The Callisto Protocol Review – Burdened By Legacy

This Is eXputer's The Callisto Protocol Review.

If you have ever played the Dead Space games, or even been exposed to the series through any other form of media over the past decade or so, then the influence they had on The Callisto Protocol is incredibly hard to miss. In fact, this title was actually pitched as a spiritual successor to that legendary Sci-Fi horror franchise, and every major aspect of its design is either an exact replica or evolution of that same award-winning formula. 

And if you think that statement is intended to put the game down, then you could not be further from the truth. The game is a homage, a love letter even, to the types of horror experiences that fans have been requesting for a long long time now.

But with that also comes the weight of legacy, and to not only meet the standards set by your influences but also to exceed them as much as possible. And although The Callisto Protocol easily manages to be a decent experience in its own right, it fails at establishing its own unique identity and has a number of other issues beside that.

Story And Setting

Story.

Set in the far dystopian future, the story follows Cargo Pilot Jacob Lee, who has recently been transporting freight between Europa and the high-security Black Iron Prison on Callisto with his partner Max. The cargo they carry is considered to be extremely volatile, and their most recent run is expected to be so lucrative that they can both retire with the profits it brings in.

We obviously won’t spoil exactly what happens from here, but the trip doesn’t go as planned and instead of an early retirement, Jacob finds himself as an inmate in the prison itself after he is convicted without a trial and thrown in with the rest of the criminals. One thing leads to another, and the situation only gets worse from there as a riot breaks out and the residents of the prison begin a revolt. But there’s also something else going on, something far more sinister and grotesque. A mysterious disease is making its way through the denizens of the prison and mutating them into violent and bloodthirsty mutants.

So Jacob must now find a way to escape the prison, while also fending off the hordes of mutants that want nothing more than to rip him and every other human in the facility limb from limb. On his journey, he is joined by a few helpful faces that pop in every now and then, offering help or guiding the player in the right direction. Sound simple enough right? Well, now let’s talk about some of the problems. 

Because while this game has some incredible voiceovers, acting, motion capture, and atmosphere, it can’t seem to stand on its own in terms of the narrative. Jacob is portrayed by real-life actor Josh Duhamel, who you might have seen before in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. He contributes both his voice and likeness to our protagonist and for what it’s worth he gives a fairly decent performance. But the material he’s working with is dry.

The overall narrative is simply not that interesting, and the game can’t help but dip its toes back into the same tropes and themes that the material that inspired it did. What’s staggering however is that for some reason the writers of The Callisto Protocol seemed to not only have picked up methods of storytelling directly from the Dead Space series, but also literal plot points. Nothing is ever so bad that it’s a one-for-one copy of course, but some aspects do come fairly close.

Arrested Without Trial.

I don’t think that this story is bad per se, It simply hurts to see a game put so much effort into the worldbuilding and atmosphere, only to be let down by some poor writing choices. It also is disappointing that the studio didn’t see fit to take a bit more risk with this brand-new setting and title. It’s too comfortable for my tastes, and I think other fans will also feel much the same.

In terms of the actual setting, Black Iron Prison is a delightfully oppressive location that feels like it was meant to break bones and spirits alike. Every inch of it feels hostile to human life, and it contains everything from cramped metallic hallways, dank underground sewers, and even caves dug out into the moon where the prison is based. And if there is one thing I can say about that game, is that it absolutely nails the ambiance.

The whole game world is absolutely stunning, and the linear nature of the setting ensures that you never have to backtrack. You are constantly moving from one location to another, and there is always something new for you to see. Some of the more cinematic moments of the experience also come from the careful use of the camera in cramped spaces to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible.

Gameplay

The Callisto Protocol Review
Gameplay.

We once again have to bring up Dead Space when talking about the gameplay, because the comparisons are just undeniable. From the third-person perspective to the fact that the UI is virtually nonexistent, and even the way that Jacob’s health is displayed via an implant on the back of his neck, it’s all simply Dead Space. This isn’t even taking inspiration from similar mechanics, it’s simply reinserting them into a newer game. 

