I was going to set myself a challenge of trying to write a review for The Callisto Protocol without mentioning Dead Space. But even after just a very short amount of time with the game, I realised this would be impossible.
You see, not only is The Callisto Protocol heavily inspired by Dead Space, but it also inadvertently made me long for the upcoming Dead Space remake.
The Callisto Protocol is set largely inside Black Iron Prison, on one of the moons of Jupiter in the year 2320. Jacob Lee is a freight transporter, moving cargo between Callisto and other moons of Jupiter. On a routine journey delivering this unnamed cargo, his ship, the UJC Charon, is boarded by a terrorist group known as The Outer Way. As a result, they crash land back on Callisto, with Jacob’s crewmate Max killed in the process. To make matters worse, Jacob is then arrested and imprisoned on the moon for unknown reasons.
These issues are purely trivial to what happens next; Jacob awakens to find the prison in disarray. The robotic guards have malfunctioned, and the human inhabitants have fared even worse. Jacob teams up with Elias, another inmate, and together they hatch a plan to find a ship and escape.
Jacob is largely alone, even when teamed up with Elias. He journeys through the prison making his way to objectives whilst avoiding the horrific monstrosities that shamble around the corridors, known as biophages. Their origins are unknown, but that is the least of Jacob’s priorities at the moment.
Much like Dead Space, there is no UI, with details such as health, ammo and more diegetically shown on Jacob. These are either on his neck implant or displayed upon the guns themselves.
Unlike Dead Space however, this focuses much more on melee-styled combat. Guns are still present, but these are primarily used as a follow up shot after a successful melee combo. Early on, Jacob will receive a baton off a dead guard, and this will be his main weapon throughout. You can swing away with the right trigger, but incoming attacks are best avoided altogether. This works a little differently than 99% of other games and is designed to feel a bit more natural. After my time with it though, I would argue it would have been best to stick to the traditional method.
Dodging attacks is done by holding the left stick in either the left or right position when a blow is heading your way. This takes a few attempts to get the hang of but isn’t too bad once understood. Sometimes, combat does get a bit disorientating, especially when dealing with a few enemies at once, but you should avoid this at all times if possible. Blocking however, is another thing entirely.
An unlockable ability at the upgrade stations, even after reading the tutorial hint several times, I didn’t manage a single block throughout my campaign, preferring to dodge all the time. And after reading other thoughts on the internet, it would seem I am not alone in the confusion.
Due to the nature of where the enemies come from – as in, a mutated human – variation between enemies is a bit lacking. Aside from some slug looking things and some long, twisty vine like things (but even these have a human head at the end of them), everything is just very humanoid looking. Grotesque yes, but still resembling a human.
They all act very similar too, especially in terms of attacking Jacob. Some will take one swing, others two or three. Occasionally one will appear that spits a toxic hairball at you, or one late-game enemy can cause some serious issues, but there is a bit of a lack of enemy diversity.
It means at times, I got a bit bored with The Callisto Protocol. Corridors after corridors, similar enemy after similar enemy – you even go through a long portion of the game in the middle not picking up any new weapons. And most new weapons are variations of a pistol and a shotgun; two weapons you pick up early in the game.
The horror is lacking too. If you’ve ever played a horror game, you can spot the tropes a mile off. The way the camera fixes on opening a door means you will be ambushed at some point. Or there is the long corridor with fog at the end to prevent you from seeing all the way down, hiding a jumpscare. You know what to look out for, and The Callisto Protocol will telegraph it to you.
But more annoyingly is the fact it will then repeat them over and over again; I lost count of the number of times I opened a crate or locker only to be jumped by a slug. And by the end repeatedly pressing Y to remove them became a real pain.
The most effective jumpscare is perhaps the very last frame of the game. It comes out of nowhere and was genuinely the first time in the entire game I got scared.
There are times when The Callisto Protocol teases something new plot wise, only to dangle the thread without exploring it further. At its most basic level, it is a sci-fi tale told a thousand times over, but there could be some interesting moments. At one point, Jacob has a flashback to his co-pilot and claims his implant is going funny. At this point I was expecting some Scarecrow levels of hallucinations from Batman: Arkham Asylum, but just like when watching The Room, it was never mentioned again.
One thing The Callisto Protocol does do better than Dead Space is the variation between locations. The Callisto Protocol isn’t afraid to explore outside the prison itself. These aren’t the zero gravity sections from Dead Space, but rather the surface of the moon. It is almost as hostile as the prison as well, the snowstorm makes visibility very difficult. You can even see a light dusting on Jacob’s suit when exploring outside.
It is safe to say that fans of the original Dead Space may find The Callisto Protocol lacking in comparison. The story is inferior, combat isn’t quite on the money and the enemy variation is lacking. That said, there is still a good sci-fi survival horror game hiding within. Many of the elements in The Callisto Protocol are fine without anything really standing out, but you may still want to wait until that Dead Space Remake comes out.
Escape Black Iron Prison in The Callisto Protocol from the Xbox Store
- Good detail in locations
- Definitely has that next-gen look to it
- Attempts to bring in fresh ideas to combat
- Lack of any real scares
- Plenty of unexplored plot points
- Little variation in enemy designs
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - KRAFTON
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 3 December 2022
- Launch price from - £54.99