The Callisto Protocol Review – This generation’s The Order: 1886

This generation’s The Order: 1886

Playing The Callisto Protocol you’re thrown by an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. While the obvious comparison here would be Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol actually has a lot more in common with The Order: 1886. With a lot of hype and promise ahead of release, boasting a spiritual successor to survival horror darling Dead Space, Callisto Protocol is not just underwhelming, it’s actually fundamentally broken to the point of sucking away any enjoyment you may have with this one.

The Callisto Protocol is undoubtedly a pretty game though and the visuals are outstanding. This really helps sell the game’s chilly, atmospheric look. There are impressive weather effects, excellent lighting and high graphical fidelity. However, all of that accounts for nothing when the gameplay is as subpar as it is here. It’s a real shame too because this game has glimmers of brilliance.

Walking down a strobed corridor, hearing guttural screams in the distance, or crawling through vents only to hear scuttering around you, are two such examples where this really works. But these moments are mere flickers as the core of this game rears its ugly, half-baked head.

Welcome to Black Iron Prison

The plot is pretty straightforward and starts with freight transporters, Jacob Lee and Max Barrow. When the pair are boarded by a fugitives, fronted by a woman named Dani, the ship crash-lands, Max is killed on impact and Jacob finds himself thrown into the bowels of Black Iron Prison on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto.

Unfortunately, everything goes to hell when Jacob awakens, with monsters lurking about and the whole place on the verge of collapse. Jacob is forced to try and escape before the monsters attack and kill him.

Most of the answers around what is happening are backloaded in a couple of corridors full of expository dialogue toward the end of the game. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the story is so barebones and perfunctory that it would have been nice to actually uncover little clues along the way as to what’s happening and who’s involved.

Of course, survival horror doesn’t need a particularly in-depth narrative, with many of this genre working with the bare minimum but ramping up the scares. The early Resident Evil and Silent Hill titles worked like this, and it’s something that’s been a mainstay in the genre ever since.

Controls & Gameplay

Unfortunately, the gameplay does nothing to help the story woes and it’s here where Callisto Protocol’s problems can be felt the most. The game features a combat system that attempts to tweak what worked for Dead Space by taking out everything good and replacing it with a sluggish, janky set of controls.

With an unwieldy camera, The Callisto Protocol is not a game designed to be played through in a hurry. Despite the sprint button, Jacob’s movements are regularly stifled to slow crawls through vents, wading through waist-high water or walking over anything that isn’t steel for some reason.

Combat is the biggest culprit here though. Enemies can be fast and regularly charge at you, coming from a multitude of different directions. Your melee is mapped to one button, a heavy swinging attack that can take several swing combos to take down even the easiest of enemies.

Dodging is done by holding one of the directional buttons either left or right, while there’s also a block button by holding back on the directional pad. However, as this is the same button used as traversing, most of the time you’ll find yourself moving in random directions… and potentially toward further problems.

Combat encounters are triggered by hitboxes on the floor and more often than not, and that’s a real issue. There are several occasions where you’ll figure out that moving forward and sprinting backwards (there’s no 180 turn here, just awkwardly jogging backwards) is your best bet. If not, one on one encounters can turn into group swarms and that’s where the combat turns from unwieldy to outright broken.

These combat encounters are locked with animations that can’t be interrupted, so regularly you’ll find yourself dodging an enemy attack, only to get hit with a projectile from a ranged enemy, looping you into a stagger animation… and a cheap death because you’re not dodging the original enemy again.

Sometimes – like in the god-awful conclusion to Chapter 6 – waves of enemies will come at you from different sides of a small platform and can actually one-hit kill you if you’re not quick enough to stop mutations.

Similarly, enemies can attack from behind and unless you’re wearing surround sound headphones and constantly swinging the camera around, you will likely die repeatedly from cheap deaths occurring all over the place.

