Pretty much from The Callisto Protocol’s first gameplay trailer, fans saw strong similarities to the beloved survival-horror franchise Dead Space and based on who was working on it, it’s not too surprising why. The game comes from the newly formed Striking Distance Studios, which is made of former Dead Space devs including co-creator Glen Schofield. Sadly though, The Callisto Protocol ends up being a severe disappointment due to its lackluster mechanics, world, and story.
The game takes players onto the prison planet Callisto where cargo transporter Jacob Lee (voiced by Josh Duhamel) suddenly finds himself thrown into Black Iron Prison for seemingly no reason. Jacob’s situation worsens as an alien viral outbreak spreads across the prison turning prisoners and guards into vicious monsters. With Jacob in a desperate fight for survival, he’s forced to work with notorious rebellion leader Dani (voiced by Karen Fukuhara) and fellow prisoner Elias (voiced by Zeke Alton) to find the source of the outbreak as well as a way off Callisto.
The Callisto Protocol’s Dead Space DNA is evident just from the first few moments of playing it. The style of third-person perspective movement has a similar look and feel to it. The simple set up of players trying to survive against an onslaught of horrific aliens looking to rip them limb from limb isn’t too far off from the sci-fi alien horror of Dead Space. Even the dark and dingy atmosphere feels right at home with Dead Space’s brand of space horror. However, Striking Distance gives The Callisto Protocol its own identity. The game’s grimy prison setting definitely adds to the looming intensity and makes the gross assortment of aliens more horrid. The sound design makes every step have some strong tension and silence is one of the game’s scariest elements because of how suddenly it can be broken.
Plus, there’s such a panicked feel to being swarmed by alien-like monsters and the brutal death animations Striking Distance has crafted make death quite punishing. There’s definitely a lot for Dead Space fans to feel nostalgic about when playing The Callisto Protocol. However, that sense of nostalgia and pleasant reminiscence fades fast as the gameplay and overall experience is simply subpar. One of the biggest issues the game suffers from is its gameplay as it feels like you’re in a constant fight with clumsy controls.
Although it features a small arsenal of weapons for players to use against their alien foes, the game tries to emphasize using physical attacks and it’s one of worst parts of the combat. The arm-swinging is incredibly clunky and heavily hinders other mechanics. Once you start to fight a single enemy with a punch or swing of a shock baton, you’re locked into a cinematic-like bout. With one enemy it’s not bad, but with multiple enemies it’s a nightmare. Because you’re kind of locked in, you’re completely open to attacks from surrounding enemies and the seemingly versatile dodge mechanic equally falters in group fights. The dodging isn’t actually made to be all that complicated with you just having to tilt the analog stick as enemies attack. But when a group of enemies start attacking you all at once, it becomes impossible to use and you end up dodging into attacks.
Sadly, the gunplay doesn’t improve the combat experience and severely lacks ambition. There’s pretty much just a few handguns and shotguns available that don’t do anything special. By the time you finally get an assault rifle, it’s way too late in the game and it doesn’t do enough the change the situation. The guns feel completely secondary in The Callisto Protocol and are wildly generic. Seriously, given what some of this team did with Dead Space’s guns, the gun selection here is just pitiful. Also, upgrades are way too minimal in their effectiveness, and it never feels like the game gives players enough currency to get upgrades.
The worst combat mechanic though is the GRP, which is basically telekinesis. With the GRP, players are able to grab items to throw at enemies or enemies, themselves, and throw them into environmental hazards. While the environmental kills can help dispatch a couple enemies, the GRP is just a terribly executed mechanic. It literally lasts for less ten seconds before it depletes and if you can’t throw the enemy fast enough, you basically bring them right to you. Even when you upgrade the GRP it still feels unusable and it’s probably one of the most underwhelming combat tools I’ve seen recently.
The recharge for the GRP is also awful since it either takes too long or you’re forced to use a recharge pack that isn’t exactly easy to get to. Rather than your GRP just recharge when you pick up a pack, you have to go into a menu to recharge it. Even worse, since the game doesn’t pause when you’re in this menu, it’s impossible to recharge during combat. Also, the recharge packs just end up taking space in your already limited inventory so you’re just constantly dropping them rather than using them.
There are so many archaic elements to The Callisto Protocol’s design to the point where audio logs can’t even be played as you play. With The Callisto Protocol featuring rough combat and outdated designs, it quickly becomes a nightmare to play and is needlessly difficult. The death cycle in The Callisto Protocol is immensely frustrating and you constantly struggle to get past basic enemy encounters because of how limited combat options are. The checkpoints are also ridiculous, so you find yourself in these hellishly endless loops that make you just want to hit the eject button on this game.
The Callisto Protocol’s story is also major weak point as it feels so bare bones in nearly every aspect. New areas rarely stand out in a meaningful way because there’s no unique looks given to them. The environments lack consistent scares so the tension dissipates as the game goes on. The enemy designs feel way too basic, and it doesn’t feel like The Callisto Protocol dives that deep into cosmic horror. The game also does almost nothing to try to get you interested in its lore or characters and it makes the “big reveals” that come in the game’s finale non-impactful.
While the performances are decent, at best, the characters are completely forgettable. Their stories struggle to keep you hooked and the mystery behind what’s happening to them loses steam quickly. It also feels like Striking Distance doesn’t utilize certain ideas well either. Along with alien creatures, there are also rouge security bots meant to challenge players, but they’re rarely seen. Even the idea of there being a greater force behind everything and the truth behind the outbreak completely underwhelms because of how disengaging the story is. Rather than effectively weave and hint at story threads throughout, things just kind of happen in the finale making for a perplexing and unsatisfying end.
The Callisto Protocol was easily 2022’s most disappointing game since it’s clear potential to be a strong spiritual successor to Dead Space is never fulfilled in the gameplay, story, or world. It simply comes off like a bland knockoff with bad gameplay and mediocre storytelling that barely understands what made Dead Space so beloved. It seems like fans will just have to wait for EA Motive’s upcoming Dead Space Remake to get their nostalgia fill cause The Callisto Protocol simply isn’t it.
The Callisto Protocol is now available.