REVIEW: ‘The Callisto Protocol’ Left Me Wanting More (XSX)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Callisto Protocol

Horror games weren’t always my favorite genre. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I steered as far away as possible from horror games for a long while. That is until my Freshman year of college, and my RA played a horror game from start to finish in my dorm room—Dead Space 2. That winter break, I stopped by the first Gamestop I could find and picked up both Dead Space 1 and to play over the holiday break. Since then, I’ve never looked back as a horror fan, especially a Dead Space fan. It’s been many years since we got to play Isaac Clark, the protagonist of Dead Space. However, The Callisto Protocol from Striking Distance Studio and KRAFTON has promised to fill the massive Dead Spaceholes in our hearts. So how did the spiritual sequel created by an original creator of the Dead Space series hold up? In my opinion, not well.

In The Callisto Protocol, you play Jason Lee, a transporter who makes regular shipments between different colonies. During a routine shipment, your ship gets boarded by a rebel group looking for… something. This leads to your ship crash landing on Jupiter’s second-largest moon, Callisto. The thing is, Callisto also houses the massive Black Iron Prison. Jason gets quickly detained and booked in the most traumatizing way possible… having prison tags drilled directly into his spine. He then wakes up right in the middle of a living nightmare, with the prison being overrun by horrific parasitic monsters devouring everyone in sight. So, as Jason, you try to escape this hell-on-earth while also trying to find out what exactly is going on.

As a set-up, I was on board right from the get-go. It’s vague and interesting enough that it started to sink its teeth in. Who are these rebels? What were they after? Why was Jason immediately detained even though all he did was land a crashing ship? What a shame, though. These answers are ended up being basic and foreseeable. There are attempts at twists to try to keep the story exciting, but they always fall flat. The two mysteries I found while exploring every nook and cranny felt interesting, and I hope they get explored more in the upcoming DLC release. However, everything else? The remaining story beats just felt too unsatisfying, like having the question be more interesting than the actual answer.

I could excuse a bland basic story if the gameplay was good. Sadly, that also isn’t the case here. The Callisto Protocol is much more action-focused than I expected it to be. It focuses a lot more on melee combat than gunplay, even though there is a relatively substantive selection of weapons by the time I reach the end of the game. Yet similar to the story, it’s all just so dull that it tries to be portrayed as thrilling.

Starting with what I actually liked about the combat was the enemy variety. The enemies kept me on my toes regularly, especially when several were coming at me at once. Adding transforming and invisible enemies, the enemies frequently caused me to change how I played just to survive.

Yet where this game falters was when several enemies were coming at me at once. The game’s melee combat felt mostly fine regarding one-on-one encounters. However, whenever two or more aliens came at me at once, it all became chaos. Dodging one attack would regularly have me get hit by another. In addition, melee attacks didn’t seem to focus on the correct targets as they were about to transform, and with no reliable lock-on, I regularly missed valuable shots when they were supposed to be sure hits.

Now, I mentioned several times that enemies transform. About a quarter of the way through, you get introduced to enemies that change when they’re close to death. It’s also introduced as something that might happen, that not every enemy will do this. But I found that just about every person I fought did this. Moreso, there felt no consistency to these guys. I could hit them with several shots to the abdomen from a shotgun, and they’d still transform. If every enemy does this, what’s the point of wailing on them, unloading everything into them until they almost inevitably transform?

There are also some boss fights along during the escape. They’re cool at first—giant hulking two-headed versions of the parasitic zombies I was fighting up until this point. But besides the final boss, that’s the only boss type in the game. Same enemy every time that also always one-shot me even though I was playing on medium difficulty. Even at full health, a quick swipe immediately leads to a death animation. Where’s the fun in that? With an iffy dodge mechanic, these guys quickly became tiresome when they appeared. I could use the same strategy to win and reliably get through unless the game decided that I didn’t move the left stick enough to dodge.

The shooting, though, was OK at best. With five different guns, there were two guns that felt like similar weaker versions of two others. On top of that, the in-game weapon selection is atrociously tedious. You can select a gun to change out by pushing right on the D-pad. However, they’re only side silhouettes with no names or quick notifications about them. So why make gun selection simplistically complex? Why not allow three to four guns to quickly be selected with the D-pad instead of just one?

There was one part of the game that I truly enjoyed, which was the environmental design. These were some of the most detailed settings I’ve ever seen. There felt like there was care in every explorable area. It was gritty yet beautiful, especially in later parts of the game as you explore more of the Callisto moon. My favorite is the snowy surface of the moon, where things felt eerily off. Like something could pop out from the snow at any minute to attack. For that part, I was quite impressed.

Of all my negatives above, what disappointed me the most was the potential of it all. Every issue felt close to being great if they just spent a little more time on refinement. I could feel just what the game was aiming to be. And when it worked, The Callisto Protocol was as fun as I had hoped. Yet that feeling quickly faded due to the issues that held it back. And in the end, I just wanted more.

The Callisto Protocol is my biggest disappointment this year. While it nails the aesthetic and is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played this year, it misses the mark in almost every other department. I think it can be refined to at least be more fun, but in its current state, the story and gameplay weigh down this new entry to the survival horror genre from the potential it so obviously has.

The Callisto Protocol is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.


The Callisto Protocol 
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

The Callisto Protocol is my biggest disappointment this year. While it nails the aesthetic and is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played this year, it misses the mark in almost every other department. I think it can be refined to at least be more fun, but in its current state, the story and gameplay weigh down this new entry to the survival horror genre from the potential it so obviously has.

But Why Tho? A Geek Community
%d bloggers like this: