The Callisto Protocol was one of my anticipated titles for 2022, and I am sure it was the same for many others. The Myriad of gameplay trailers leading up to the release showed us the return of survival horror to its true form. However, with a few missteps along the way, the title falls short of its promise but is still an experience worth visiting for the potential of playing an entry in the future. In our Callisto Protocol review, we take a look at the debut title from Striking Distance Studios.
You play as Jacob Lee. A delivery pilot who has their ship boarded, which leads to a crash that lands them on one of the moons of Jupiter, Callisto. From there, he is sentenced to Black Iron Prison, a penal colony built on the moon. Quickly after his arrival, a new disease spreads in prison and turns the inmates into mutated monsters called the Genophage. Jacob must set to get himself off the moon before it’s too late.
The story has a good build-up to a bigger plot, but Jacob feels like a weaker protagonist in terms of character at the start. However, as the story progresses, he does become a slightly better hero to the story by the end of it.
The game takes you through many different settings and places, bringing a good scenery change to the space. You navigate through broad and foreboding hallways all the way through tight and narrow corridors fighting all sorts of menacing terrors, sometimes in groups. The game has an atmosphere akin to the original Dead Space, which always keeps you guessing about what could be around the next corner.
With some talented voice acting, evenly paced action, and progression of the story as it plays out, this is one of those games that you just have to play as a fan of the series to appreciate the pacing from beginning to end.
Jacob may lack the convictions of similar horror game protagonists, but towards the end of the game, he has a good redemption arc and goes through significant character development than how he starts out.
Unlike Dead Space, Callisto Protocol has an emphasis on up-close combat. For the first part of the game, you have nothing but a baton at your disposal. As you grow to become skilled with the weapon, you have to learn to balance switching between melee and shooting. You have to reserve your shooting for the bigger threats in the game that are literal bullet sponges, and meleeing them isn’t a viable strategy.
The gameplay loop can become a little monotonous if not repetitive. Though, there is enough enemy variety here for you to switch up tactics now and again. This becomes especially vital when you face a certain enemy type later in the game. In addition, you can also make use of GRP, which is basically Kinesis from Dead Space. It’s useful for exploration, combat, and making some enemy encounters easier by sticking the enemy to spiked walls.
You will collect Callisto credits as you play, which you can use to craft items such as healing kits, ammo, and upgrades for your weapons. While the majority of my playthrough was spent on upgrading weapons and, in the end, prioritizing ammo, Callisto credits aren’t hard to come by if you combine exploring with stomping enemy corpses.
You can upgrade different tools in the game using the reforger, which is a 3D printer with a satisfying real-time animation. This was a really cool feature and really helped with the immersion of the game’s setting and making it feel like a futuristic title.
Dodging and Mutation
One new addition to the combat is the dodge mechanic, where you can dodge incoming enemy hits to avoid damage. Perfect dodges allow you to slow down time and get a hit or two in with no cost to your health.
There’s also the mutation mechanic to keep an eye out for. Later in the game, Enemies will have the chance to have a set of tentacles in their chest. If you don’t deal with them fast enough and deliver a finishing stomp, they can become stronger and more formidable enemies. This can be especially annoying when there is a group of enemies. It’s hard to keep track of who is mutating and who is not.
Death is punishing in this game, whether it’s from dying to environmental hazards or very detailed death animations that take place at the hands of tentacles or the genophage. Some of these animations are really grotesque and gruesome to look at, which shows the attention the developers put into death.
Lastly, there are ways of dealing with enemies using the environment to make your life much easier. The game will have sections where players can use GRP to lift enemies. You can then throw them into spikes on the wall, spinning drills, and other environmental hazards.
All in all, the gameplay is very varied, but my only complaint is the healing animation. The health pack (injector) has a long and unnecessary animation, which can lead to certain death. This made certain parts harder due to it not being a quick fix like in other games in the genre.
Another issue I had with the game was the lack of a minimap or an objective marker. You can easily lose track of where you are, especially in the more complex areas. One upside is that it did lead me to other parts of the map where I found collectibles, ammo, and credits. It would have been nice to have something to help with exploration outside of listening to the dialog.
The game looks and runs great. I played it in performance mode on the PS5 and thoroughly enjoyed the game. The characters, environments, and other world details are indeed very pleasing to look at. Each of the setpieces in the game is greatly detailed, and you really get the strong sci-fi horror movie feeling right off the bat.
A few action sequences greatly punctuate the story and help make some moments in the game feel more intense, but overall the game’s visual presentation was still great. Admiring the character animations and exploring the world was something I also thoroughly enjoyed doing during my time with the game.
The sound is also another great component. The familiar hissing and environmental sounds echo in the hallways and corridors to always keep you on your feet. With jump scares aplenty, there is rarely a respite from being on your feet. You must always be ready for a fight, even when you feel like you are at the end of your rope.
Without giving spoilers, there is even a certain level where you will feel an overwhelming sense of dread and you know that not every object in that environment is as it seems. This is one of the better levels in the game as you have to balance surviving with carefully choosing who and what you fight, and really helps complement the gameplay and story together.
Overall, even in presentation mode, where visuals get slightly sacrificed for framerate, I still found the game to be a true current-gen title, even though the game was made for the PS4 and Xbox One as well.
The Callisto Protocol is definitely not going to be for everyone. It’s a game with a more rigid combat system that requires mastery to play the game, but it has a good story with a good redemption arc toward the end.
I do have my fair share of complaints with the game, particularly with how healing is handled, the lack of an objective marker, and learning the near unforgiving combat mechanics of the game, but overall, the game is worth the journey if you are willing to put up with these minor gripes.
With a strong visual and auditory presentation, the title is one that I won’t forget anytime soon. While the game could have been better at some minor gameplay changes, such as the previous problems I mentioned, these problems do little to detract from the experience, considering how generous the game is with checkpoints, which cancels that out as a con as well.
What did you think of our Callisto Protocol Review? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This review is based on the PS5 version of The Callisto Protocol. A key was provided by Indigo Pearl.