The Callisto Protocol: Within Striking Distance of Greatness

It’s no secret that I love horror games. From indie horror games made by a single person to AAA produced horror games from a big publisher and developer, I play and love a lot of them! As such, you can probably imagine I was pretty hyped when the Callisto Protocol, a new game from one of the creators of Dead Space, was announced! After the first information came out with a small teaser showing that the story would take place in a high security prison on one of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto, in the middle of a seemingly alien outbreak of some kind I understandably got very excited. And after waiting for a few years after that teaser trailer, I finally got to play the game a couple of weeks ago! And after all that waiting and hype building, I can confidentially say the game is very… Meh.

Okay, so let me clarify, the Callisto Protocol is not a bad game. There are some certain design decisions that are more than a little questionable, but I can’t call the game bad by any means. It is a fine and enjoyable game from start to finish, taking a lot of cues from Dead Space but not in a bad way. That being said though, it’s the fact that this game is just good that makes it so disappointing.

In the past I have often said that games do not always need to be ground breaking or innovative to be great games. Uncharted is always the series I point to for an example of this. The games aren’t exactly “game changers” by any means, they are just really well written and extremely polished in just about every way. They are amazing games despite the fact that they are all third person shooters that take you from one set piece to another in an extremely linear fashion. A description that could be applied to so many different games. So why do I feel the Callisto Protocol in particular is disappointing? Well unlike Uncharted where it was honestly hard to find room for improvement in a lot of the series’ moments, the Callisto Protocol is so close to being an amazing game that the fact that it just falls short makes the overall experience so upsetting. I could probably just leave it at that but let’s break it down a bit more so I can really get my meaning across.

The Callisto Protocol is a third person linear horror game very much in the style of Dead Space, which is something director Glen Schofield was clearly going for. Glen was one of the co-creators of Dead Space after all and the Callisto Protocol seems to be his attempt at making another game like it. And honestly, I don’t think there is another wrong with that! Besides the Dead Space remake we are getting next month, it has been a very long time since we got another game like it. And even longer since we’ve gotten a new AAA horror IP. However, the issue that comes with taking this approach is that people will naturally compare the game to Dead Space. And this is where a lot of the game’s disappointment comes from. I don’t want to call the Callisto Protocol a “Dead Space clone” because it does do it’s own thing. The game’s story, characters, and setting are all very different from Dead Space. It adds all new combat elements and has a much bigger focus on inventory management. The main problem with making such a similar game to Dead Space is that, once again, the two games are naturally going to be compared to one another. And with this comparison it’s very easy to see just how the Callisto Protocol fell short.

The best way I can describe the Callisto Protocol, besides disappointing, is that the game feels hollow. It feels like something is honestly missing from the game. I ended up having this constant feeling of, “I can’t wait for this game to really get started!” I kept expecting something big to happen, something that would change things up. But as I continued to play for longer and longer, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get that. While the story does have a twist and a mystery going throughout the narrative, it didn’t hook me in any meaningful way. This combined with it’s just ‘good’ game play ended up bringing the whole experience way down. Going back to Dead Space, the game play of that game also wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it was basically just Resident Evil 4, but combine that with how well everything else about the game comes together you end up getting a great feeling experience. And this is what really drags the Callisto Protocol down. Everything on it’s own about the game is pretty good, but each aspect doesn’t come together in any meaningful way leaving people with that disappointing hollow experience… But let’s break a down a bit more than just that and really explain what’s going on here because I feel like if Glen and his team learn from the complaints people are having with this game, they could end up making an amazing follow up!

As I was saying before, the story on it’s own is pretty good. It’s fits the setting and characters but it doesn’t really mesh well with the game play and game feel. Story can honestly play a big part in horror games, it can often be what drives the player to get through a lot of the scary situations. And while the Callisto Protocol‘s story did a decent enough job of that it just didn’t work in the end. Again, on paper there’s nothing wrong with the story, but when you’re actually playing it it just kind of feels like you’re going through the motions. You feel very detached from what’s actually happening which is a problem for this game since you’re kind of meant to be in the heart of all of this. In Dead Space, you felt like you were kind of what was moving the story along in that game. Your actions felt much more impactful. You were trying to figure out what was happening, what caused all this, but you were also trying to escape, which is very similar to the Callisto Protocol! However, in the Callisto Protocol, you end up just feeling like a small piece compare to what’s really going on. Your actions are certainly impactful to you but they don’t feel like they are really doing much for the plot. If anything, it feels like you just stumble upon big story moments rather than actually discover them which is very much an issue since the ending of the game would like to make you think you were always meant to be a big part in all that was happening on Callisto when it really doesn’t feel that way at all. But let’s get off the topic of story before things get too spoiler heavy and move on to the game’s questionable game play.

