The Callisto Protocol fanfiction 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 shortcomings of The Callisto Protocol are just as obvious as the mutant dismemberment, which is now more vivid than ever. An 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.
It is up to wrongfully imprisoned cargo pilot Jacob Lee to discover the source of the resident evil and find a way off the prison planet, undergoing a claustrophobic crawl through a ruined facility overwhelmed by lunatics from the moon. What follows is a fairly linear gauntlet run, but thankfully the team at developer Striking Distance Studios has proven to be masterful creators of creepy corridors – rarely are any two passages alike, 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’s fetid prison placed me in a state of maximum insecurity.
The majority of the desperation and discomfort of the pair’s plight is conveyed by the film’s remarkable art direction and audio design. With the third-person camera constantly focused on Jacob, you can see the sweat sheen on his scalp in the humid laundry room, the blood splatter that soaks his coveralls after each brutal encounter, and the particularly disgusting sewage that covers his body after he is forced to wade waist-deep through waste management. Everything is thick and filthy in a palpable manner, which is accentuated by disquieting scrapes and sickening squelches emanating from the darkness around you.
And while it’s become a common technique for developers to disguise the loading of new areas with narrow terrain gaps for players to shimmy through, in this case they enhance the sense of dread as opposed to being a nuisance. As Jacob inched through the foul, pustule- and tendril-covered caverns of Black Iron’s lower levels, his on-screen winces mirrored my own expressions of discomfort. The Callisto Protocol’s fetid prison placed me in a state of maximum insecurity.
Let’s address the elephant-sized mutant in the room, however: The Callisto Protocol is essentially a Dead Space game in all but name, with Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield leading Striking Distance Studios. The combat system heavily relies on a battery-powered telekinesis ability that allows you to hurl objects with a flick of Jacob’s wrist.
There is also evidence of a mysterious religious cult involved in some way with the outbreak, as well as instructions on how to murder enemies written in blood on the walls. It stops short of introducing Isaac Clarke’s stasis ability, and swaps his collection of weaponized mining implements for a more conventional arsenal of pistols and shotguns, but otherwise feels very familiar – and as someone who has played all of the Dead Space games, it resulted in a campaign that was heavy on startling jump scares but light on major story or gameplay surprises.
The Callisto Protocol‘s greatest departure from Dead Space’s horror-driven formula is its increased emphasis on melee combat during the opening hours. As weapons and ammo are initially scarce, dispatching each snarling cellmate requires luring them into uncomfortable proximity, dodging their clawing attacks, and then countering with a flurry of strikes from Jacob’s stun baton.
The thumbstick-based dodging and blocking of incoming attacks feels a bit like ducking and weaving in a boxing game – except your opponent is less like Holyfield and more like “Holy crap!” – and it’s satisfyingly weighty to lop off their limbs one by one and carve baton-shaped grooves into their skulls.