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Review | The Callisto Protocol

"What happens when the same team behind the awesome Dead Space starts their own path in another company? Apparently if they lack the budget and manpower, things tend to end unfinished. Still, there are parts that are worth your time."

by Foggy, 07-12-2022, Edited by: Jim

I love Dead Space. I love survival horrors. The Callisto Protocol, a game announced as a first project from the former Dead Space developers was on my target list from the day 1. It looked like, well, Dead Space, and I love Dead Space. What can go wrong? Probably the smaller team and their capacity, the ideas that cannot be realized… Stuff like that, you know? But you always expect the good stuff. I often anticipate the goodies and at the end, the end-product disappoints when the reality floods the expectations.

The Callisto Protocol is a 2022 survival horror video game developed by Striking Distance Studios and published by Krafton for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and Microsoft Windows. It was released on December 2nd, 2022. It sounds like a big cookie to chew, but the team wanted to target all platforms.

Little do they knew, that bite them big time. Versions other than the one for the PS5 were one big mess. Even the PS5 version came out with obvious performance issues on graphics mode, but fortunately the Performance mood works smooth and stable (if you're wondering, Performance mode van be found under settings, but only from the main menu, not in-game). Wait for some patches for other versions, it makes no sense to pay the full price for something that just doesn’t work properly at this point, especially the Xbox and PC versions that were unplayable.

Awesome start, tank movements. Something feels of as you progress through this weird-ass space advanture, but the atmosphere kicks right in and never lets go.

The Callisto Protocol is a story about alien samples and one unfortunate guy that will experience what these discoveries are about. Jacob, the protagonist, is another space pirate on a mission. He never knew what he is stealing, and that lead him to be the prisoner of the new world order or at least that’s how the bad guys envisioned it. It's always the same with survival horror, and yet, it's always fun in it's own way.

I must say, the story was intriguing. The only problem is the lack of context right from the start. I had issues with grasping the story in general and who is who. I was curious where the hell am I, how will I survive - you know, the regular stuff. Logs which serve as a lore are here, but there are no documents that explains what you collect. You push your way through dark places, hallways, survive the mutated beasts and whatnot, and you learn that some experiments went bad. Of course that happened. There are doctors in charge of the complicated stuff, and bad guys that are trying to use the end-results to gain supernatural strength. I guess all other patients never endured keeping their sanity and flesh, so they all ended up being what tries to kill you in 100 different ways (and that will happen a lot).

The atmosphere and the sound effects are both amazing! They are the best aspects of the game! We can count in the graphics as well, which is maybe the best one ever seen in next-gen video games. Too bad that the rest of the game suffered. It seems like 90% of the effort went to the graphics.

Combining all of that we can say that the story part of the game is decent. It just lacks more context and lore.

The biggest problem with the story is the lack of lore and its context. Side-characters are forgettable, and you never learn anything about them, or even about Jacob - the protagonist. What happened to the documents we can read, or lore like Control had? The rest was fine; intriguing to say the least.

The first thing that bothered me was the tank movements. It’s slow and clunky, it feels like the era of the past, past generation. Running around helps, but often you can just walk, and you don’t know why. Probably the floor is wet, or disgusting. Anyway, there I am, minding my own business, just trying to escape the prison area and then…

The first fight. What the hell was that? Press left analogue stick to dodge, then tilt right to dodge. I was confused to say the least. Yep, this game is not a space sci-fi shooting survival game, it’s a messed-up version of a melee brawler with space aliens.

I can say that the combat just doesn’t work. It all comes down to melee-killing single enemies to spare bullets and using your weapons to help you out when there are multiple enemies. It sounds good, but it just isn’t, especially at start. It takes time to learn the basics, but once you do, it’s actually just a bit fun. For the most part – it just isn’t. The whole game is dodge, dodge, attack, repeat. The only thing I loved were the haptic triggers, which gets “stuck” when you spend your bullets and try to shoot. It saved me a lot of times, I knew I had to run.

There are no puzzles in the game, it’s all about the linear paths, looting and surviving on your way. I don’t mind that approach; I think the linearity and the atmosphere packed with detailed locations works awesome here. It’s all covered in blood, it’s dark, it’s simply amazing. The outdoor sections are beautiful. Most of the game is simply stunning, that works as a benefit. But you know, dodge, dodge, attack, and repeat? That doesn’t work, especially on hardest difficulty when you do the same patterns on boss fights for 10 minutes.

