The Callisto Protocol Review


When The Callisto Protocol was originally revealed, it caught my attention instantly. Not only is it a story set in space, the world looked grim and it was being helmed by Glen Schofield, the co-creator of the incredible Dead Space series. While the Callisto Protocol has a lot in common with that series, and can definitely be seen as a spiritual successor, it pushes next-gen hardware to create a game that looks incredible and is just as immersive. Even if it is ultimately held back by some frustrating design decisions and and inconsistent tone.

The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol kicks off with you playing as Jacob Lee (Josh Duhamel), a freight transporter working for the United Jupiter Company as he’s delivering a shipment between 2 of Jupiter’s moons, Europa and Callisto. After being boarded bu members of The Outer Way, a known terrorist group, the ship ends up crash landing on Callisto. With Jacob being found with wanted fugitives, he’s incorrectly imprisoned within the Black Iron Prison and detained. After waking, he discovers that the prison has been overrun by disgusting and threatening creatures known as biophages. Before long it’s discovered that these creatures are actually inmates of the prison that have been infected by a mysterious disease that’s causing grotesque mutations to those it infects. It’s up to the player to lead Jacob in discovering what’s actually going on within the prison, the mysteries of this strange disease and how to escape not only a high security prison, but Callisto itself.

One of the first things you’ll notice with The Callisto Protocol is how great the overall art direction is and just how high fidelity the visuals are. Character models are some of the most realistic I’ve ever seen rendered and the individual droplets and streaks of sweat and blood that fall on Jacobs face and clothing as you play really helps sell the intensity of the situation. The performance capture has also come across really well into the game, with the performances given justifying the use of high profile actors with Josh Duhamel, Karen Fukuhara and Sam Witwer being the clear standouts in the cast.

The Callisto Protocol Review

At it’s core, The Callisto Protocol is a survival horror experience focussed primarily on having Jacob finding his way off the infected moon he’s found himself trapped on, and fighting against not only the large slew of enemies trying to rip him apart, but also the security systems within the prison that are designed to keep people detained, not let them freely explore. The gameplay design is quite linear for the most part, but there’s constant progression through new areas that really helps the pacing flow and you always know that each moment is going to lead to overall progression For Jacob which often comes in the form of new ways to approach combat.

This ultimately puts a big focus onto combat. And there are plenty of encounters Jacob will need to succeed in along the way. The combat system does have a difficult learning curve that I did find quite frustrating at first to be completely honest. The encounters at the beginning of the game are melee focused and the dodging mechanic is unlike anything I’ve experienced before making it an experience where it needed to be learned while also going up against some really unforgiving enemies. The dodge is mapped to the same analogue stick used to move Jacob and needs to be pushed in the right direction in time with when the enemy begins their strike. Miss timing this generally leads to Jacob taking damage, and in the early game especially missing 2 quick hits can often lead to Jacob being brutalised in one of the game’s many creative and grotesque death animations. Lovers of gore and body horror are going to have a blast with this game.

The Callisto Protocol Review

Thankfully the game starts progressively increasing Jacob’s ability to survive by introducing new weapons, the ability to upgrade and craft them and additional armour that helps to prevent turning into a pile of meat mulch when an enemy lands a strike. Enemies still love to get up close and personal and with the amount they move, the most efficient way to take foes down without worrying about ammunition is with melee as guns are good at keeping some creatures at bay temporarily but need a lot of precision to be super effective when they’re first introduced. Eventually Jacob comes to procure a Grip, a telekinetic gloves capable of lifting most enemies and allowing them to be force pushed around the stages or into one of the Callisto’s many environmental traps, grinders or spinning fans that will help dispatch them. This does have a cool down and a need to be recharged so thankfully doesn’t make Jacob instantly untouchable once it’s obtained but is very useful against many of the game’s enemy types, especially in situations where you’re swarmed by multiple enemies. The combat animations and the real sense of weight they carry helps make the combat feel satisfying even in the game’s most challenging and frustrating moments.

The varied types of enemies are one of the key highlights of The Callisto Protocol and the design of them will appeal to fan that love the body horror side of horror. The best approach to take them down differs enemy to enemy and some are capable of evolving into a tougher form if you don’t effectively take them out or hit a specific weak spot that can cancel the mutation.

The Callisto Protocol Review

Despite the setting being dark and grim and the creatures roaming it being horrific, the thing that immersed and scared me the most in the game was it’s audio design. It turns the creepiness up to 10. It’s often quiet while exploring which really sells the feeling of being alone and out of place but this also immerses you right into Jacob’s shoes as you hear the liquid dripping from the ceiling, scrapes coming from adjacent rooms, security systems blaring alarms and most creepily when enemies are approaching from behind an are in mid strike. If it weren’t for the great work put into the sound side of things, I don’t think I would have been as immersed in the world as I ended up being.

Fans of Dead Space will also notice that The Callisto Protocol also implements a clean HUD approach. Jacob’s health meter is displayed on an implant device in his neck and ammunition count is virtually projected from the weapons providing a more immersive and cinematic experience and also leaves the screen space free to get a better view on the many, many enemies that want to tear your face off.

The Callisto Protocol Review

While I did love much of what The Callisto Protocol was trying to do, there were a number of frustrating elements that hold it back from being an incredible game. I would have loved if there was a bit more of a focus on the world building as what is there is really interesting, most of the additional info is found within audio logs that can be collected as you play but unfortunately do the gaming sin of not letting you listen to them as you play, they can only be accessed and listened to while in the menu screen of the game.

And although the game’s setting and audio design is definitely great at selling it’s creepy vibe. I found many of the actual scares to be cheap, repetitive jump scares, especially those that involve the slug-like facehugger creatures that latch out and cling onto Jacob from within object that can be physically opened. There’s no way to determine if they’re around, no way to parry the QuickTime event before they latch and worst of all they cause damage. Rather than being scary, it actually makes opening up future chests, drawers and lockers a straight up gamble to do because I’m more scared that I’ll take damage from these annoying creatures than the actual jumpscare itself.

The game’s second half also feels like it has quite a large tonal shift thanks to Jacob becoming more stronger and capable and the design choice of having more and more enemies thrown at him to combat that. This makes the later parts of the game feel like a straight up action game rather than one focussed on surviving and throws a lot of the atmosphere established in the opening hours to the side to make Jacob come off as Iron Man rather than a delivery guy that’s found himself wrongfully put in prison. I would have loved if the game had minimised the number of enemies and even boss encounters to let the atmospheric, creepy nature of what they’d already established carry the adventure through to the end.

The Callisto Protocol Review

Final Thoughts

Overall there’s a lot to like about The Callisto Protocol. It’s a tight and well paced 10 hour experience and looks and runs great on the PS5 and It’s art direction and sound design help portray some really unsettling and horrific moments. It’s held back by some frustrating scare choices, repetitive combat and boss encounters and it’s push towards focussing on action in it’s later half. If the team at Striking Distance decide to flesh out the world they’ve established with a sequel, I’d love to see where they could take these characters and build out the setting next while having the benefit of having this first game to look back on.

A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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Played On: PS5

  • + Incredible art direction and visual fidelity
  • + Large number of unique animations and gore sequences
  • + Tight paced experience
  • + Audio design really sells it’s creepy nature

  • - Frustrating design decisions and scares
  • - Tonal shift in the second half takes away some of the horror
  • - The repetitive action bosses and encounters

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