The Callisto Protocol
(available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC)
(PlayStation 5 version used for review)
One of the most beloved and highly acclaimed horror series to come out in the 2000’s is the Dead Space franchise. The series (or the first two games in all honesty) got wide praise for its atmosphere, unique gameplay gimmicks and gore. After the tragic closing of Visceral Games horror fans thought we would never get a horror experience like it again. That was until the announcement of The Callisto Protocol, which presented itself as a spiritual successor to Dead Space – it was even directed by one of Dead Space’s co-creators. Now that a remake of Dead Space has been announced and is coming out later this month, the question is, does this do a good job at recapturing the horror of its predecessor, or is it just another failed revival. The Callisto Protocol was released on 2nd December 2022, for Playstation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X & One and Steam.
In The Callisto Protocol you play as Jacob Lee, a cargo transporter who, with your partner Max Barrow, had just finished a job transporting goods from Europa to the Black Iron Prison on Callisto, with promises that this job will be the last. On your way back to Europa, your ship is infiltrated by the Outer Way, a group who was responsible for a terrorist attack on Europa. This encounter leads to your ship crash landing back onto Callisto, killing Max in the process. After the crash you and the leader of Outer Way, Dani Nakamura, are arrested for unspecified charges and are taken into the Black Iron Prison on the orders of Leon Ferris, Head of Security. After passing out and waking up in a prison cell, Jacob discovers that things are very wrong. The prison has been overrun by monsters that are almost zombie-like named Biophages. After escaping your cell and with the help of fellow prisoner Elias you have one task: find a way out of this damn prison. The story is fine, it’s well told and has interesting characters, but it’s not insanely compelling and does feel like a plot you’ve likely played in other horror games.
When it comes to looks, the game looks amazing. The level of detail is staggering, from the menacing environments to the photo realistic character models to the levels of brutality with the gore. This is one of the best looking horror games I’ve ever played, on the same level as Resident Evil 7 & 8 if you ask me. Performance wise, I had absolutely no problems, I ran the game in performance mode and it ran at a very consistent 60fps, if there were any frame dips I didn’t notice. However, I was playing on PS5 and while I haven’t heard anything about last gen consoles, the PC port of this game unfortunately doesn’t run that well, so I would advise against playing that version. The game, in my opinion, absolutely nails its atmosphere. It really makes you feel the isolation as you wander the prison, trudging through dark areas and claustrophobic corridors, knowing that a grotesque monster could be around any corner, heightened by the haunting ambience of the game’s soundtrack. Even if most of the scares are just monsters jumping out at you, I still think that the game does a pretty good job of capturing what made just walking around in Dead Space unnerving.
If you were expecting this game to play exactly like Dead Space does, you’re likely gonna be disappointed, as this game plays very differently to how that series did. For starters, this game has a very heavy emphasis on melee combat. While there are ranged weapons, if you play like me you’ll find yourself using your baton more often. However with melee combat, it’s somewhat of a mixed bag. When combat starts, you’re automatically locked onto the enemy in front of you. Combat mostly focuses on timing your attacks with the enemies, attacking is slow so you’ll have to make sure the enemy’s not planning on striking you before you attempt a swing. When an enemy attacks, you have to hold the left thumbstick to the side in order to dodge it, if the enemy attacks again immediately after you have to change the direction you’re holding the stick. There’s no specific timing involved with dodging, you just have to be holding the stick. This mechanic is what will likely kill the game for you. It’s painfully obvious that this style of combat is more suited to one on one fights, meaning that it will be significantly harder if more enemies are around. The dodging can be finicky as well, sometimes it will work perfectly, while others it just won’t with there being no indication on what I did wrong. I, and likely everyone else, would have just preferred it if they just put in a dedicated dodge button, but the fact that we don’t have one just makes it more of a pain than it should be. To make matters worse some enemies will shoot projectiles at you, and the dodging only works against melee attacks, meaning that you have no means of avoiding those attacks which just becomes infuriating after a while. It is a learning curve and if you can learn it it is very satisfying, but I know people who gave up after only a couple of hours as they didn’t like how combat works, and I honestly don’t blame them.
To go along with your melee weapon, you also get a series of guns for ranged combat – well, I say there’s a series of guns but in actuality there’s actually only two that you can change barrels with. As you explore the game you can find schematics for new gun barrels that you can obtain at an upgrade station. I do really suggest looking for these as well, as you’ll likely find some of your favourite weapons by doing this. In fact during melee combat, if you manage to pull off a string of successive attacks, you’ll get a prompt to fire your gun at the enemy you’re attacking to deal some extra damage.