When you figure out how to fight (and by that I mean dodge + melee), the game becomes much easier. Weapons are a big turndown when compared to Dead Space, and I compare them because it clearly is the same idea, but just lacks so many mechanics. There could've been so much more on the combat aspect of the game.

When you’re not fighting, you are trying to escape. That part is amazing, but the game never challenges you with some puzzles, it’s all about gathering fuses, opening doors, and going forward. Too bad, too bad.

It would maybe work better, one would think. This is a survival game, Dead Space guys! Remember variety of weapons and enemy decapitation options from Dead Space? Yeah, well, a few weapons here makes you feel like you're playing a bad, regular shooter game with no real effect. Few enemy types in the whole game? Yes, also here. Only 2-3 ways to decapitate this 6 or so types of enemies? Yes, also here. Only 1 real boss fight at the end? Yes, Callisto here. I liked the upgrades that you can spend your credits on, but there is no NG+, which makes you effort of having multiple upgraded weapons impossible.

The upgrade system helps with the melee damage and some neat perks, and at the same time it will raise your gun damage, plus some other stuff. There is nothing tied to the armor system. That is bad. Inventory space of 4 slots combined with the loot system doesn’t work at all. It expands a bit later, which still feels too less considering there are a lot of pickups. Good thing is that the callisto credits doesn’t take up the space, but sellable items does. Oh my, what is this? It’s a mess!

If only they worked on the gameplay instead of having 100 ways of dying. Oh yeah, and the GRP Glove which should serve as a telekinesis throwing weapon is clunky and weird. But good! Throwing enemies into spikes and throwing exploding object is cool as it sounds. More of that please.

You spend your hours into upgrading weapons, and then you beat the game and you can't continue because there is no NG+. But you know, playing the whole game with only 1 boss fight all over again, when there is nothing that will happen differently is also not suiting.

I must say, I had my share of fun. And I must say, I’m a bit disappointed. It took me around 12 hours to fully finish the game on the hardest difficulty available at the moment. They plan the NG+ on Q1 of the next year, but for me this is a done deal. I'm just sick of unfinished games at a full price. What the hell is that? If I pay the full price, I'm getting the game in a worst state, and possibly it will become a different game in a year after patching things out.

I want to summarize the bad stuff here, maybe it will help you decide whether this is for you or isn’t.

  • Combat just doesn't work. It's all about holding the analogue stick to dodge, then you either melee or shoot, and repeat. The whole game comes down to that
  • You can stomp anything other than what you kill
  • No interrupt during recharging if you want to use your gauntlet or any other command
  • Ammo pickups disappear after you die couple of times, leaving you without pickups when you need them (bridge fight at the end of the chapter 6 and overall)
  • Log bugs after you pick them up, game auto-saves, and you die. You re-spawn and there are no logs in your collectibles, you must start from like 20mins older auto-save
  • No lore in the game? Where are files, and more info about what happened here, who is who? I had to listen to everything to connect some dots, but in the end, it was not worth it
  • Unlikable characters without real impact on you
  • Melee brawler game, not a space shooter
  • Lack of puzzles, lack of boss fights (only 2 real boss fights in the entire game)
  • Lack of enemy variety, although it's cool when you decapitate limbs and combine your kills
  • Lack of NG+
  • Lack of armor upgrades
  • Lack of weapons, lack of weapon-specific skills and alternate tactics like Dead Space games had
  • Problems with small inventory
  • Slow, tank movements. Sometimes you can run, sometimes you can't. It's just to clunky to summarize it up.
  • Difficulty differences are only health bars of enemies, and the damage they do to you, everything else is the same

If you can't handle gore, this game is definitely not for you - especially when you'll die like 200 times and witness the beautfy of you eyeballs entering something called a human skull.

This game is not worth the full price. It’s missing NG+, it has some annoying bugs like mentioned disappearing ammo on restart of the checkpoints, glitches with collectibles when you die, weird auto-save system, lack of freedom and customization with weapons… But for the fans of the genre, I would say it fits into the category “Yeah, I liked it, enjoyed it, but it’s over. Where is that Dead Space Remake?” Too bad, this had so much potential. 

"Awesome survival sci-fi horror atmosphere bundled with an even better sounds effect, unreal graphics and combat that just doesn't work. The lack of enemies, boss fights and NG+ is rude when a short game asks for a full price."
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