The Callisto Protocol Review

Richard Walker

“I hate this fucking place,” The Callisto Protocol's protagonist, Jacob Lee, wheezes several hours into this hardcore sci-fi horror, having endured all manner of horrific torture at the bubbly hands and tentacles of the mutated creatures stalking the corridors of Black Iron Prison. An inaugural effort from the recently formed developer Striking Distance Studios, The Callisto Protocol is lodged firmly in the wheelhouse of former Dead Space creator Glen Schofield, who here serves as the game's director. Isaac Clarke's mucky fingerprints are also all over the creaking mechanical doors, slime-encrusted ventilation shafts, and malfunctioning control panels of Callisto's overrun high-security facility, offering a similar strain of sci-fi terror to the one that Schofield and his team birthed fourteen years ago, with EA Redwood Shores (later renamed as Visceral).


Can we maybe talk about this?

Where Isaac begun his ordeal, lumbering through the rusted hulk of the USG Ishimura planet-cracker vessel, with a Plasma Cutter - a weapon perfectly suited to severing the spiky appendages of the alien necromorph menace that found its way on-board - Jacob emerges from his cell with no such precision tools at his disposal. Instead, he's armed with more conventional ballistic weaponry, designed less for the surgical removal of limbs, and better suited to pure blunt force. There are numerous nods to Dead Space, be it the health gauge embedded in the nape of Jacob's neck, the anti-gravity pull of the GRP gadget mounted on his forearm, or the wonderfully aggressive and cathartic stomp – still the perfect way to diffuse tension, while bursting carcasses like fleshy floor piñata to find useful health, GRP batteries, and ammo pickups.

Inevitably, ammunition is in short supply, although you can spend scavenged Callisto Credits on printing more at a reforge station, albeit at the expense of valuable weapon and tool upgrades. And you won't get far with just a standard-issue Hand Cannon – it's not nearly as handy as a Plasma Cutter. Upgrades make your treacherous journey through Black Iron Prison and its surroundings marginally more survivable, but you can have all the resources you could possibly ask for, and still find yourself constantly under pressure. The Callisto Protocol is tough, presenting a challenge even at its easiest 'Minimum Security' difficulty. Dare to ramp it up to 'Maximum Security' difficulty, and you're in for a torrid old time of it.

Bullets tear through flesh and bone, making every shot feel impactful, as projectiles thump into the glistening, infected hides of Black Iron's misshapen denizens. Tentacles burst from the stomachs of certain enemies; a panic-inducing sign that they're about to mutate into something more horrifying and lethal, if left unchecked. Others stumble around blind and can be silently stabbed in the back, and some scuttle on the ceilings, waiting for an opportune moment to fall on your head. Every one of Callisto's mutated monstrosities is an utter bastard, and will bash your skull to pieces, rip off your arms, or gouge out your eyes given half a chance. Shooting them to mulch is never not satisfying.


 

Striking Distance doesn't shy away from rampant, unadulterated gore, whether it's the shredded skin of your foes, or Jacob's exposed brain, ripped face, or violently torn-off limbs upon meeting a disturbing demise. Kudos to Jacob actor Josh Duhamel for giving it some gusto, shrieking bloody murder whenever his chiselled Hollywood visage is battered, smashed, or just generally fucked up. You'll die a lot, too, the odds not exactly being stacked in your favour. Master the electrified riot baton and your ability to dodge side to side like a pro boxer by holding the left analogue stick, and you can save precious bullets, but that means getting up close and personal, which, generally, isn't a great idea.

By the time you've acquired the GRP and better weapons like the Skunk Gun (there are only five weapons, and none hold a candle to the Dead Space series' Line Rack, Disc Ripper, or Javelin Gun), things get more interesting, as you can hurl enemies onto spiked walls, into whirring gears, and other deadly contraptions for lovely instant environmental kills. Still, at the very least, a flamethrower wouldn't have gone amiss. Its arsenal of weapons isn't particularly exciting, then, but you'll be engulfed in The Callisto Protocol's unrelenting intensity and non-stop brutality to give it too much thought.


My, what lovely teeth you have.

It helps that The Callisto Protocol is an impeccably paced survival horror experience – Striking Distance evolving the lessons it learned on Dead Space to startling effect, but disappointingly failing to deliver a compelling final boss showdown, a perennial video game horror trope. Callisto's final boss is completely rubbish – even Dead Space's maligned flappy final beast isn't as crap as the lumpen, cheap creature you're presented with for TCP's coda. It's a sour note in what is, for the most part, an expertly orchestrated 10-12 hour ride.

A lack of replay value also proves to be a sticking point – the absence of New Game+ or even a chapter select seems like a silly oversight. Nonetheless, The Callisto Protocol is a stunning visual showcase and a fantastic example of how to do a cinematic experience right. It can be frustrating at times, the frame rate is prone to moments of treacly choppiness, and that final boss is a load of old arse, but none of these things preclude The Callisto Protocol from being a bravura slice of relentlessly scary sci-fi that will duly shred your nerves and tingle your spine. By the time the credits rolled, I was with Jacob - I hated that fucking place, but I had a damn fine time trying to escape from it anyway.

The Callisto Protocol

An unflinchingly violent and gruesome survival horror that ratchets up the tension from the get-go and doesn't let up, The Callisto Protocol is superlative stuff, and a must for anyone with even a passing fancy for Dead Space and its ilk.

Form widget
80%
Audio
90%

A soundscape that keeps you constantly on-edge, all taut strings and environmental clanks and hisses designed to ramp up the tension until... boo! This is audio design at its best, fitting the sci-fi horror setting to a tee.

Visuals
90%

Absolutely stunning. In terms of raw cinematic flair and presentation, The Callisto Protocol is exemplary stuff. It’s just a shame that the frame rate can occasionally stutter when playing with the default resolution mode.

Playability
85%

Tight, chewy shooting mechanics and a solid melee system make for an enjoyable dose of survival horror, despite Jacob’s deliberately slow movement and some nasty difficulty spikes.

Delivery
75%

While it lasts, The Callisto Protocol is a hell of a ride, but there’s practically no replay value. This is a game that could have definitely used a New Game+ option. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the Season Pass.

Trophies
70%

A pretty good list with a decent spread of objectives. You might struggle to beat the game at Maximum Security difficulty, though, and you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for collectible audio logs and secrets.

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