Also On: PC, Xbox Series
Developer: Striking Distance Studios
The Callisto Protocol was my second most anticipated game of 2022, just barely edged out by Elden Ring. Dead Space was and still is one of my absolute favorite game series of all time. The original was revolutionary, the second one was perfect, and the third one was great despite all of the hate it received at launch. I have played through the series countless times, on every difficulty. The Callisto Protocol seemed to be tailor-made for me based on the trailers and the information we had on it leading up to launch. Crafted by Glen Schofield, co-creator of the Dead Space series, it had all the right elements. Sci-Fi horror set in space, monstrous creatures that need to be dismembered to be killed, a gruff Josh Duhamel in the lead role, it had everything going for it. Unfortunately, none of those things were enough to save what essentially ended up being a re-treading of Dead Space with none of the charm or intensity that made that game so great.
First, the positives. The Callisto Protocol looks gorgeous. I played on the PS5 in performance mode, and it was a breathtaking ride through the most fully realized Sci-Fi horror setting I have ever seen. Some of the locations in Black Iron Prison look to be pulled directly from Alien, Alien 3, or Event Horizon, which is high praise for any game in this genre. In addition to the exceptional graphics, the sound design is top-notch. Not just the standard sound design elements you would expect and look for in a horror game, but everything has a unique sound and clear thought behind it. The music and audio help to heighten the fear built by the environment, and they do so to great effect at times all throughout the game.
Blood, guts, and dismemberment are all on full display here as well, as they should be. Death animations abound, both for you and your enemies that you eviscerate. Visually, The Callisto Protocol is nothing short of a feast. With such a heavy focus on melee combat and in-your-face action, this is a hugely important part of the game.
That melee combat is a big part of what weighs the game down, at least initially. The melee combat is built around a dodge mechanic that is simply bad. One-on-one, it is passable, but as soon as another enemy joins the fray (which will be often) it all goes out the window. The plodding swings of your weapons coupled with un-cancelable animations and locked-in directional dodges left me more than frustrated with the overall combat situation in the first few hours. The signature ?stomp? from Dead Space is back as well, and while that alone would have been fine, far too many signature elements crop up throughout The Callisto Protocol leaving it feeling less like an homage and more like a failed venture in ?you can copy my homework but try not to make it too obvious?. There is even a blood-smeared message on the wall telling your protagonist how to kill the enemies. It all feels TOO familiar as you go and does little to shock or surprise veteran players.
A linear, 8-10 hour campaign can be fantastic and packed full of meaningful story and lore, but everything in The Callisto Protocol feels like it was left on the cutting room floor during the development of the Dead Space franchise. The things that don?t feel like they were cut from the old games are things that are taken directly FROM the old games, which is frustratingly worse. My other big complaint is the change in the way tension is handled. In Dead Space, every noise could have been a necromorph, and every scare could have been something awful, but quite often it wasn?t which kept the player guessing. The Callisto Protocol throws non-stop ?scares? at you, many of which get recycled over and over throughout the game (looking at you, loot traps). This eliminates the sense of dread and wonder and leaves the player KNOWING that noise is a monster, and knowing when and from where the scares will come. This cheapens the overall experience and hinders the atmosphere of terror that they are so clearly striving for.
Add onto all of that the little design complaints like broken checkpoints, misplaced mod stations, weird weapon swapping issues, and lazy use of ?bosses? and gimmick designs to artificially increase the difficulty in certain areas, and you are left with an aggressively mediocre game in place of something that could have been amazing. Instead of being immersed in the environment of The Callisto Protocol, I found myself thinking back and wishing more and more that I was playing Dead Space. There are promises of patches to improve some of the complaints around the actual mechanics of the game, but I don?t see anything on the horizon elevating The Callisto Protocol above mediocrity.
Krafton provided us with a The Callisto Protocol code for review purposes.