- Faces of main characters
- Exploring pays off
- Nice story
- Feels unnecessarily slow/unwieldy
- Checkpoints sometimes inconveniently placed
- Repetitive boss battles
- Quite short
Some games are immediately ‘big games’ from the moment they are announced. Thousands of gamers immediately put those titles in wish lists, keep an eye on the latest news, and place preorders. Other games fly more under the radar and come in as welcome surprises or fail to break through to a wider audience at all. The Callisto Protocol falls a bit in between in my opinion. The game is certainly more ‘AAA’ than ‘indie’, so more big than small, but the unconditional hype that arises around releases of really big games is not there around The Callisto Protocol. Still, there is enough reason to look at this game with a positive feeling. After all, it’s a project by director Glen Schofield, the man behind Electronic Arts’ Dead Space games.
Of course, The Callisto Protocol is not a new Dead Space game. After all, Motive Studios is working for EA on a Dead Space remake and it is on the calendar for 2023. The Callisto Protocol has its origins in the creation of Striking Distance Studios as part of PUBG Studios. The desire of the company behind PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was for a more story-driven game to complement PUBG. Initially that would be a game that would be close to PUBG, but that idea quickly changed into a game that was a bit closer to Schofield’s vision. He even had the concept for The Callisto Protocol as an idea for a while. And yes, that concept certainly has the necessary similarities with Dead Space.
Black Iron Prison
The Callisto Protocol revolves around the planet Callisto and space pilot Jacob Lee, played by actor Josh Duhamel. Set in 2320, the game begins when Jacob and his partner are attacked while transporting a mysterious, dangerous substance. The attack causes their ship to crash on Callisto. To his own surprise, he is handcuffed there and taken to the Black Iron Prison. He tries to explain that he is innocent and does not belong there, but that does not help anyone: he gets an implant in his neck and is thrown into a cell.
That’s not a great start, but evil soon gets worse when it turns out that a mysterious disease is circulating in the prison, turning both inmates and guards into zombie-like creatures. Jacob has barely been captured when things go very wrong. Jacob sees guards running for their lives and usually failing. He manages to escape from his cell and with the help of fellow inmate Elias Porter, he embarks on a road that will hopefully take him far from the prison and the planet. Of course, that is not easy: the prison is more and more overrun by the monsters, while the security of the prison, in the form of some deadly robots, is still active. So staying alive is a big challenge.
The road eventually leads through various areas in and around the prison complex. Along the way you will learn more about the outbreak and who is responsible for it. Karen Fukuhara, James C. Mathis III, and Sam Witwer also play a role in that story. You can know the latter from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed; Witwer played Darth Vader’s secret apprentice named Starkiller in that game. The cast does a good job, but the most striking thing about their presence is the way they’ve been recreated. The faces of the actors are lifelike and animated. That’s so nice in a game that has to provide a lot of tension. It certainly makes the cutscenes immediately a lot better and more appealing than they otherwise would have been.
The cutscenes are good and The Callisto Protocol generally looks good too. The faces attract attention, but the way in which the environments are constructed and especially how they are lit deserves a mention. Striking Distance developed a kind of hybrid light model for this game that partly uses features from Unreal Engine 4 and partly developed by themselves. The makers were mainly concerned with shadow effects that are centrally located in the player’s field of vision. Unfortunately, we don’t have more information about how that works, but the result is impressive. The game can lean on beautiful lighting effects, which are of course also important in a rather dark survival horror game.
Dodge, swat, and shoot
The tension mentioned on the previous page stems from The Callisto Protocol being a horror survival game. With those kinds of games you can expect that there are some frightening moments and that you are generally gaming with a somewhat elevated heart rate. Not everyone is into that, but it has to be said that as a self-proclaimed horror hater, I had quite a good time with The Callisto Protocol. This is partly because the game is not very scary. Yes, there are definitely some scares, but it’s not too bad. It is more the case that there is a continuous oppressive atmosphere. After all, you know that prison is full of monsters. Certainly the moments when you sneak around somewhere and cannot be noticed because otherwise, you will face certain death, can cause clammy hands.
Quite a lot of ‘gore’
In addition, there is a good portion of ‘gore’ in the game. That is perhaps the most horror-like element of the game. When things don’t go so well, Jacob is sometimes literally torn to pieces. Not everyone likes that kind of images, but it is what you can expect from a horror game.
Those who have a sufficiently strong stomach to find that kind of images no problem can therefore start the escape attempt with confidence. That starts at a slow pace. You walk around, try to open some gates or doors and make your way to the tower from which part of the prison is controlled. There follows the first confrontation with one of the monsters and immediately the introduction of the melee combat system. This is the most important bit because being able to successfully dodge blows from the monsters is important. In The Callisto Protocol, you often fight at close range, so you will definitely have to dodge attacks, otherwise, Jacob will not succeed in leaving the Black Iron Prison.
The dodging works pretty simple, but it took me a while to get the hang of it. You basically only have to move the left thumbstick left and right alternately to dodge blows, but sometimes enemies will attack multiple times in a row and you forget to dodge one of the blows. In this, you quickly build up experience and more dexterity, but still: occasionally the melee system caused some slight irritation. You have to grab your chance when the enemies stop hitting. After all, that’s the time to hit them hard. And of course, if you stop dodging too early, it’s going to hurt.
