We should probably start by addressing the elephant in the room: yes, The Callisto Protocol desperately wants to be Dead Space. From the setting, to the (lack of) UI, to the monsters, everything about The Callisto Protocol just really wants to be Dead Space. That doesn't have to be a bad thing though. Dead Space was rad. Can The Callisto Protocol also be rad? Read our review to find out.
You play as Jacob Lee, a cargo carrier who has been making deliveries to the prison moon of Callisto. Unfortunately, on what is supposed to be his last run, Jacob's ship is attacked by a group known as the Outer Way. They crash on Callisto, and for some reason, Jacob is taken into the prison as a prisoner. Waking up to the prison in the middle of a riot and mysterious monsters overrunning it, Jacob needs to team up with fellow prisoner Elias and Outer Way member Dani to figure out what's going on and how to escape.
While this is a perfectly okay setup, the plot of Callisto Protocol pretty quickly devolves into nonsense. There's like three different cults that I'm just not entirely sure what they're doing. The main villain keeps uttering nonsense about evolution and the next step in humanity. Characters drop out of the plot for almost the entire game, then suddenly become pivotal players in the last few hours so the game can attempt to set up a dumb plot twist. It's all a pretty big waste of time, and at least at the end of Dead Space, I knew what was going on. I can't say that here. However, there's a bunch of monsters that I need to take care of.
The absolute basics is that The Callisto Protocol plays like Dead Space. It's a third-person action horror game where your UI is strapped to your back. However, where Dead Space focused on careful aim and shooting off limbs, Callisto Protocol's focus is on melee combat. You'll have a stun baton that you can swing at enemies, and hitting them feels appropriately brutal. As you smack people around you'll sometimes get a prompt to quickly draw and shoot your gun, letting you further combo enemies. When the game is one-on-one fights, Callisto Protocol is at its best. Brutal, fast-paced, and joyfully fun. Then another enemy jumps in, and the game starts to fall apart.
There are a few reasons why, but the two big ones are the camera and the strange dodge system. When you get into a fight with an enemy, the camera zooms in a little and focuses on the enemy that's closest. For a single enemy, it's great, giving fights that brutal feeling. When there's more than one it's a problem, as it's way too easy to lose track of one and get a surprising hit. Then there's the game's dodge system. Instead of having a dedicated dodge or block button, you'll automatically dodge so long as you're moving to the left or right, and block if you're moving backward. That may sound convenient, but you have to alternate dodges for each attack: once you dodge to the left the next one has to be to the right or you'll get hit. You can also only dodge the enemy the camera is focused on. The result? On more than one occasion I walked right into an enemy's attack because I was trying to dodge another. I can't help but feel that if the game simply had a dodge button this problem would have been easily solved.
If you want to avoid this, guns are an option. Early in I got a hand cannon that could shoot three bullets in a line, not too unlike the plasma cutter from Dead Space. Before the end of the game I could also grab a shotgun, assault rifle, and pistol. There are a few winners, like the game's shotgun that, when fully upgraded, shot homing rounds, however, most of The Callisto Protocol's guns are boring and something you'd see in any generic sci-fi action game. While you can use the guns as, well, guns, they're better used as extending your combo. Shoot an enemy mid-combo and you can hit them with a full-second combo. Then a third. Then you realize that you can catch every enemy in the game in an infinite combo with this move and suddenly combat becomes super trivial.
It feels like there are several design choices implemented because they're in Dead Space without any of the stuff that makes it fun. A great example is stomping. In Dead Space when you stop an enemy there's an explosion of gore, limbs blow off, and enemies ragdoll amusingly. It's a beloved feature of the game, so The Callisto Protocol decided it needed to have it too. However, stomping is a mandatory gameplay element: enemies only drop items if you stomp them. There are also no real good feelings from doing so. Corpses don't ragdoll or explode in gore, just a little bit of blood splats out. The end result is that you waste a bunch of time post-combat stomping people in a way that just feels miserable. There's also the GRP, which is basically just the Kinesis Module from Dead Space. The GRP allows you to pull enemies close to punch them or throw them into instant-death environmental hazards, which is fun. On the other hand, the energy UI is so small it's extremely difficult to see how much power you have left, the time it takes to recharge is absurd (5+ minutes for throwing two enemies), and until you upgrade it, it just feels pathetic.
At several times it's pretty obvious the game wants you to die so it can show you one of the super gory deaths the developers made. One great example has you sneaking through a part of the prison when your buddy Elias calls you to tell you that there's a trap in this area. Jacob asks what it is and... there's no answer despite a solid 30-second shimmy scene of dead air. Then you get to the next area and a spike wall flies at you. Surprise! It's the trap! It's pretty clear the way Jacob is supposed to find out about this trap is to be killed by it so the gory death animation can play, and then next time you're ready.
It gets worse when you get to one of the game's few boss fights. Most of them are against a creature called Two Head. Despite the entire game being about, and training you on, melee combat, Two Head is immune to melee attacks. Even more frustratingly, all of his attacks kill in one hit. The only real way to fight Two Head is with guns, which basically goes against the entire game's design philosophy. These fights are painful, and the last few hours of the game has more than necessary. It especially doesn't help that the final boss follows the same pattern, but adds in explosive enemies you need to stay away from.
At least The Callisto Protocol looks beautiful. As you move from one location to the next, you can really take in the impressive technical work on display here. At one point I noticed a character was sweating in real-time, and it was just amazing. It's a good thing the technical work is so good too because there are a lot of moments where you're just sort of walking from place to place. I know the game is inspired by Dead Space, but I'm not certain it needed to have so much dead space.
The Callisto Protocol Review | Verdict
Unfortunately, there's little good to say about The Callisto Protocol. The beautiful graphics and occasionally brutal melee combat don't really hold up in the face of the rest of the game. Honestly, it may just be better if you wait for the Dead Space remake coming out soon for your sci-fi horror fix. This prison is simply not worth escaping from.
The Callisto Protocol was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by the publisher, over the course of 12 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Brutal one-on-one melee combat
- Nonsense story
- Combat too chaotic for multiple enemies
- Tries to take ideas from Dead Space without know why they're fun
- Terrible boss fights
- Too much walking forward with nothing happening