The only difference between the two titles is the setting, so instead of a mining ship and excavation equipment like in the former, here we instead have a high-security prison and access to actual combat gear to make use of. So the weapons at your disposal are a lot more practical now, like handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles, as opposed to Isaac Clarke’s Iconic Plasma Cutter. So yeah, a lot of the charm is lost in the translation.

The Callisto Protocol also seems to place a much greater emphasis on melee combat, especially during the early hours of the game where ammunition for your guns is extremely rare. You can land a string of successive hits on enemies with an appropriate physical weapon, and doing so allows you to conserve ammo and finish off individuals without wasting resources. These melee attacks are fast and heavy, and it feels great to bash a creature’s skull in with a metal pick or electric baton.

There’s also a new dodge mechanic where you can use the left stick on your controller to move out of the way of incoming attacks. Learning the timing on this is a bit tricky, but using it in conjunction with a chain of melee attacks allows you to briefly stun an enemy and then follow that up with a trick shot. This is a special move that allows you to instantly target a foe’s weak spots with your guns and down them in only a few shots.

Also worth mentioning is the Grip gauntlet, which is this game’s version of the Kinesis Module. Unlike in Dead Space where the Telekinesis power was used to pick up small objects and launch them at foes, or pull resources to you, here it acts to turn you into a superhuman killing machine. The gauntlet allows you to lift most regular enemies off the ground and propel them into environmental hazards or off ledges if you chose. It is unbelievably powerful and fun to use, but it saps all the tension from encounters. Why would you possibly be afraid of that crazy-looking mutant stumbling towards you when you know you can simply launch it back where it came from with a flick of the wrist?

The GRIP Gauntlet.

I had a lot of fun with these new mechanics in combat, but I also have to say that they do diminish the sense of terror that the game is trying to cultivate. Sometimes more freedom and combat options do not serve the theme of a game, and survival horror titles in particular are often defined more by how they restrict your options, rather than how much freedom they give you.

Speaking of the horror factor, let’s talk a bit about the enemies themselves. Just like the Necromorphs, the mutant enemies here are extremely aggressive when attacking and can be dismembered in all manner of ways. You can cut off arms, legs, and even heads, and they will keep on coming at you even if they have to crawl on the ground to do so. The new addition here however is that these enemies can regenerate their appendages if you do not finish them off quickly, so you are encouraged to kill one target fully before moving on to the next. And yes, the game also has an incredibly satisfying stomp attack that can be used to finish off downed enemies and break open crates on the ground. 

But here’s the thing. Even though The Callisto Protocol has a very respectable roster of enemies that are equally frightening and gruesome, most of them do not even come close to the sheer terror inspired by a single Necromorph in the first hour of Dead Space. None of them match the design, the brutality of their attacks, or even the intimidating way they approach you. Some readers might think that this is an unfair comparison to make, but this title is borrowing so many features from that series, that I think the point is worth making.

The Callisto Protocol Review
The Implant Shows Your Health.

Most basic grunts, and even some of the special elite enemies, simply resemble humanoid figures with deformities and incredibly twisted features. Necromorphs on the other hand look like inhuman beings pulled straight out of hell to hunt you down. The stances with which they stand, the gruesome way their bones are twisted, and even the blades attached to their arms, it’s all utterly terrifying and it cemented them as one of the most iconic enemies in video games. There is simply no comparison here between these two.

The most unique enemies in the game are the towering robots that act as security personnel in the prison. These are genuinely intimidating to go up against due to how quickly they can kill you, and they serve as tougher elite units that you have to fight a handful of times during the campaign. They really help in establishing some of the game’s own identity, but they are used a bit too sparsely.

Visuals And Performance

Visuals.

Even before the game was released, The Callisto Protocol made some waves on Twitter when an image was posted of a side-by-side comparison of Josh Duhamel and his in-game character Jacob Lee. The Unreal Engine 4 rendered character model looked so lifelike, that you could not differentiate between the two images unless you really focused on the differences between them. And while the actual characters within the game are not perfect representations of their human counterparts, they’re pretty darn close.

