named Jacob Lee, played by Josh Duhamel (Transformers and Movie 43.) A failed boarding attempt by Dani Nakamura, played by Karen Fukuhara (The Boys and Bullet Train), causes them to crash land on Jupiter’s moon Callisto.
Jacob is wrongfully imprisoned, and when he awakes, the prison has plunged into chaos. Various infected and mutated humans wander the prison on a hunt for blood and carnage. Unbeatable robot security systems continue their patrol looking to exterminate all potential threats and further spread of the infection. Allies are sought and mysteries quickly unravel as to what is happening and how it all began.
The Callisto Protocol takes notes from science fiction horror across all mediums. Whether other games, books, movies, or shows, this game is a sum greater than its parts. Twists are surprising without crossing the line into the realm of not making sense. Characters are fun and not comically overdeveloped to drive the point home of what niche they fill. Everything moves at a balanced pace allowing the player to chew on the new revelations while never growing bored from slogging to the next story beat with needless filler.
Gameplay- Fun, but at a Cost
The Callisto Protocol handles and feels like a PlayStation 3-era game. From interacting with objects and the environment to fighting enemies plays out more like a relic of gaming from over a decade ago. There have been a few noticeable enhancements that were not possible in generations passed, but those hinge on the use of the DualShock control for garnishes of haptic feedback.
Movement, whether walking through a claustrophobic corridor or dodging an enemy attack, is clunky. Each step feels heavy and every dodge is just a matter of tapping the left thumbstick. Melee combat, which was heavily featured in marketing material, is little more than hacking and slashing through grotesque mutations. Ranged weapons offer the basic variety of handguns, shotguns, and rifles; much is the standard. Getting a hand on the grip, or glove that gives telekinetic-like abilities, offers a touch of versatility.
The addition of enhancing weapons of choice is a nice touch but of very little consequence. Nearly every encounter is clearly telegraphed as approachable through melee attacks or not. If not, which gun is used does not matter all that much. This is a bit of a letdown in that weapons variety is more of an illusion. But, the other side of the coin shows this is a blessing in its own way. Weapon use becomes less about optimization and more about playing what feels fun.
Some other gameplay choices fail to add tension as much as frustration. Checkpoints are few and far between. This means one wrong move during a swarm attack can cost five or more minutes of progression. Though this raises the stakes, it causes more of a sigh and eye roll after a gruesome death animation. Healing with a health injector takes time, between five and ten seconds, during which Jacob can still be attacked. Seeking safety is a must, but oftentimes just cumbersome during a fight.
The Callisto Protocol does not offer innovative systems or mechanics that will change the way games of the same genre are designed moving forward. Instead, the game gives the player familiar systems that focus on fun with a few failed attempts at tension. There is a hint of nostalgia when using these mechanics, which is a treat once embraced. However, not knowing this at the start expectations may hinder the enjoyability.
Audio/Graphics- Artful Splatters and Squeals
Regardless of what else is said about The Callisto Protocol, one thing cannot be denied: the game is absolutely gorgeous. Though it may play like a classic game finally available through backward compatibility, it looks and sounds like a modern generation game.
The characters are nearly flawless recreations of the actors portraying them. Narrow passages with realistic blood splatters are beyond masterfully rendered. The squelching of corpses being drug into vents and the buzzing of flies around a laundry bin overflowing with limbs are almost too realistic. Few games have succeeded in nearly complete immersion for such a foreign setting in the way that The Callisto Protocol has.
One of the most important things to note in The Callisto Protocol is the importance of dying. This may seem counterintuitive to video games, but the death animations are incredibly well done and hauntingly unique. Whenever a new enemy type is encountered or a different location is opened up, it is worth dying a time or two. Compilations are available online, but the seer spectacle of Jacob getting limbs torn off and his face smashed in is something to be experienced while playing.
The Callisto Protocol is a wonderfully flawed gaming experience. Within the tight corridors of Black Iron are some odd development choices that do not give the best playtime. Many of the problems may have been improved with more polish. But it shines brighter than most others when approached as a simplistically vile horror game. Much like the cult classic movie The Evil Dead 2, The Callisto Protocol is an independently-minded darling with a AAA coat of paint and blood. Its relatively short playthrough only aids in the rapid and stressful pace. Though it may not revolutionize the world of horror games it will surely develop its own dedicated community dripping with blood and guts.
The Callisto Protocol was reviewed on PS5.