Title: The Callisto Protocol
Developer: Striking Distance Studios
Release Date: December 2, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Survival Horror
Dead Space was a game that many will say acted as a bridge between survival horror and action. Looking back, the title was memorable for much more than these elements, as the player was able to connect to Isaac Clarke’s mission with a clear goal. While Striking Distance Studios seems to check all the right boxes in terms of what makes an action-packed horror game, in their release, The Callisto Protocol, they seemed to have forgotten to give players a way to feel grounded in this nightmare.
The Callisto Protocol stars protagonist Jacob Lee who finds himself crash-landing on the prison planet of Callisto. Following these events, Jacob wakes up in the prison in an uproar as deformed human-turned-creatures run rampant. The game attempts to establish several key antagonists throughout the narrative, but the true puppet master isn’t revealed until much later. Jacob’s only means of escape is survival, but more questions arise than answers.
Strangely, we learn more about the supporting cast than Jacob throughout the story. Sure, we know he makes deliveries, but it seems like he knows more than we’re led to believe. Leaving the player and Jacob to uncover the truth about the cause of events, all while not knowing anything about him or his backstory, make him appear to be a hollow and mostly unlikable character. That ends up not being completely the case, but you’ll have to get through most of the game to get this crucial narrative.
I understand an action story leaving some elements of the plot untouched to give players something to push forward towards, but his only driving force, until the few big reveals, is escape, while all characters met along the way act as poorly written plot pushers. Slowly we get questions answered, and the wait could actually be considered worth it. However, this requires player investment, but by the time the pieces come together, I found it hard to care. It’s tough to call this a deal breaker though, considering there are some incredible moments of action gameplay that made my heart race or even scared me during several scenes.
If you’re coming into The Callisto Protocol with the desire to make your way through linear levels, conserve precious ammunition, and stomp some truly ugly creatures, well, you’ve come to the right place. Still, The Callisto Protocol has a way of getting a little repetitive in its design. I found that when the game wanted to slow you down, they simply threw you in a room with more than five enemies, which takes some level of planning if you wish to get through alive.
There’s a variety of enemies to fight against, but I feel like the most annoying of the bunch would be the blind ones that require you to sneak around. You can pretty much do anything except touch them and shoot if you don’t want to be discovered. It’s a poor implementation of this enemy type, especially after games like The Last of Us did “Clickers” so well. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction after completing each area.
One thing to point out is the unforgiving checkpoint system that has no problem sending you back to the beginning of lengthy areas if you die. Strangely, even after upgrading your gun, a checkpoint isn’t created, causing you to do this multiple times if you can’t get past the following areas.
Although there are different enemy types, you approach fights in the same way. Holding left or right on the Left Trigger will allow you to dodge enemy attacks while pressing back on it will block. Melee is a significant part of encounters, but there’s also an ability to pretty much force grab and throw enemies around the environment. This ability can be used to cheese encounters by throwing them off ledges, making easy work of them. However, this system, while easy to master and understand, gets tiresome quickly when every encounter plays out the same.
Still, there’s so much power and weight put into every action that I wouldn’t say I got bored. I found myself approaching fights like a puzzle instead of running in, guns blazing. Shooting enemies felt great, but that’s at the cost of scarce ammo. Some enemies may grow tentacles after landing a few hits, which will cause them to get stronger if they’re left alive. I enjoyed this at first, but late-game enemies seem to all transform, which just adds a sense of artificial difficulty to these late encounters.
On that note, there are multiple guns to find around the environment and upgrade. However, I found myself simply upgrading my base loadout since space is limited most of the time, and you can just sell ammo for potential other upgrades. I thought the upgrade system was exceptionally cool, especially the additional attacks for melee actions and alternative bullets for guns.
Level design is incredibly straightforward, but you may get lost from time to time. There are a few moments where you can find secret areas for more items and ammo, but this is a point-A to-point-B adventure. Some interesting environmental choices are introduced throughout the game, such as moving boxes and killer robot police, which change up progression, but it seemed like the design team really enjoyed Fuse Box puzzles and Clarence Key Cards. It’s okay, but getting through the levels just felt the same no matter which chapter I was in.
Graphically, The Callisto Protocol is a gorgeous and very gory game. The team did a fantastic job with set design and setting up tense situations. I was always surprised by the changes in location during each chapter. Still, I encountered numerous graphical oddities in the environment and animations and even suffered a few game crashes. It was strange and weird to see, but you start to forgive it if only to get through the game and hopefully get your questions answered.
It may seem like I’m being overly harsh on The Callisto Protocol, but considering the amount of budget this game received, I was hoping for better. Still, I had a decent time escaping Callisto, getting scared, and conserving as much ammo as I could. Sadly, it’s tough to feel connected to the characters, but if you’re hungry for an action-filled survival horror experience, The Callisto Protocol has just what you need.
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