One of the coolest mechanics of the game is the GRP Power Glove. Originally used by the Black Iron’s Wardens, these gloves will let you lift enemies in the air like you’re a jedi and let you fling them across the room. Though you could only hold them for so long as the GRP has a limited battery that will have to refill on its own after use or will require a battery to be recharged instantly. I loved this mechanic, it was a lot of fun being able to fling Biophages around, especially off platform and into fans and spikes to kill them instantly.
Though it’s not just Biophages you’ll have to be careful of. In a couple of sections of the game you’ll have to sneak past robots designed to hunt down any inmates that are trying to escape. These things are a massive threat, as they can and will kill you instantly if they spot and reach you, or in seconds with their turret gun. The only thing you can really do here is sneak up on them and stealth kill them, or get lucky with your shots and manage to get them in the head enough times. These sections are probably my favourite parts of the game, the level of dread I feel in these sections is way higher than in the rest of the game. Which is why it’s such a shame that there’s only a couple of them in the entire game, and one of them is super easy. I would have loved it if there were more of these encounters spread throughout as they were legitimately fun.
As mentioned, one of the main selling points of this game is the level of gore, the amount of blood and guts spilled by the end is enough to fill a septic tank. This isn’t just limited to enemies either, it’s very likely that you’ll see Jacob die in some brutally horrifying ways, from enemies smashing your head in to your body getting diced into pieces. While these deaths can be awesome to witness, admittedly they do lose their magic after a while, with some game overs lasting longer than others as they will show you a cutscene of Jacob dying and some go for a bit too long. It was only in a recent update that you could even skip these, as originally you had to watch them every time you died, which led to some frustration.
Outside of combat, you’ll be exploring Black Iron Prison, progressing the story and gathering resources to help survive the horrors. Resources you find will include Health Injectors, which can each be used once if you need to heal (a process that originally took the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to do, until an update significantly reduced the time of it), though you can also get Health Gels to heal a small bit of health instantly, as well as ammo and Callisto Credits which act as currency. You’ll find all of this either scattered across the prison, or by stomping on enemies after you kill them (I’m not sure why they don’t just drop them after you kill them, but who knows maybe Biophages like shoving bullets up their legs or something). This game continues the tradition that other horror games carry when it comes to inventory space, as it’s very limited and will require you to drop a few things if you find something you desperately need. Though something I’ve noticed is that if I die in a fight in an area a few too many times, the resources I can find before said skirmish will become more and more pitiful, so keep that in mind.
As well as these you can find audio logs from the previous denizens of the prison. These will enhance the lore of the world slightly or will show their final moments before getting their face lobbed off. Some of these are easily found, however others will require you to go out of your way to find them. Personally, I don’t think these are entirely worth it. They seem to be trying to do what Bioshock did but it doesn’t work as well here. What makes it even more annoying is that the audio logs don’t happen automatically and you have to enter the menu just to access them, and to make it worse, if you leave the menu the log will stop, meaning that you just have to sit there and listen when I would much rather be playing the game.
Spread throughout the game are the Reforge Stations, where you can buy and sell anything and upgrade your weapons, these upgrades are mostly just add-ons like increased damage or better stability.
If there’s any complaint that I can think of it’s the lack of map. Yes the game is somewhat linear, but there are also a series of branching paths and some sections where you have to backtrack, so I did find myself getting lost a couple of times. Not enough that it really becomes a detriment to the game, but the fear of getting lost was still there. It didn’t even have to be a map, even just an objective marker would have been better. The only other complaint that I can really think of is with how scary the game is. Now I’m easily scared when it comes to horror games, there are plenty of games that I still haven’t finished specifically because of how scary I find them. And yet, when I played this game, I only felt a slight bit of dread around the beginning and in the robot sections, after a while that dread just went away and didn’t come back. I understand that the game is trying to go more for atmosphere and gore than with anything else, but the lack of fear I felt is still a bit disappointing.
Something that you may have seen online already is that this game has been getting a fair amount of hate, the Youtuber RabbidLuigi and Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation even declared it as one of the worst games of the year. While I do see the criticism and see it as valid, I don’t think this game is nearly as bad as everyone else says it is. In fact I’d even go as far as to say that I actually quite like this game. Yeah it’s not as good as Dead Space and it’s nothing spectacular but I wasn’t really expecting that. I was mostly expecting a sci-fi horror game with a lot of gore and that’s pretty much what I got. Even if it goes against what everyone else is saying, I actually recommend it. If you’re a fan of games like Dead Space or of films like Alien I say this is something you might enjoy.
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant
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