Image via Striking Distance Studios
Survival horror is making a comeback thanks to series like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dead Space making returns with sequels or remakes. But with a juggernaut like those still playing the field, how does a newcomer like Callisto Protocol stand up? Powered by a new studio on a new engine, it sure has a lot to prove.
Players control pilot Jacob Lee as he is about to leave the Black Iron Prison on the moon of Callisto. Jacob and his partner have been running out of jail for some time now with the promise of one last job enough to retire. Meanwhile, in the Jovian system where Jacob works, a terrorist organization has been spreading a biological weapon on moons like Europa. When the supposed leader of the terrorists attacks Jacob’s ship, it crashes back on Callisto, where he and Commander Danny are imprisoned. Soon after waking up in a dungeon, Jacob finds that Hell has broken through and must find a way away from Callisto.
If you played the original Dead Space, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what happens in The Callisto Protocol. The larger narrative beats are almost directly quoted from the aforementioned title. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not inspiring. It’s pretty predictable, from the characters and their motivations to the larger plot points. It’s disappointing, to say the least.
The prison escape story sets the stage for shadowy organizations, plots, and a predictable source of monsters that plague Black Iron Prison. The bulk of the narrative is held up in the first half as Jacob has to navigate the prison like a lost puppy. It’s about halfway through where a large gallery dump takes place in the form of several short 3D projections. By the time this happens, most players should have figured out what’s going on.
When it comes to seeing the final innings play, so is it. There is no emotional attachment to any characters, no real desire to see any of them escape, and nothing to prevent the story from being full of metaphors. Callisto Protocol had the chance to do something new and cool here, but instead chose to put a coat of paint on an old project.
Related: Tips and tricks for mastering GRP in the Callisto protocol
Visuals and performance
The only thing the Callisto protocol does is the visual section. From the perpetually sweating Jacob to the horrifically altered inmates and dark corridors of Black Iron Prison to the desolate landscapes of Callisto, it is all a feast for the eyes. There’s a lot of detail in almost every aspect of the Callisto protocol, and it really shows the power of the Unreal Engine 5 core engine.
However, the Callisto Protocol also works beautifully on PlayStation 5. Within twelve hours of playing the title, we encountered one random crash, which didn’t result in any lost progress. Everything ran at a stable frame rate and there wasn’t much stuttering or stuttering, no matter how much clutter was made on the screen.
Much like the story, the gameplay is where Callisto Protocol suffers. The problem is twofold: the bulk of the gameplay is lifted from Dead Space and the game is pretty intense in terms of gameplay. There are only two notable differences that separate the Callisto Protocol from Dead Space. The first is that there is a much greater emphasis on melee combat and the second is that it is not necessary to shoot the limbs of enemies.
However, the rest is pretty much the same. Should Jacob find blueprints for the weapons to make, he uses GRP. GRP is a shoddy version of Dead Space’s Kinesis system, with tentacles blown up instead of severing limbs, trampling enemies yields loot, and Jacob’s vitals are displayed via 3D indicators on his back.
It’s not that the gameplay is uninspired because it’s just awful compared to Dead Space, which did everything better 14 years ago. GRP is short-lived and does not have the same mechanics as hitting enemies with bolts or other environmental weapons. Sure, there are spiked walls and fans, but that’s it. GRP hasn’t even been used to solve puzzles, which is a huge missed opportunity.
Found audio logs are not automatically played like they did in Dead Space, which locks the player in a menu and takes them out of the game. Swapping weapons is an absolute pain as it requires multiple button presses and leaves Jacob open to attack. Healing cannot be done completely during combat due to the long, choppy animation. The GRP’s auto-recharge doesn’t work properly, forcing players to frantically go into their inventory and fire off a battery, all while hoping enemies don’t get a cheap shot. Finally, all reloads must be done manually which opens up a player with a lot of cheap shots when trying to make a quick attack just to fire the gun click.
Evasion is a great mechanic that falls at the end. Players must hold the left analog stick in one direction as the attack approaches and alternate sides with each attack. It’s not a terrible system except for not being able to read the attacks properly. This simply results in the stick being held in alternating directions if the enemy is not finished.
All of this is not repeated. What complicates this is that, even on the easiest difficulty settings, Callisto Protocol is a pretty brutal game that will always keep players low on resources. So, it doesn’t help when players have to fight the controls and mechanics as much as the actual enemies in the game.
Related: Fundamentals of Combat in the Callisto Protocol
There are no features as much as there is a lack of features. Many of the single-player games this generation and those before include some sort of New Game+ option, or chapter selection. This is not the case in the Callisto protocol. Players are locked in and must complete the gameplay from start to finish, and once done, that’s it. There’s no undoing a save to a new gameplay stage, no upgrades to look forward to if you’re at the bottom, and no way to go back and grab things you might have missed.
It’s a baffling decision that kills all replay value. Sure, you could replay it on a higher difficulty level, but why? Unless you’re playing on the highest difficulty to get the trophy, you won’t earn anything. There’s nothing in the way of secret endings or anything with hidden-in-the-back-consequences, so why would gamers check them out again?
Upgrades are limited to weapons and GRP. Jacob only gets one suit in the game, which cannot be upgraded. Due to the single-player design, players must choose one or two weapons to fully upgrade and ignore the rest due to limited resources. It’s just bad design all around.
Referee – missed opportunities
I hate to say it, I really do. I love survival horror, and I was genuinely excited about The Callisto Protocol. He nabbed some of my favorite talented actors and they looked great. But once inside, I discovered that it was just a lackluster simulation of a game that came out over a decade ago. With that being said, it’s good that Callisto Protocol came out before the Dead Space remake because if the landing sticks (it doesn’t even need to be that amazing), it will blow the Callisto Protocol out of the water.
This was an opportunity to do something bold and new with a new IP. Instead, they are dissipated, rehashing ideas we’ve already seen explored and to much better effect. If you’re still interested in playing, I highly advise waiting for it to go on sale. It certainly isn’t worth the full price of admission in its current state. However, if New Game + mode is added, it will make the game infinitely better just by adding replay value. But for now, save your money.
We have received this code from KRAFTON, Inc. for review purposes.
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