Horrors Unleashed: The Callisto Protocol Review

This spiritual successor of Dead Space will leave you on edge

Horrors Unleashed: The Callisto Protocol Review
Source: Striking Distance Studios.

Welcome to Black Iron Prison. A maximum-security penitentiary on Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons, 300 years in the future. Here, players will find themselves in the shoes of Jacob Lee, a poor unfortunate soul who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arrested and taken to the prison with no idea why, Jacob is strapped — no, more like bolted — into a chair to find a C.O.R.E. device implanted into the back of his neck. With no chance to recover or to even catch one’s breath, the prison changes. Prisoners around Jacob mutate into monstrosities with the mindless desire to cause violence and chaos.

Using a blend of both shooting and melee combat, Jacob will fight his way through a maximum-security penitentiary as he tries to find a way to escape. Players can upgrade weapons, find new gear, and learn new abilities while facing new enemies. The dark story unfolds as players delve further into the nightmare, and disturbing secrets come to light.

Source: Author.

From the mind of Glen Schofield, we have received the spiritual successor of Dead Space. This third-person survival horror game combines Dead Space’s elements and atmosphere with a new level of brutality.

This game is equal parts violent and gory, eerie and daunting. Developers created a claustrophobic environment in which it feels as if everything is slowly closing in on you. Long hallways keep you ready to do a 180° and sprint back to where you came from and even the sounds of the creatures serve as nightmare fuel.

The creators of Callisto Protocol paid attention to every detail when crafting the overall setting and ambiance that pervades every scene. Glistening blood splatters the walls, paths of entrails and sewage everywhere. Everything is thick and gross, but serving of a purpose, hoping to pull disgust from the players and Jacob. Even the atmospheric noises are on point: scraping, metallic clanks and random incessant scuttling that sound too close for comfort.

The Horror

Released on December 2, 2022, The Callisto Protocol’s violent nature and inability to tone it down resulted in it being banned in Japan. This ode to Dead Space lives true to the horror expectations in terms of design and atmospheric appeal. Remember, this is not a Dead Space sequel, but it definitely holds a lot of similarities. Think of it more like Dead Space ‘inspired.

The game’s overall appearance sports an incredible attention to detail and a lot of tight spaces. I mean, a lot of tight spaces. You walk through a lot of hallways, crawl through a lot of ducting, but there’s something about those spaces that sell the feeling of confinement and anticipation. Granted, sometimes it feels like a hallway simulator, but it certainly still adds to the game’s effect and the overall sensation of permanent confinement.

Source: Author.

The Callisto Protocol is gruesome, creepy, and riddled with some repeated (yet effective) jump scares. There are these little larvae jerks that come jumping out of chests or lockers and a snake head that comes shooting at you out of weird egg sacks. Even when you’ve learned to expect them, they still catch you off guard. While they are repetitive, they are far enough apart to be effective and not entirely overdone.

The game's enemies are a diverse lot, always seeking you out to terrifying effect. Enemies can surge out of vents, can be invisible, or come in the shape of a giant, two-headed guy that makes it near impossible to avoid their attacks. All the creatures are unsettling in their own special way. When you get swarmed by a bunch of them at once, you can’t help but feel this mounting anger-infused panic. I didn’t know what an angry panic felt like before, but I do now.

It feels a lot like being locked in combat with one monster and not being able to look at what the other four around you are doing. The camera picks one monster to hone in on and leaves you blind to your surroundings. There is a certain stress that comes from not being able to turn the camera properly in a horror game, especially in close-range combat.

But maybe that is the whole point.

The Survival

The soft lock in combat, especially with multiple enemies in your vicinity, makes it very difficult to “just run around them.” When you dodge one, you can wind up bumping yourself right into another enemy’s attack. It's easy to get stuck in a loop of soft-locks with each of the monsters you may run into, considering how confined the game’s environment is.

In terms of the game’s difficulty choices, The Callisto Protocol is exactly what you sign yourself up for.

I played a complete playthrough on the Hardcore option because I guess I hate myself enough to do so. This was definitely a struggle, but it felt great once I beat the game. Although, it still gave me the occasional urge to defenestrate something here and there, the only thing that could have made it more painful would have been the inability to manually save my game in order to save time going through the same steps over and over and over…

Oh, right... wait a minute.

When it comes to manual saves, there is no point.

Even with a manual save, the game automatically sends you back to the last checkpoint, whether you died in the game or you saved and quit to come back to it later on. Unfortunately, a lot of those checkpoints were few and far between. If you were stuck on a part where you kept dying, it could get frustrating to have to go through a bunch of steps to get back to that same part again, especially if you needed to upgrade weapons along the way. But more on that later.

Source: Author.

Gameplay

The game's controls are on the more complex side, relatively easy to learn, but hard to master. For example, there are two different dodge controls, and their use depends on the combat itself, the other controls you use, and timing. It isn’t what people are used to, and more often than not, it results in the controls feeling almost clunky. Still, the combat feels intense, and for a lot of the game, it is heavily reliant on the baton you gain at the start.

There are guns, but the baton is often worth more in combat than the guns, which was an interesting change of pace. There is also the anti-gravity gauntlet referred to as the GRP, which turns into a serious game changer once you have it at your disposal. With this weapon, the game becomes massively easier, giving you the ability to lift certain enemies and hurl them into a spiked wall, off a ledge, or into a meat grinder.

As you progress, it’s the upgrades you choose that make all the difference.

You can buy these upgrades for your baton, the guns, or the GRP, but only at the Reforge Station. Here, you can use your collected Callisto Credits to purchase more ammunition or health. What I found odd, though, is the fact that you can only buy one thing at a time. So, if you wish to upgrade more than one weapon, or buy up a bunch of boxes of ammo for your ‘Skunk Gun’ right before an attempt at a boss fight, the game forces you to buy every box one at a time, because each purchase triggers an animation.

It felt like another way they were padding the game's run time and, after dying to the same boss four times at this point, and having to repeat the same purchase over and over because your manual saves don’t actually work, it all gets a little frustrating.

Going all the way back to a checkpoint and having to replay the same segments over and over certainly hit its mark of being annoying. As another example, if you wished to listen to an audio recording to learn more about the entire story, you are prompted to go into the game’s menu (and not leave it or the playback would stop) to listen to it. If you died, you were shown one of the unskippable death animations, which were great and incredibly brutal, but when you’ve died six times to the same guy, the last thing we want to see is another death animation.

Source: Striking Distance Studios.

Conclusion

The game itself is relatively short once you factor out repeated deaths and unskippable animations. From what I gather, the expected playtime is somewhere around twelve hours. Mine was a bit more than this because of my poor life choices, but despite that, it still felt pretty short. My total playtime, start to finish, including deaths, random lengthy pause times, messing with graphics settings, and unskippable animations, only brought it to a little over 17 hours total.

There were higher spec requirements for this game, and a lot of reviews complain of an inability to play it at first. Playing through it on a laptop with an I7 12800hx and 3070Ti, and playing at 1440p with FSR on, I had no issues. If I tried 4k, the frame rate would massively drop, but that was the only issue I had in using a laptop. I’m certainly happy to report this, but it’s unfortunate that so many people seemed to have issues early on with it. For some that had issues, it could have been as simple as having the wrong settings.

Overall, The Callisto Protocol is a nice ode to Dead Space, and a creepy survival horror. The team clearly invested a lot of passion into the aesthetic and design, resulting in stunning art and setting work. The story is lackluster, but the ending did hint at a possible sequel. Gameplay itself is a pleasant challenge that is kept short and sweet and, if you find it on sale, you might find that it’s worth a playthrough.

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