The Callisto Protocol (TCP) had a lot of pre-release hype surrounding it — from originally being a part of the PUBG universe to the developer's use of mocap for its actors and actresses. At release, numerous performance issues and player-discovered problems with the design seemed to have sunk the game, similar to Scorn’s rough intro. Despite the issues, I liked Scorn and I feel the same about TCP, really enjoying the game for presenting something a bit different, though it may not be intended for the right audience.
The Callisto Protocol wears its inspiration on its diegetic UI as a major homage to Dead Space. When his one last big transport mission goes wrong, Jacob finds himself as a prisoner in a maximum-security prison on Callisto. This, as per the genre norm, doesn’t last long, and the prison is soon overrun with a virus turning people into ravenous mutants that he will have to shoot, bash, and fling away if he wants to get out alive.
From a graphical standpoint, the game looks amazing, with some impressive motion capture for the major characters. As for the gameplay, TCP is 100% on the action-horror side of horror design — from your variety of weapons and upgrades to the ever-popular stomp you can perform on enemies when they’re on the ground.
That said, I’m not sure we could even classify this as an “action-horror” game. This is what separates the game from others that are lumped into the same category, and where I feel people may have misplayed the game.
Rip and Scare
The Callisto Protocol is supposed to be a scary game. Things pop out where you least expect them, and you’re going to be exploring for health and ammo supplies; you know, things you would do in a horror game. Instead, the game feels more like it is inspired by Doom 2016 because despite being just a human surrounded by monsters, you’re the one with a lot more power.
This starts with the combat system, and for the first time in an action-horror game, you have a dedicated and very effective dodge. By holding down left or right, you will automatically dodge any melee attack that comes your way; if there are multiple strikes, you must alternate between the two unless you turn on “auto dodge”.
Like Dead Space, dismembering enemies will greatly reduce their threat level and there are many ways of doing that at your disposal. Once you get your “GRP” that allows you to push and pull foes, all bets are off in terms of using the environment and the myriad of spikes and giant fans to finish off your enemies.
While you do have ranged weapons, TCP does something I haven’t seen before in how it merges melee and ranged combat into one. When you are attacking an enemy with melee, you’ll get a prompt to do a “quick shot” — where the game will auto-lock-on to the enemy and fire your gun without interrupting your melee: this allows you to cycle between melee-ranged-melee to keep an enemy almost stun-locked until they die. You can also block attacks that can set enemies up for a counterattack at the cost of taking reduced damage.
This is all-important because the game is far more combat-intensive compared to other action-horror games. Don’t be surprised to be stuck in a room with five or more enemies attacking you at once — requiring you to use the environment for quick kills to thin their numbers before you are mobbed.
So far, the bulk of this review has been talking about combat, and this is where surprisingly that TCP really succeeds. But that does raise one question: does the experience work overall?
The story is one area where TCP does feel like a let down. The game is clearly inspired by the designs and structure of Dead Space, but it doesn’t really do anything different with its storytelling and gameplay. You are going to be spending a long time wandering around beautiful, nondescript hallways trying to find your next quest. Jacob is not an interesting character, and he doesn’t even have a loved one as motivation like Isaac did.
The lack of enemy variety is noticeable and shows through due to the game's focus on combat. This is not like Dead Space, or even Resident Evil, where different enemies require vastly different approaches. Here, the combat does get repetitive in terms of your best options for killing them. The game creates a feeling of being dragged in two directions. It gives you all these different abilities, environmental kills, and weapons, and wants you to have a good time destroying any mutant that moves. On the other hand, it also wants you to feel powerless with limited inventory space, hunting for resources, and moving around in the dark.
Ultimately, TCP is not a horror game, nor even an action-horror one. It is the third-person shooter equivalent to FEAR — an action-focused game taking place in a spooky setting. Even though the enemies are supposed to be scary in the game, your move set and weapons are enough to take them on. The game introduces mutations that require you to shoot exposed tentacles or face a stronger variant of the enemy. At this point, you have to stop relying solely on melee or your fights will be longer and more dangerous.
I started to enjoy the gameplay loop of bashing, shooting, and launching enemies around. As you enter the back half of the game, these options become a necessity, as you can’t have multiple enemies engaging with you at the same exact time and expect to survive. The final chapter in particular is the most combat-heavy, and unfortunately, the game recycles the same elite boss fight four times; both it and the final boss are nothing but massive bullet sponges.
What Does the Future Hold?
I did end up enjoying The Callisto Protocol, but it has some rough patches to be sure. Speaking of patches, the game is planning on getting a New Game+ mode and higher difficulty setting(s), along with story DLC, for 2023. If you’re on the fence about playing it now, I would wait until that content is added to get the full, and hopefully bug-free, experience of the game.
While it’s not the best game for horror fans, if you’re looking for a little action in the new year, then I would check it out.
This game was reviewed using a press key supplied by the developer.
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