Print weapons and upgrades
Melee is the basis of combat because your handgun has unlimited use. Jacob also soon gets access to firearms, but they need bullets and those bullets are certainly not unlimited. How much ammo you find depends on how well you explore the Black Iron Prison and what difficulty you play on. Investigating the area well, in any case, pays off. Often there are specific, optional side paths you can take, which then lead to some extra tasty loot. These can be hypodermic needles that can restore your health, bullets for your weapon or weapons and valuables that you can sell at the ‘printing stations’ that you encounter throughout the game world.
Those things often yield a large number of credits. You need those credits at the same printing stations. That is the place where you can have found blueprints of weapons made so that you can use that weapon and also the place where you can subsequently upgrade those weapons. It doesn’t seem possible to collect enough credits to upgrade everything, so you’ll have to make choices in which weapons you improve and which you don’t. You also make choices along the way. You can only carry a limited number of items, so sometimes it pays to drop some ammo and then take a more valuable item to sell. Upgrading your weapons will make them deal more damage, or you can even launch new attacks. Making good use of this will make your adventure a lot easier.
Slow and cumbersome
The Callisto Protocol is certainly not a difficult game like Elden Ring and Hades are difficult games, but the middle of the three levels occasionally gives you some difficulties. However, the reason that there are difficulties is not always positive and also the build-up and changes in the level sometimes feel a bit strange. The ‘standard samples’ will soon give you no more problems. You learn to dodge the attacks and avoid being boxed in, because that’s always bad news. In addition, most of the enemies you encounter go down quite quickly: a few well-aimed shots or heavy blows can be enough. That makes it strange that a boss fight you encounter quickly lasts for minutes.OK, that’s still possible, but then don’t repeat the same boss four times, without anything substantially changing about him.
Lack of speed and maneuverability
That in itself is not so bad. It’s four moments that, if the rest of the game is very strong, wouldn’t have mattered that much. Unfortunately, the rest of the game is certainly not perfect. It is not surprising for games in this genre that the pace is slow. Horror games are all about stealth, about carefully exploring environments. That care pays off because you are well-prepared for confrontations and do not miss any important items. Still, we regularly lacked some speed or agility. Jacob can run a little bit, but all his movements feel slow and unwieldy. Jumping over a wall works in itself, but the game always needs a second before the player’s input is understood and Jacob actually prepares to climb over that wall.If you get boxed in, your instinctive reaction is to get out. In many games you can dodge, or sprint faster. In The Callisto Protocol you are really just the jack if you are between about four monsters. The unwieldy way of moving is often noticeable. It’s not always annoying, but sometimes it certainly is.
Fortunately, there are more moments in the game when the slow pace isn’t a problem at all. Sneaking around in dark hallways or clearly infected areas and looking around with your flashlight for danger or anything interesting is cool. This gameplay takes The Callisto Protocol to a pretty high level at times. In addition, the story gradually becomes clearer in a good way. Especially if you pick up and listen to the audio files along the way, it becomes increasingly clear what happened in Black Iron Prison and the mining colony on the planet. These elements together ensure that you can play the game without any problems. The mentioned negatives do not cause dropouts. The only thing that hindered our desire to continue playing was the placement of some checkpoints. Sometimes a series of actions was not included after a checkpoint, causing me to have to do those actions, like upgrading weapons, every time I die in the next fight. That is a bit annoying and could easily have been better.
We just finished the game though. That is mainly because the game is immersive enough to achieve that, but also because the game is not very long. You can get through it in an hour or ten. You can of course make that longer by playing at the highest level, but we wonder how much that adds to the fun. Still, a few extra hours would be nice, because ten hours of playtime is not much for a game that is just in the shops for the full blow.
Less stable on PC and Xbox?
A final point that we would like to touch on is that we probably played the best, or most stable, version. The Callisto Protocol seems to be experiencing more performance issues on PC and Xbox than on PlayStation 5. The credits of the game show that the developers have worked with Sony. Schofield has announced via social media that the collaboration was specifically aimed at capturing the performance of the actors. According to the director, Sony has not done any other work on the game, so that The Callisto Protocol runs most stable on Sony’s console should be a coincidence. Anyway: Striking Distance Studios has already rolled out a patch and has indicated that it will soon come with other updates.
The Callisto Protocol is a game that fans of survival horror games, with fans of Dead Space, in particular, will have been looking forward to. The game is worth playing, but there is quite a bit to criticize. Part of that is also taste and experience. If you play survival horror games more often, then you are probably more used to the slow pace and the somewhat limited way in which Jacob can move. A game like Resident Evil also has that a bit and it doesn’t get in the way of gamers. Slightly more dynamic gameplay would have made The Callisto Protocol a more fun game. Also, a little more attention could have been paid to variation, especially when you look at the boss fights. The fact that the game won’t keep you entertained for much longer than ten hours doesn’t make it any better; that is quite little for a game that is just in the shops for the full blow. In the long term, New Game+ may make that a little better, but that is future music for now. All in all, The Callisto Protocol is not a game that you absolutely have to play and at the same time it is not a game that will disappoint you anyway: it hangs in between. It’s a nice snack, perhaps as a warm-up until the Dead Space remake appears next year. Let’s hope that it can approach the level of the old Dead Space games. It’s a nice snack, perhaps as a warm-up until the Dead Space remake appears next year. Let’s hope that it can approach the level of the old Dead Space games. It’s a nice snack, perhaps as a warm-up until the Dead Space remake appears next year. Let’s hope that it can approach the level of the old Dead Space games.