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The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol

The Callisto Protocol is a spiritual successor to Dead Space in many ways. Many aspects are obviously similar: the visual style, story, and diegetic UI design. This is largely due to Striking Distance Studios being former Dead Space developers, and it shows.

While the critical reception to The Callisto Protocol has been largely negative; it begs the question, why? Dead Space is an often beloved seventh gen horror game, and The Callisto Protocol aims to deliver a very similar experience.

What does The Callisto Protocol do so differently from Dead Space that makes fans reject it? Perhaps, The Callisto Protocol isn’t as different as suspected- it is more likely that this horror game is exactly what a current gen Dead Space would be and it utterly filtered the masses. Is this another case of a misunderstood horror game? Find out in our The Callisto Protocol review!

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:

The Callisto Protocol
Developer: Striking Distance Studios
Publisher: KRAFTON Inc.
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: December 2, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $59.99 USD 

Jacob Lee has a problem; he is about to deliver a payload until a militant guerilla hijacks his cargo ship. During the chaos, Jacob’s ship crashes on Callisto – one of Jupiter’s moons – and the wreck is intercepted by a search team from Black Iron, the nearest penal colony.

Jacob gets processed and is put in his cell and it isn’t long before the entire prison is overrun with humanoid abominations. The opening moments of The Callisto Protocol‘s story move briskly and supporting characters are introduced. Elias is a friendly inmate who initiates the escape plot but sadly does not get the development he needs, despite the build-up.

Dani, the sexy guerilla who was the hijacker of Jacob’s ship, ultimately never becomes likable. The Callisto Protocol does the legwork necessary to flesh her character out, but her personality is always stand-offish- even in moments that wouldn’t benefit her.

The scenario has a strong start. The following five to six hours revolve mostly around Jacob’s situation and trying to stay alive while getting from place to place. There isn’t much story that happens for about three-fourths of the game and it isn’t until the last two of the eight chapters that the plot kicks into overdrive.

The Callisto Protocol backloads most of its story. The ending also is very typical of the developers who once made Dead Space games- leaving the player disappointed and hoping for more resolution.

The best narrative in The Callisto Protocol revolves around how Jacob deals with his internal conflict. What makes it work, is his vocal performance and mocap. Josh Duhamel may be a C-list actor in Hollywood, but in this game, he delivers his best performance. His guilt and self-loathing shine through his body language and delusional delivery.

The Callisto Protocol‘s story is disappointingly derivative of Dead Space‘s. The broad strokes are too similar; both games revolve around a cult of power-hungry men who desire immortality and an ancient alien disease that transforms people into grotesque, Cronenbergian atrocities.

Worse yet, The Callisto Protocol fails to be scary and it has to do with a variety of factors. The game’s atmosphere comes off as very standard sci-fi horror. In spite of all the efforts to make this one of the most beautiful and realistic-looking games on the market, it ends up looking like everything you have already seen.

Aping off Dead Space is understandably inevitable, given the developers. After so many horror games in space or derelict bases in other games or films that all rely on the same usual suspects (Alien, The Thing, Event Horizon), the setting feels all too familiar.

There is no restraint at all. The Callisto Protocol is intensely gross and liberal with its depiction of gore and bodily violence. Blood and guts are like spice.

They need to be used to add some flavor without overpowering the main dish. You just become numb to all the entrails and slimy crap on screen to the point where you don’t care anymore.

The other factor why The Callisto Protocol isn’t scary is because its core gameplay is so absurd and over the top that the game becomes too ridiculous to take seriously. Dead Space‘s gimmick was shooting the limbs off of generic body-horror men. The Callisto Protocol is all about bludgeoning them with a stun baton and dodging like a boxer.

The melee-focused combat in The Callisto Protocol is both its greatest asset and the one thing that prevents it from being scary at all. Despite this conundrum, the developers made the right choice by making the core gameplay different from Dead Space.

Jacob is an unbelievably capable melee fighter. His swings have an aggressive force behind them and you really feel the blows connect to the pulpy and gooey soft tissue of the lumpy and deformed boys. Blocking and side-stepping are very easy and rely on how the player tilts the left analog stick. This makes it easy enough for casuals, but also deep enough for hardcore players to experiment.

Combining the Dead Space-style telekinesis and the all-new mechanic where Jacob can quick-aim with his sidearm while mid-combo, The Callisto Protocol has deeper combat than anything seen in The Last Of Us Part II.

Jacob can also make use of his environment to inflict heinous suffering on these poor devils. Using TK on them and sending them into a meat grinder or spiked wall satisfies your inner desire to have fatalities in every game.

The melee is very fleshed out. The only problem with it is that there aren’t enough enemy types to facilitate its flexibility. There are only two to three actual boss fights and for a game that focuses so heavily on watching the enemy tells and pattern recognition; it is a missed opportunity to not have more of them.

The Callisto Protocol is not all just throwing down the gauntlet and giving rectal exams with the fat end of a charged club.

Some encounters can involve stealth and while it is incredibly basic, it is also laughably effective. The blind foes who are susceptible to this are also seemingly deaf since they can hear the loud gurgling and death rattle of their brothers within a yard.

Other times, The Callisto Protocol will throw some scripted set-pieces like most AAA games tend to. A fun water slide that reminds me of the penguin race from Cool Cool Mountain amuses and there is even an MDK-style skydive too.

Some parts of The Callisto Protocol will undoubtedly annoy everyone- even its most dedicated advocates. The scenario is aggressively linear; often shunting the player forwards with no warning, locking them out of exploring for resources or audio logs.

This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a new game-plus feature. Regretfully, this won’t be implemented till sometime early in 2023. The Callisto Protocol really needs this to improve replay value, as well as an option to skip cutscenes. Why any of this wasn’t implemented from day one makes no sense, because even the first Dead Space had it.

The Callisto Protocol being divisive is utterly perplexing. Full disclosure- I am not a fan of Dead Space. I found it to be too loud and obnoxious, with gameplay that bored me. The Callisto Protocol has a lot of care to make it a more unique experience than just being another third-person shooter.

The Callisto Protocol was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by KRAFTON Inc.. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. The Callisto Protocol is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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The Verdict: 7

The Good

  • Amazingly detailed graphics and very convincing lighting
  • Flexible gameplay that shifts from stealth, shooter and brawler
  • Surprisingly deep melee system that is complemented with telekinesis and Punch-Out style dodging and counters
  • Visceral kinesthetic feedback and violent finishers
  • Varied scenario

The Bad

  • Not enough enemy types
  • Aggressively linear with unskippable cutscenes
  • Not really scary and overly derivative
  • No new game plus at launch
  • Some slow and padded sequences

About

A youth destined for damnation.


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