And that’s before mentioning one particularly annoying enemy that you won’t see until it’s too late, latching to your head and forcing you into a QTE button-mashing game. It’s just not particularly fun to play and can turn into a laborious chore. Oh, and that’s before mentioning the overlong death animations and the slow injectors to replenish health (although to be fair I quite liked that.)

Some people may take to the combat system but this isn’t even a case of “git gud” when the system is gamed against the player like this, it shows off fundamental gameplay flaws that could have been remedied by an actual dodge and block button.

To try and remedy the combat woes, several different guns become available across the 10-12 hour play-time. These can be upgraded at 3D printing stations, exchanged for Callisto Credits that allow your weapon to become more powerful.

I personally found myself using the Riot Gun and Skunk Gun almost all the way through, with the best tactic coming from shooting the legs out from under enemies and then moving in for a melee strike on the ground.

Each of these dead enemies can be stomped on just like in Dead Space to uncover loot, including extra bullets, health or battery packs. The trouble is, the combat is so plentiful through the levels, that are largely condensed and small areas, that you can’t really avoid the issues.

Level Design

The latter is used for your GPR Glove, which essentially works to control gravity, lifting objects up and flinging them at your enemies. It’s incredibly powerful and can actually one-shot kill enemies if you bring them in and blast them at environmental hazards like spiked walls or fans. You can also upgrade your glove at upgrade stations, which is highly recommended to do as it cuts out some of the issues with the combat.

Even beyond that though, The Callisto Protocol basically lives and dies by its visuals. The game is certainly pretty but so too were Beyond: Two Souls and The Order 1886 – and no one is talking about either of those games years down the line. The same, I fear, will be true of The Callisto Protocol. There are moments of brilliance here, with a couple of well-timed jump scares and well-designed corridors but beyond that this game offers very little.

The level design essentially sandwiches you into trudging down corridors with very little room for exploration. A couple of side-areas either work as one long corridor down to find one collectible or chest, forcing you either to double-back on yourself or circling round to where you need to go. Mostly, what’s here centers on a corridor shooter.

There is an attempt to throw in some stealth early on, coming in the form of the security robots, but they’re soon forgotten once you reach Chapter 3 of the game. To be fair, moments later on can be useful to stealth, especially sneaking past blind enemies, but in the 10 hours it took me to complete this, it was only used a handful of times at best (and that was mostly just to get the achievements!)

These corridors are broken up constantly by crawling through similar looking vents, squeezing through gaps in walls and copy-pasted bits of level design. Several “secret areas” are identical in design, while there are over 5 “airlock” sequences in the same level that force you to stand still while decontamination takes place. These won’t be initially obvious to anyone just casually playing, but from a level design and gameplay perspective, these feel like insidious little tricks to try and pad out the run-time.

Speaking of recycling, the game uses the same boss fight three times in the span of two chapters at the end, completely negating any threat or awe that creature had when it first showed up. And unfortunately, these sort of issues, coupled with repeated sound bytes for enemy screaming, really show off the game’s limitations.

These limitations extend to when you finish the game too. At the time of writing, there’s no ability to jump into individual chapters to collect anything you missed, although these largely come in the form of uninteresting IDs for personnel on Callisto or audio feeds. If you want to 100% complete this, you’ll need to make sure you don’t miss anything as you’ll have to restart the whole game.

Overall Thoughts

And that of course brings us back to the characters and story. With such a weak gameplay loop, this can sometimes be saved by good characters or a compelling story. The Callisto Protocol has neither. The characters are wafer-thin with simple motivations, the big-bad is way too obvious and the story even baits for a second title to continue the mythos which may or may not happen beyond next year’s planned DLC.

Good graphics and lighting can only go so far and unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing else here worth getting excited about. The Callisto Protocol is this generation’s The Order 1886. It could have been great. There are flickers of greatness here. But in the end, this turns into a great big disappointment.


Read More: The Callisto Protocol Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 5/10

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