LifeisXbox’s The Callisto Protocol review | When the first teasers for The Callisto Protocol were shown, everyone got up from their seats, pointed at the screen Leonardo DiCaprio meme-style and shouted “That’s Dead Space 4!”. But while the game shares a lot of similarities, including the sci-fi setting and enemies you can dismember, it’s an entirely new IP and not set in the same universe.
You can’t really hide the fact that they rode the bandwagon of EA’s acclaimed survival horror though, and Glen Schofield along with ~30 developers who worked on Dead Space are among the creators of this new franchise. Early impressions from other people covering the game lead me to believe that this marketing approach wasn’t the best method, as many players were expecting similar gameplay and game design, but the two titles each go their own route, as you’ll find out in the full review below.
Let’s first set the stage: You play as Jacob (another biblical protagonist name, next to Dead Space’s Isaac) and you get boarded while hauling cargo to the prison planet Callisto. The proverbial shit hits the fan and not much later, Jacob finds himself as a prison inmate just as the entire building is overrun by Necromorphs, sorry, I mean “Biophages”.
Most Memorable Moment
I’m always interested in finding out the inner workings of post-apocalyptic events: how did the humans turn into zombies, what happened in this city and so on. And discovering the Black Iron prison bit by bit and seeing how the Biophages turn the soldiers and inmates into one of their own is definitely an early highlight in the game:
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PLAION Benelux, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- The prison setting | A prison is the perfect setting for a horror game, as shown by one of my favourite games: The Suffering. A prison in space? Even better! The cells, the claustrophobic hallways, an infirmary… all these locations lend themselves extremely well. But I kind of wished we got to see the prison life before the Biophage infestation took place, learn the rules and inner workings, and how the technology behaves in normal conditions. I appreciated being thrown into the action from the get-go, but a nice and slow buildup could have increased the stakes even more.
- The sci-fi gear | Displaying the health bar of the player on the node implanted on the back of your head is a great way to handle the crucial info the player needs without breaking the immersion by having too many UI elements. Yes, this is also something they copied over from Dead Space, alongside the remaining ammo shown on your weapon, but instead of complaining about this, I wish they copied even more, like the holographic maps and guides through the level.
- The visuals | There is no denying that The Callisto Protocol is a great-looking game and many of the set piece locations have an insane amount of detail. There is a run button, but unless I was being chased, I preferred to leisurely stroll through the environments and take it all in. The production values are off the charts, and this is easily one of the best-looking games released in 2022.
- Brutal death animations | “So many dumb ways to die” starts playing in the background.
There really are a ton of different ways for Jacob to meet his end and the animations are so bloody (literally) well done, that I was always tempted to fail certain combat encounters or get close to dangerous hazards, just to see what horrible fate awaited him.
- The sound | The ambient sound design is masterful and even with a regular headset, it’s like I’m able to pinpoint the exact location of an enemy, which really helps when you want to survive. The voice acting is generally great, but as with most games some characters have a better performance than others. Luckily the ones that matter the most nail it.
- High-tense set piece moments | Occasionally, The Callisto Protocol will throw an impressively-looking room at you where you can’t help but take in all the gory details. And when the tension seems to get a bit stale, it surprises you by collapsing the building on top of you, letting you walk through a blizzard, or it has you flying down an obstacle course while the world around you falls to bits and pieces. There are definitely some must-see moments like this that elevate the game to a higher level.
- Punch-out gameplay | The Callisto Protocol has a way bigger focus on melee combat and you’d be wise to invest your first upgrades as such. The limited amount of ammo will only get you so far. Instead, you’ll have to channel your inner Mike Tyson and dodge incoming slashes from the enemy and counter with a well-timed attack of your own. The good: the Biophages really telegraph their attacks and you don’t need perfect timing to dodge, you only need to be pressing in the correct direction the moment the strike would hit you. The bad: it’s only satisfying in 1-Vs-1 combat but the game tends to throw multiple enemies at you at once. When facing packs of enemies, the encounters tend to fall apart.
- Audio logs | I love to discover more backstory through listening to audio recordings, but they are often too well-hidden and give me anxiety about not being able to backtrack and find the ones I’ve missed. And when you do find one, the game comes to a screeching halt as you can’t keep walking around while listening to them.
