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The Callisto Protocol Review

the callisto protocol

From the creators of Dead Space comes The Callisto Protocol. Is it a worthy successor to the unsung horror series or a pale imitation?

In space no-one can hear you scream. Which is handy, as back in the Playstation 3 era a sci-fi horror spectacle called Dead Space came out that had players yelling from fear in abundance. Taking on the role of engineer Isaac Clarke you arrive at the USG Ishimura - a hulking mining spacecraft that hasn’t responded to communications for months. What followed was a fantastic journey of horror with clear inspiration from Resident Evil games and the all-time classic horror film - The Thing. Dead Space 2 arrived, it built upon everything Dead Space laid the foundations for. It was even more claustrophobic and intense, with wonderfully grotesque setpeices and action dotted throughout to keep you on your toes and a fantastic story to boot!

So obviously, hype for Dead Space 3 was high. But publisher meddling saw the final product packed to the blood-soaked rafters with micro-transactions, including one that would pop-up before difficult encounters to let you know you were about to be attacked by lots of enemies and asking if you would like to buy (with real money) some ammunition. Immersion breaking is an understatement. The Dead Space series then disappeared into the abyss of games EA ruined.

But now something has clawed out of the abyss. No, it’s not a Dead Space remake, that’s coming out in 2023. Instead it’s the co-creator of Dead Space, Glen Schofield’s, latest game that looks to take the crown from Dead Space - The Callisto Protocol.

The Good, The Bad

You take on the role of Space UPS driver Jacob Lee (played by Josh Duhamel) who, after a run-in with supposed terrorists on a seemingly standard delivery, crash lands on a prison planet. Even though he has been running several supply runs to the planet and the prison, he’s arrested and chucked in a cell just in time for a biological outbreak that sees weird mutant things killing everyone in sight. From here every-man Jacob goes on a blood-soaked horror adventure to escape, survive and uncover the truth behind his wrongful incarceration, the terrorist attack on his spaceship, the outbreak, and find out what exactly the titular Callisto Protocol is.

Straight out of the gate The Callisto Protocol looks gorgeous. Main protagonist Jacob Lee looks extremely life-like as does every character model in the game. Set design, lighting and sound throughout are outstanding with clear inspiration from Event Horizon, Aliens and, of course, Dead Space. The over-the-shoulder third person view is pulled right up close to Jacob adding to the claustrophobic experience.

Combat is melee focussed, especially early on as you start with a prison shiv, quickly move onto a pipe before getting hold of a prison guard baton, which can be upgraded at 3D printer stations as the game progresses. You’ll also eventually get your grubby mitts on schematics to print an upgradable pistol, automatic pistol, shotgun and machine gun. It’s a really cool concept to print add-ons for weapons. These upgrades change the look and stats of the weapon, not to mention giving explosive bullets to a fully upgraded firearm, but they don’t change how the main character holds the weapon. This may sound like an odd gripe, but when I print a second handle on a weapon to increase stability, it would be nice to see Jacob actually hold it.

Progression through the game is very linear. Exploration never strays too far from the critical path, usually amounting to nothing more than a quick trip down a single corridor in the opposite direction to a single room that holds some upgrade materials or a collectible. You’re always rewarded for the slight deviation, but a bit more freedom would’ve been nice.

The story is enjoyable, but mainly because the story of Dead Space was so great and Callisto Protocol copies it. But where Dead Space mixed horror, religion and shady corporations in with protagonist Isaac Clarke’s deteriorating mental state, guilt and personal struggles. The Callisto Protocol sticks with the shady corporation strand and only gives Jacob Lee some emotional beats in a last minute, final act, hail mary. The two characters you meet as allies throughout the game are much more developed, with clear motivations. I know the story is of Jacob being thrown into the middle of something he doesn’t understand, but an event at the start of the game which directly involves him should’ve been explored further and earlier.

The Ugly

Now comes my biggest issue with the game - the horror. Sure, everything looks scary, emergency lighting barely making corridors visible. Sound design does an excellent job, metal creaks, footsteps echo, and you’ll continually hear something crawling around out of sight. The tension created is palpable. Sadly this is quickly undone as the game throws jumpscares at you at every opportunity. Out of the first four bulkhead doors main protagonist Jacob opens through force, three of them have an enemy on the other side that jumps out. Every single ventilation shaft Jacob crawled through either had something run by or a dead body get dragged out of view. Almost every enemy jumps out of fog, a vent, a window or a door. The only thing that didn’t jump during the adventure was me, all I did was roll my eyes time and time again. The worst being one room contained eight jumpscares and I questioned if I could be bothered to continue playing. I feel the developers were going for relentless, but it comes off monotonous.

There is a little break around chapter six where the enemies are blind and you have to sneak by or take them down stealthily... with the loudest stealth kill in the history of gaming. Sure, Jacob and shout as he “quietly” pummels an enemy to death, he can even stamp on the corpse to check for ammunition or health, but if he dares to move while stood up he’ll be swamped by angry blind bags of meat. But this respite lasts just over a chapter and is pretty boring too. Then, in the final two chapters the jumpscares come screaming back, but now the enemies have cheap, unavoidable attacks that steal your health. Once again, I feel the developers wanted the end game to feel desperate and keep you in a state of panic, but they missed the mark and I was frustrated and angry that I had just wasted a health pack. And don’t get me started on the eight bullet sponge bosses that get introduced in the final two chapters. None are difficult and are more of a nuisance than anything else, even the end boss.

Final Thoughts

Coming from the co-creator of Dead Space, comparisons were inevitable. This isn’t helped by Striking Distance marketing Callisto Protocol as the spiritual successor to Dead Space. Sadly it falls short on every front, the unique and fun weapons of Dead Space aren’t present. The story crams the main plot points of Dead Space 1 & 2 together and changes a few labels to seem different. The subtlety and building of tension from Dead Space has been replaced with an over-abundance of jumpscares that become stale before the second chapter has played out. The mutants themselves aren’t scary or as intimidating as the Necromorphs and only come in a few different flavours.

It’s unfortunate because Callisto Protocol is a fun game and clearly the developers have given the game a lot of attention. But they focussed too much on replicating Dead Space rather than taking inspiration from it and then carving their own path with a brand new IP. Hopefully the upcoming story DLC will right these wrongs and allow The Callisto Protocol to step out of the shadow of its influences and become something gruesomely wonderful.

That concludes our thoughts on The Callisto Protocol. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy The Callisto Protocol today click here!