I’m writing this immediately after beating The Callisto Protocol, because I’ve never been so conflicted on a game. It’s a shame that a game with absolutely stunning graphics, horrific environments, and an eerie sound design manages to be something that I didn’t enjoy wholeheartedly. Protocol is held back by its poor combat choices in every way possible. It uses the inspiration from Dead Space games and stomps on what made those games so special. I didn’t want a clone, especially considering we’re getting a Dead Space remake in a month; but what I did want was for Callisto to capture that spirit of those games. The Callisto Protocol did not.
Dead Space had this immaculate pacing, much like Resident Evil 4, where the game gives you fun weapons to start, but as you progress your arsenal becomes even better as the enemy swarms become more challenging. Each combat arena gets harder as you get stronger, and you get hit with a rush of adrenaline every time the combat music subsides and you clear a room. The Callisto Protocol captures none of that. Truthfully, the beginning of the game played like shit and as I unlocked more upgrades and weapons, it got a bit better, but never good.
Part of what makes the combat so bad is this dodge mechanic where you flick the analogue to the right and left when an enemy is doing a combo, then attack a few times, dodge again, rinse and repeat. In 2022, I’ve been spoiled with amazing dodging mechanics and found more satisfaction in those that actually require unforgivingly precise timing. This dodge mechanic didn’t require precise timing, but what made it worst is that it’s extremely janky. Sometimes it would show my character successfully dodge an enemy attack and then it would cut to a death animation. Most of the time when I died, I didn’t feel like it was because I was messing up; it felt like it was because the controls were fighting with themselves. This game could’ve been immensely better if it just got rid of the dodge mechanic.
Even the guns weren’t much of a stand-out. There was nothing satisfying like the plasma cutter or pulse rifle, where they feel different but function just as well. Instead, you have a bunch of guns that barely do damage to enemies unless combined with that pesky dodge and melee button. Unlocking more guns made the combat better, but never good. Not to mention, there was no solid quick swapping or weapon wheel, so switching out weapons in the middle of combat was often too risky to be worth doing. You had to either press a button, which very slowly switched to a random weapon or you had to press a button that brought up a menu to select the weapon you want. So much of this combat feels antiquated and frustrating.
The best part of the combat is the Telekinesis power, which is one of the only parts of this game that is reminiscent of Dead Space. I’ll even go as far and say that The Callisto Protocol does the telekinesis better than Dead Space. It controls really well and this game adds a bunch of environmental hazards that you can launch enemies into, which is very satisfying. There’s often a bunch of spiked walls, fans, and other traps around combat arenas. This makes the environments look really cool but also made locations with these traps my favorite combat arenas. Unfortunately, the telekinesis was limited and not every place with enemies had environmental hazards.
There were moments of TCP‘s combat that I enjoyed, but it was only when I was fighting an enemy one on one. Yet, The Callisto Protocol insisted on implementing hordes of enemies, which made the dodge mechanic borderline obsolete, and I was often getting sucker punched as I was trying to focus on killing one enemy. There aren’t any weapons that allow you to target multiple enemies, and this is when I despised the game. I can deal with the shitty dodge mechanics if it’s 1 or 2 enemies, but too often we were facing multiple enemies with no environmental hazards.
This brings me to the enemy variety and how lacking it was, including bosses. There were a few variations of these monsters, which is fine, but the bosses felt so uninspired. They had us face one mini boss four times, and the final boss felt like a cheap rip off of Resident Evil— except not fun. Once again, most of the time I died is because I was overrun by enemies and getting sucker punched, not because I wasn’t using the arsenal effectively. Fortunately, dying was often rewarded with a really gruesome death animation. Seriously, it’s worth dying to each enemy at least once.
Six paragraphs in, and I’m still talking about the combat… Forget about healing in the middle of a battle. The combat arenas were often small and enemies ran fast, but to heal, your character had to kneel down, pull out his healing syringe, and slowly inject it into his neck. Basically, it’s not worth doing so you better be fully healed before entering combat. This game’s combat is a huge disappointment. How is it possible that The Callisto Protocol took any inspiration from a game with immaculate combat like Dead Space and managed to be one of the worst combat experiences I’ve ever had in a game?
The gameplay loop is all combat, so that’s why I took so long to ventilate about how shitty it is. Speaking of ventilate, most of the traversal involves crawling through vents and shimmying through tight spaces. You basically walk to each combat arena, and there’s barely any exploration aside from that. I actually think this gameplay loop is good! I’m tired of forced puzzles and bloated locations to pad out gameplay. It’s kind of nice that TCP is so linear. There’s often one straight path, and at times one other path that’ll lead you to a hidden area with extra resources and audio logs. There’s even one optional path that leads you to a grotesque underground space where the main villain held his conferences. It was really cool to stumble upon that, going off the beaten path. I wish there were less vents, but thankfully the environments are so stunningly horrific. The Callisto Protocol is a showcase of how good horror games can look like in this new generation.
The environments were actually the best part of the story, uncovering what happened by seeing the dead bodies around and listening to their audio logs. Unfortunately, you couldn’t listen to the audio logs while moving unless you do this glitch where you play the audio log, press start into the main menu, and back out. Just another element that this game could’ve pulled from Dead Space for a better experience, so I’m thankful I found a work around.
Your character Jacob is a pilot who is transporting materials before he crashes. He’s then captured and incarcerated into Black Iron Prison. This is where he wakes up in a cell and finds the prison on fire, with dead bodies everywhere, and monster running amok. His goal is to escape the prison and figure out what the hell is going on. Exploring this one prison and some of the areas around it, is really cool. I love games that focus on just one area and I think horror games especially benefit from this. The Callisto Protocol could’ve gone further with fleshing out its characters and lore building, because in the end the story fell into a basic survival horror game trope.
The Callisto Protocol was one of my most anticipated games and wound up being one of the biggest disappointments. I wanted to love this game so much, but for everything I enjoyed, it was often overshadowed by me fighting with really bad combat controls. I loved some things about this game, but I hated more than I loved. The Callisto Protocol was supposed to hold me over until the Dead Space Remake, but instead I need the O.G. Horror Shooter more than ever to palette cleanse.