The Callisto Protocol Review (PS5) – Deader Space

The pedigree of the team behind The Callisto Protocol is undeniable. Glen Schofield, co-creator of Dead Space and a veritable who’s who of the AAA gaming industry are the folks at Striking Distance Studios and the developers of The Callisto Protocol. From the moment it was announced, The Callisto Protocol has been compared to Dead Space and for good reason. It is, undeniably a spiritual successor to EA’s breakout survival horror classic.

Having already created something truly special in Dead Space, Striking Distance has set out to capture lighting in a bottle for a second time. Have they succeeded?

The answer is a resounding no.

The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol is NOT a bad game but at the same time it’s not a very good one. It has all the trapping and window dressing of an excellent, AAA game but it’s utterly, utterly soulless. From start to finish there’s nothing in The Callisto Protocol to make it stand out from any number of Dead Space or Resident Evil clones and the whole experience feels rather rote. In creating The Callisto Protocol it seems as though Striking Distance Studios focused far too heavily on the visuals, death animations and combat and not nearly enough on the narrative and the gameplay in between punching zombies to death.

Set in the future, obviously, The Callisto Protocol sees Josh Duhamel’s video game everyman Jacob crash landed on Callisto and imprisoned in Black Iron Prison for…reasons. It’s vague, as is everything in The Callisto Protocol. Character motivations vary from “just because” to “I am a cartoonishly evil figure.” Jacob’s motivation? Escape from prison in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. And beyond that, it never really evolves because as the player you never really learn much of the history of the world of The Callisto Protocol. Sure, you do find out about the history of the colony and the prison and get an idea about the cause of the outbreak but somehow it still remains so vague and so bland that it’s hjard to get excited about any of the reveals.

By the time The Callisto Protocol has finished, after roughly 7 hours, I was no closer to understanding what exactly happened and why. But worst of all, I didn’t really care, such was the generic trudgery of the gameplay.

Again, I’m not saying The Callisto Protocol is a bad game. Everything works as intended. It’s visually spectacular and it’s ability to racthet up tension is second to none, but the actual gameplay is some of the most boring I’ve encountered in recent memory. There are really only two modes in The Callisto Protocol, combat and walking. I hesitate to use the world exploration as the game is entirely linear. There are some very minor side diversion and branching corridors, but they all lead in dead-ends and aren’t truly a different path you can taker. This isn’t new to survival horror. Dead Space is a very linear game, but, outside of combat there are other things to engage with. This is not the case in The Callisto Protocol. And again, it may not have been such an issue if the combat was any fun.

Unlike Dead Space or Resident Evil, where you primarily focus on shooting things, The Callisto Protocol puts the emphasis in melee. At first, I was excited and though the system was going to prove to be a game changer, but ultimatley it grows old almost immediately and makes nearly every combat scenario a frustration. By holding left or right on the left stick, players can dodge enemy attacks and then attack them when they’re open…and that’s about it. To dodge multiple attacks you need to alternate which direction you move. Facing one enemy is fine but as soon as two or more enemies come at you at once, the entire system falls apart. It is impossoble to dodge all incoming attacks when they come from multiple sides and especially when the camera is positioned such that you can’t even see the enemies behind you.

Even worse, enemies will often rush at you, grab you and then throw you back the direction they just came from, deliberately making you surrounded. I played through the game twice, once of the hardest difficulty and once on the easiest and on both difficulties this occurs frequently and it’s never not frustrating.

There are, of course, guns in The Callisto Protocol, but they may as well be crumpled up pieces of paper for all the damage they do. On easy mode, they do work a lot better but even then, there is another system at play in The Callisto Protocol that forces you to focus on melee.

That system? The Last of Us style stealth. Honestly, the stealth in The Callisto Protocol has been lifted directly from The Last of Us, but the problem is it has none of the finesse or supporting systems to make it work. As you progress, you’ll eventually come across a new enemy type. These blind bastards can’t see you and if you move slowly, can’t hear you, allowing you to sneak up behind them and take them out. What’s missing is anyway to distract or get their attention without aggroing them. This is compounded by an enemy evolution system. Deal enough damage to an enemy and tentacles will burst from their chest, signalling they are about to level up. If you simply shoot the tentacles, they will die then and there but doing so will alert every enemy in the area. And these blind bastards travel in packs.

I died over and over in a few sections because the odds were so egregiously stacked against me. Multiple enemies standing close together with very little chance of sneaking behind them left me trying to take them out without being surrounded and murdered. I ended up wasting a tonne of ammo right before a boss fight. I have to assume the devs knew this was an issue as it’s the only boss fight in the game with tonnes of item boxes strewn around.

This half-way done approach to gameplay mechanics permeates every facet of The Callisto Protocol. Early on Jacob finds the GRP, The Callisto Protocol’s riff on the Kinesis module from Dead Space. However, it has one function I can see. To grab enemies and throw them against spiky walls. That’s it. Without the strategic dismemberment of Dead Space, grabbing and throwing items loses a huge part of its identity and reason for existing. What makes things worse is that you can’t even use the GRP to grab faraway items. You could do that in Dead Space

Strategic dismemberment existed in Dead Space as a way to fuck with players’ expectations. For the longest time, headshots where king and Dead Space asked what players would do without that crutch. Without the necromorphs, without taking their spiky limbs and using them as weapons, the whole point of Kinesis is moot. Obviously, The Callisto Protocol coulnd’t use necromorphs or even necromorph adjacent enemies. As it is, the comparisons are inescapabale, but I do wish the enemies in the game were remotely interesting. Looking like big white muscle zombies, the bad guys in The Callisto Protocol are the most generic I’ve seen in a survival horror game since Alone in the Dark had you fight “zombiez”. Yes, with a Z.

The further you progress, the more you realise that variety in enemies is not something you’re going to see. Thus, your combat strats don’t need to evolve and the overall experience grows stagnent. There are some high points. For example, the way in which the game leaves you alone for extended periods of time to build suspense and tension is masterful. You’ll spend far longer than you’d expect, walking and expecting something to pop out that when it does, the tension has reached breaking point.

As mentioned, the visuals are absolutely spectacular and are an incredible showcase for the talented folks at Striking Distance. The audio design is also first class. Wandering through the decrepit prison and hearing enemies scuttling around the vents and getting ready to pop out is highly unsettling. Unfortunately, the visuals and audio design are just lipstick on a pig. The Callisto Protocol just is not a good gaming experience. At best, it’s a highly tense gore simulator. At it’s worst it’s a soulless clone of one of the best survivial horror games of all time.

Hopefully, it sells well enough to get a sequel because there are ideas here worth salvaging and improving on and I’d like to see where Striking Distance takes the “franchise.” However, if you were hoping this would be the second coming of Dead Space, you’ll need to wait for next year’s remake.

The Callisto Protocol was reviewed on PS5 using a digital code provided by the pulisher.

The Callisto Protocol
Reader Rating0 Votes
Amazing visuals
Intense atmosphere
Literally nothing about it is new
Very short
Underwhelming story
Incredibly repetitive gameply with little variety
Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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