Every model in the game is rendered with excruciating detail, to the point where they might be some of the most detailed we have seen so far. You can make out the pores on faces and see the roughness of their skin. Trails of sweat flow down from their foreheads and reflect light from nearby sources. It’s all incredibly detailed where it counts, and it helps to elevate the appearance of humanoids in the game to new heights, and yes, I do include the mutants within that category.

The game also makes exceptional use of lighting and fog to transform otherwise ordinary hallways and rooms into absolutely nerve-racking sequences where the ambiance alone is enough to freak you out. I have a lot of complaints about this game, but one thing I am confident in acknowledging is that Striking Distance Studios knows how to set up shots. The cinematography is a big part of why the game is as atmospheric as it is, and why the scares work so well when unburdened by some of the other aspects I mentioned above.

Gore and the Blood splatter effects are also a sight to behold, as enemies are ripped apart from the sheer force of your melee and projectile attacks. Limbs fly off, gushers of blood stain the walls and floor, and chunks of flesh are sent hurtling down corridors. You can even bring the camera close to Jacob after each encounter to see that individual specks of blood have landed on his clothes from the enemies he’s killed. The game didn’t have to go to these lengths for the effects, but it’s always appreciated nonetheless.

In terms of performance, the game suffers from a number of issues across both the Xbox Series X and the PC, with the PlayStation 5 version being the most optimal one right now. On both consoles, the game manages to maintain a steady 60 FPS in performance mode for the most part, but in quality mode, there are some differences.

The Series X does not have any ray-traced reflections, struggles to maintain a steady 30 FPS, and occasionally drops below this cap when transitioning from one area to the other. The PlayStation 5 on the other hand does have ray-traced reflections and still manages to maintain 30 FPS even during some of the more hectic moments in combat. So yes, the PlayStation easily comes out here, and you should go for it if you have the option.

On PC, the game is an absolutely unoptimized mess right now. There are constant stuttering issues, framerate drops, and crashes that can ruin hours of progress. We tested the game on a GeForce RTX 4080, and could not exceed 40 FPS with ray tracing on. When it was off, the game could maintain a steady 60 FPS and even go up to 120 during certain moments, but the framerate drops and the stuttering were still a major issue. I do not recommend picking the game up for PC until at least a few more patches come out.

Verdict

Verdict.

The Callisto Protocol has a number of issues, but it is still a commendable attempt by Striking Distance Studios to breathe new life into the Sci-Fi horror genre. The world has gone way too long without a new Dead Space title, and this is the closest we are going to get for a while.

The story is not all that great, but the performances are pretty solid by Josh Duhamel and all the other actors like Karen Fukuhara and Sam Witwer. I really enjoyed the core combat, especially when it was not tripping over itself by introducing suspense-killing tools like the Grip. The new focus on melee attacks is also really cool, and I enjoyed bashing heads in with blunt weapons.

The graphics are also insane and the use of lighting and fog effects elevates the atmosphere to unbelievable heights. But the game does currently have some performance issues, and you should wait a while before picking it up if you can, especially on the PC.

I do not want to paint this as a bad game, because it’s not. It’s a very interesting first attempt by a brand-new studio that stumbles a bit during its path, and I hope that the title does well enough that the developers are able to make a sequel or at least any other title that they want. 

This has been our The Callisto Protocol Review. While you’re here, consider checking out some of our other articles.

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The Callisto Protocol Review
Overall
3.5
  • Story And Setting
  • Gameplay
  • Visuals And Performance

Verdict

The Callisto Protocol has a number of issues, but it is still a commendable attempt by Striking Distance Studios to breathe new life into the Sci-Fi horror genre. The world has gone way too long without a new Dead Space title, and this is the closest we are going to get for a while.

Pros

  • Great Ambiance
  • Next-Gen Graphics
  • Excellent Sound Design
  • Motion Capture Is Great
  • Combat Is Fantastic

Cons

  • Lacks Own Identity
  • Undermines Horror Theme
  • Performance Issues

Huzaifah Durrani


As an RPG fanatic, Huzaifah is probably Immersed in yet another playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas or Elden Ring. He will also help you complete game quests, and stay familiar with the latest game releases. You can also find his articles on Gearnuke & Twinfinite.

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