To try and set itself apart from other games, namely Dead Space, the Callisto Protocol has a very different combat system than other third person shooters like it. It has a heavy focus on melee combat and dodging. How it works is that when you encounter an enemy you are often locked into a fight with them. You can very much run away but the camera will focus right on the enemy in front of you. This is because the game needs to do this so that it’s dodging mechanic can work. Enemies will run at you and take a swing, and to dodge this you simply hold left or right on the control stick. If you need to dodge multiple hits you will have to dodge the opposite direction from your last dodge. So if you dodge right on the first swing, you’ll need to dodge left on the second or else you’ll get hit. The amount of swings an enemy can do depends on the enemy in question and how many limbs they have. After they finish their number of attacks it’s your turn to counter with your own melee swings!

Much like the story, on paper this sounds like it could be really cool and fun. It forces you to focus on the enemy and it can make encounters with multiple enemies feel that much more tense as you have to juggle between them. However, on the flip side, it boils down every encounter to almost the same thing as just about every enemy behaves like this, including bosses! The few enemies that don’t are smaller slug like creatures that will jump on you, another long necked creature that grabs you, and the security robots you need to shoot to kill. It’s not a bad system by any means, but it is a very repetitive one. Given that it works the same way for almost all enemies it gets very formulaic after awhile. I feel like the developers either should have made this system way more in depth by having you need to dodge in certain ways for certain enemies or something like that, or just dropped the system altogether. Formulaic combat is a big problem for a lot of horror games and, sadly for the Callisto Protocol, it’s not the only formulaic aspect of combat. So let’s talk about that other aspect then. Let’s talk about the tentacles.

If you never played Dead Space, the big gimmick of that game was dismembering the enemies. Shooting off an enemies head wouldn’t do all too much unlike other horror games. Instead you were meant to shoot off the enemies limbs so they wouldn’t be able to fight back. And while this same system exists in the Callisto Protocol they also added in the inclusion of tentacles coming from the enemies bodies to try and spice things up a little.

Very much going for the same feel.

After dealing enough damage to an enemy, tentacles pop out of their chests! If you do not shoot or hit the tentacles quick enough after they appear, they will dive back into the enemy’s body and turn them into a much stronger version of themselves. This is a pretty cool concept! At least when it first appears. Much like Dead Space and it’s dismemberment mechanic, shooting the tentacles becomes extremely formulaic. After awhile in Dead Space you eventually would figure out the best pattern for killing enemies. Which limbs to shoot in what order to quickly take them down. For the Callisto Protocol you also start to pick up on a pattern. Namely, smack an enemy a few times with your melee attack after dodging them to make the tentacles pop up and then shoot said tentacles to instantly kill the enemy. Rinse and repeat. So once again, cool concept on paper but it doesn’t work when you actually implement it.

I could go on at this point talking about other aspects of game play that work fine but don’t shine, such as the enemies you need to stealth around and creatively use the environment to kill, but it will always come back to the same point. Cool concept on paper, but it just doesn’t work in game. So I’ll stop here and not waste your time or my own.

Like many others, I really wanted the Callisto Protocol to be a great game! It’s been ages since we’ve gotten a new AAA horror IP. Which is why it stings so much that the game just falls short of that. So despite having an enjoyable experience with the game as a whole I still find it really hard to recommend, at least at full price. If you’re absolutely dying for a new horror game experience that is a lot like Dead Space, go for it! You will be able to find that with the Callisto Protocol. But if you’re only mildly curious about the game or looking for something new in the horror space, I’d say hold off for now.

Despite all that, I really hope Glen Schofield and his team at Striking Distance Studios continue on with this series! I think if they take the feedback laid out by others like me they can really make something great with a sequel! Story DLC is already confirmed to be happening so at the very least they are somewhat committed to supporting the Callisto Protocol a little longer. But I really hope they keep at it so they can finally strike gold with a sequel! I know I’ll be first in line to play a Callisto Protocol 2.

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Are you thinking about giving the Callisto Protocol a try now or has the review convinced you to hold off? If you’ve already played the game, did you enjoy it? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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