The Callisto Protocol Day one Edition Review: The Dead Space corpse has lurched back to life early in the shape of The Callisto Protocol, though a true reboot may be emerging from the tomb next year. The haunting blood-streaked corridors and space zombie-slaying hallmarks first established on the USG Ishimura back in 2008 are recreated in this spiritual successor to the sci-fi survival horror series, which injects the gore with more awe than ever before thanks to some strikingly detailed splashes of blood and guts. Unfortunately, the inadequacies of The Callisto Protocol are just as obvious as the mutant dismemberment, which is now more vivid than ever. A approximately eight-hour carnage that is satisfyingly gory, but never nearly as wonderful as the series that inspired it, is produced by sporadic control irritations, unbalanced combat, and a general lack of creativity.
Disaster has struck the Black Iron Prison facility on Callisto’s moon, and the inmates are revolting. Not only have they broken out of their cells and started a riot, but they have also been affected by an unknown virus that has turned them all into twisted, toxic avengers. Unjustly imprisoned cargo pilot Jacob Lee must make his way through a cramped crawl through a facility that has fallen into disrepair and been overtaken by lunatics from the moon in order to uncover the source of the local evil and escape the prison planet. Fortunately, the team at developer Striking Distance Studios has shown itself to be a masterful maker of creepy corridors; rarely are any two passages ever the same and each area is given a distinct sense of place, from the maintenance room decorated with dangling corpses that resemble prison guard pinatas to the frosted-over facilities that lie beyond the prison walls.
The Callisto Protocol Day one Edition Review – Acquiring a GRP
Unfortunately, once the GRP is injected, the high amount of tension disappears. This gravity-defying gauntlet can raise most adversaries into the air and can provide for some exciting combat engagements, especially when used in conjunction with the different deathtraps and explosive items that are strategically placed throughout each sector. Before the ghouls even realise you are there, you could walk into a room full of them, pick one up and impale him on a spiked wall, toss another into a visible grinding device, and finish them off by launching a saw blade into the middle of them. It can be a lot of fun—in a Jedi-style jailbreak kind of way—and it frequently results in spectacularly gruesome outcomes, but it also means that significant threats are frequently put out of commission too quickly, as if you were Indiana Jones bringing a gun to a swordfight.
I couldn’t constantly rely on GRP because it depletes and needs to be recharged over time or instantly topped off with batteries if you have any in your inventory. However, I did feel that it gave me the upper hand in the majority of enemy encounters, even on the “maximum security” difficulty setting, and at times I wondered if I was the most dangerous creature in Black Iron.
I didn’t really bother investing much on The Callisto Protocol’s weapon upgrade mechanism because of how powerful the GRP was. I certainly splurged on fundamental upgrades like recoil dampening and enlarged clip capacities, but I never felt the need to scrape up enough Callisto credits to pay for the more exotic upgrades. After all, the only additional fire mode I ever truly needed was the ability to throw the always-present explosive canisters or pick an adversary up and drop them over a ledge. What use are explosive rounds for the riot gun or homing bullets for the assault rifle?
Inferno in a Cell
That is not to argue that The Callisto Protocol does not provide a good selection of different enemy kinds. They all look wonderfully repulsive, and even better when you’re making space jam out of their space guts. They embody a fairly standard set of survival horror archetypes, including standard zombie types, suicide bombers that rush you, and spider-like creatures that scramble on all fours up walls and along ceilings. As soon as a regenerative ability is implemented, encounters with hordes of excited enemies gain a pleasant sense of urgency. This ability allows basic enemy grunts to evolve into more durable brutes if you hurt them without killing them completely. The clearest example of this would be a late-game ride on an underground drilling platform where you are attacked by hordes of enemies who surround you and rapidly gain power after being struck by flying rock fragments. It’s undoubtedly one of the scenes on the trip that raises the heart rate the most.
However, the surprisingly slow so-called “rapid weapon swap” function elsewhere made me anxious. It frequently failed me during the frequent battles with the twin-headed mini-boss tank from The Callisto Protocol, in which my ammunition supplies were quickly depleted. The ability to switch between equipped weapons is available by pressing left on the D-pad, but the animation of Jacob holstering one and drawing the next is too long and prone to interruption. As a result, there were numerous occasions when I’d begin a weapon switch but immediately perform a dodge to evade an enemy attack, and then spring back up into a shooting stance only to find myself still armed with the very same weapon I was trying to holster. Despite awkward control problems, The Callisto Protocol’s few boss battles are frustratingly one-dimensional and never truly captured my imagination (although they undoubtedly frequently fractured Jacob’s skull).
The Callisto Protocol also suffers from a number of minor issues. Opening chests automatically taking everything inside is annoying, so I had to repeatedly enter the inventory page to remove the skunk gun ammo I never requested in order to make room. The fact that you can only listen to audio logs while you’re sitting motionless and staring at a menu, rather than having them act as unsettling accompaniments to your investigation like they do in games like Dead Space and BioShock, seems a little outdated. And while having a facehugger spring out of the locker you’re looking in might have been a wonderful idea the first time for a jump fright, by the sixth or seventh time it becomes old and you start to feel like you have to put up with the same repetitive office gags of an alien April Fool’s day.
Last but not least, even if The Callisto Protocol’s eight-hour length feels just perfect in terms of pacing, there isn’t much to do once the main plot has been completed. The total bundle at launch feels practically as thin as a prison cell mattress, even if a New Game+ option is reportedly coming via a free patch at a later time. Additionally, there are currently no interesting unlockables that might motivate repeated playthroughs or any alternative modes to attempt.
The Callisto Protocol takes the audience on an intensely evocative and action-packed tour to a magnificent slaughterhouse in a faraway part of space. Its primarily linear layout minimises retracing while trimming the fat, leaving enough of bone and gristle for ripping and tearing. While there is plenty of murderous fun to be had using enormous grinding mechanisms to make mulch out of mutants, such cheap thrills come at the high cost of puncturing any tension and dread that the incredible art and audio design work so hard to invoke. It also betrays its survival horror roots by frequently tipping the balance of power too far in favour of the player. In addition to the intense melee combat, there is the overarching impression that not much new is being done here, and there is sadly little to do after completing the story. The Callisto Protocol is thus a satisfyingly gruesome spiritual successor to the Dead Space series, but ultimately it’s more of an eye-catching contemporary copy than a terrifying new mutation.