What a great time to be a Survival Horror fan! In 4 months, we’ll be getting remakes of 2 of the genre’s all-time greatest in Dead Space Remake and Resident Evil 4 Remake. Before that, Glen Schofield and Strike Distance Studios give us The Callisto Protocol, the spiritual successor to Dead Space. Callisto Protocol is a gorgeous, bloody and challenging 3rd person survival horror game from the creator of the original Dead Space. He wears his survival horror inspirations on his sleeve (or perhaps the LED Health Meter placed on his protagonist’s back) and successfully pulls away, mostly as a survival horror game for the modern age.
Storytelling in the Callisto Protocol
The Callisto Protocol begins with the numbers, as any science fiction horror adventure can; Your player crashes into their spaceship, is separated from their peers, and is then left to pick up the pieces of this alien mystery. But where Callisto Protocol began without a real heart, I found the story Striking Distance Studios told to progress nicely through the nearly 8-10 hour campaign with a balanced dose of heart, mystery, and sci-fi goodness.
You play as Jacob, a cargo pilot who crashes into Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons and home to Black Iron Prison. Black Iron Prison, a large part of your journey takes place as the epidemic spreads and you try to escape. Along the way, you’ll meet a solid cast of characters, most of which are really well played. It’s always a pleasure to see Sam Witwer and Karen Fukuhara does a great job, but it took me a while to warm up to her character. Josh Duhamel is a great grumpy hero and I’m so excited to be on this blockbuster ride with his hip glued to it. Solving the main mystery played out in The Callisto Protocol with him kept me pretty busy from start to finish.
Presentation of the Callisto Protocol
The Callisto Protocol is absolutely gorgeous. Easily one of the best looking games of 2022. Striking Distance Studios has done a tremendous job with Unreal Engine 4 here (more on that later). Everything from motion capture to textures and lighting is of good quality. The award for best sweat in a video game definitely goes to The Callisto Protocol.
In all seriousness though, the game is largely powered by its visuals. Black Iron Prison is wonderfully detailed and the outdoor sequences are truly a sight to behold. The lighting and heavy use of airborne particle effects such as dust and smoke add a disturbing, eerie atmosphere to the game. That’s good because the Callisto Protocol isn’t overly scary. There are a few splash scares of course, but the fear comes largely from the environment and sound design.
The enemies in this game are hideously grotesque. They look great and are wonderfully animated by pouting in the environment. Each enemy has unique player death animations, ranging from pulling out Jacob’s chin to tearing his skull apart. They’re creepy, but I found myself deliberately killing each new enemy several times just to see the amount of detail put into them. If you can stomach them, I highly recommend them. A nice little update has also arrived recently that lets you skip these if you want.
Unfortunately, all this comes at a cost for the PC version. Since this is an Unreal Engine 4 game it has occasional stuttering and I struggled to run the game consistently smoothly on the 3080ti at 2560×1440 resolution and high settings. It looks and works great on PS5, but I’m struggling with which version to recommend as I don’t think a controller is the best way to play this game…
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Callisto Protocol is a survival horror game that, like any core element of the genre, has you looking for ammo at every turn, but where it sets itself apart is in its competence as a melee-focused fighting game. Jacob is equipped with some kind of melee weapon almost instantly from your first skirmish. You start with a raw pipe, but you soon find yourself with a powerful stun baton that you can upgrade throughout your journey.
Melee combat is essential in The Callisto Protocol, and your ability to learn its mechanics is crucial to your enjoyment of the game. At the heart of its melee combat is the dodge system. When you clash with an enemy, you get into some kind of soft-lock system, and when an enemy attacks, you hold down a left or right direction – it doesn’t matter and Jacob will dodge the attack. When the enemy attacks again, you hold the opposite direction you took the first time, and so on, until your attacker finishes his combo and you can open up to him. Alternatively, you can move backwards to block and take less damage. When you access a firearm, the end of your melee combo will stun the enemy, and then you can fire an auto-lock shot for extra damage.
It was relatively easy to play on keyboard and mouse because it’s really simple to hold “A” or “D” without pressing “W” or “S”. I found myself getting into a pretty enjoyable rhythm. The camera fits very tightly to Jacob’s back and moves with good inertia, making the fights feel frantic and intense as well as terrifying and bloody. In a controller though, I found it very easy to keep the bar very light on the diagonal, causing the escape to not be registered. It only takes a few hits for Jacob to shatter, so this can quickly make the game frustrating, especially on higher difficulties.
Battle Options and Difficulty
Throughout your journey through the Callisto Protocol, you will encounter a variety of weapons and vehicles. The first of these is GRP Gloves. The GRP Glove, found early in the game, allows you to pick up and throw objects and enemies from afar by controlling gravity. Combining this with your various firearms and stun baton is essential for surviving more intense battles.
The challenge in the Callisto Protocol can be tough. Being invaded by 3 or more enemies is extremely difficult to come out alive, especially if one or more of these enemies can attack you from range. I’ve never found it overly frustrating, in fact, I’ve enjoyed going into a combat encounter, scanning the environment with my GRP to see what environmental hazards I can throw at shells waiting for me to catch, or an enemy. Using a combination of melee, GRP, and firearms has often been key to my personal success.
However, the Callisto Protocol gives you options. This is one of my favorite things about the game. There are upgrade stations scattered around Black Iron Prison that allow you to use your credits to upgrade your gear, buy 3D-printed new weapons, ammo and health, and sell items you find. Upgrade your shock baton and GRP so you can endanger enemies and wail to stray ones. Don’t you like close combat? Pump your credits to GRP and your firearms to keep the enemies at bay.
Final Thoughts on the Callisto Protocol
I really enjoyed my time with the Callisto Protocol. This isn’t the second coming of Survival Horror, but another successful entry for fans of the genre. It’s insanely beautiful to look at, the story kept me engaged to the end and I was immersed in the combat systems. It won’t be for everyone though, and performance issues and occasional checkpoint frustrations spoil what is normally an exciting game.
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