- Accessibility features | It’s nice that features like these are included, but only if they work. Let’s go over them:
– Hold instead of spam Quick Time Events: Works and I could see this being helpful
– Autocomplete Quick Time Events: Works and will even prevent you losing health to some surprise attacks
– Auto-dodge: did not work for me. In fact, I think turning it on made dodging less reliable.
– Auto-aim: works, but works against you. will often target the wrong enemy and makes it impossible to target exploding canisters.
– Difficulty: I honestly couldn’t tell you what the difference is between “easy” and “hard” in this game. Hardly noticeable.
- Photomode | I’m always happy when a game gives me access to a photomode, especially a good-looking one like this, but sadly the camera seems to have a 5 meter rope attached to your character, which doesn’t give you a whole lot of freedom.
What we Disliked
- Incredibly linear | Whereas Dead Space gave the players a somewhat open world to navigate through, albeit with a linear story to tell, The Callisto Protocol is more like a corridor simulator guiding you through one narrow path after the other. And while it encourages players to explore to find hidden voice recordings or extra valuables, it also tends to shut doors behind your back, making it impossible to return if you accidentally trigger the next story sequence. My entire playthrough was one giant Fear Of Missing Out, as it wasn’t always clear which route would take you to the secret and which one would progress the story. Ironically the “new game” option from the main menu is called “New Experience” here, but I fear that your two playthroughs will almost be identical to each other.
- Lack of enemy variations | Most of the game, you’ll be facing the exact same enemies and the Biophages aren’t quite as diverse as the Necromorphs from Dead Space. The first time a tentacle head jumps out and grabs you, you’ll be shocked. The second time, you might even be inclined to fail the QuickTime event to witness the gruesome death animation, but seeing that exact same attack pattern from a “trap” enemy 20 times throughout the game gets boring quick. About 2/3rds through, you face a hulking enemy that feels like a boss, only to have to face another one of them 3 times more throughout the game. And they were the most frustrating encounters by a long shot, requiring a ranged approach while the rest of the game has a melee focus. Got locked in to that encounter with low ammo? Tough luck!
- Too many vents | I get it. Crawling through a narrow vent with the audio giving you goosebumps because it sounds like there is a Biophage right next to you is a sure-fire way to up the creep factor, but this only works when you have to do it maybe 5 times in a single game, and god forbid that you think you missed a collectable and have to backtrack through one.
- Inconsistency | More times than I can count, I broke a glass panel in the game, crawled through a vent (there really are many) and when I got back to that location with the glass, it was restored to pristine condition. It breaks the immersion a bit.
- Bugs & Crashes | Each game has minor bugs you can ignore for the most part and while there are the usual enemies clipping into objects occurrences here, they’re not a huge bother and far and few between. Crashes, on the other hand, happened far more frequently and are a much bigger issue. The Callisto Protocol had a full-on crash for me on 3 instances, 6 if you count the last one happening again and again until I loaded a different save. I’d jump down into a shaft, the audio would disappear and then the game would quit to the Xbox dashboard… not a good look.
- Savefiles/checkpoints | I really, really dislike the save system in The Callisto Protocol. There is a manual save option, but that doesn’t seem to do anything but give you control over which automated checkpoint to log. Often you’ll have an upgrade station available just before a difficult encounter, but every time you die you will have to spend time selling items, picking up gear again and upgrading. Why you can’t just save AFTER doing all those things is beyond me and a major cause of frustration.
- Sluggish | I understand that it increases the drama factor by a billion when you can’t just shoot your way through the game or bank up on healing items to use instantly, but switching weapons or reloading takes AGES and many bigger enemies you’ll face towards the end require multiple clips to take down. Healing is totally out of the question during combat as well, attempting to do so is a guaranteed death sentence. I almost quit the game in frustration more times than I care to count because of this.
- No HDR | The big media drama surrounding the release of The Callisto Protocol was mostly around Steam having stutter issues (which was fixed the next day) and Xbox Series S not supporting 60fps, but the biggest visual issue for me is having no decent HDR. Zones that should be dark and black are greyish and washed out. For a horror game, that’s a dealbreaker. (check the video below to see what I’m talking about)
How long to beat the story | ~9-10 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | ~12 hours if you follow a collectable guide
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.