Dec. 7, 2022

The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol Review

The Callisto Protocol Review (Xbox Series X)

Release date: December 2, 2022

Publisher: Krafton 

Developer: Striking Distance Studios

Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows 

Rating: 6.5/10


If you tune into my weekly gaming podcast, it should come as no surprise that The Callisto Protocol was my most anticipated game of 2022. Heck, it was how our This Week in Gaming podcast spawned the now infamous "Golden Shower" rating system. While I may have a list of games I look forward to, this was at the top strictly because it was marketed as a spiritual successor to the Dead Space franchise. Now that it's out ...

The Callisto Protocol places players in the shoes of Jacob Lee, a freelance cargo ship operator whose voyager unfortunately crashes on Callisto, one of Jupiter's moons and home to Black Iron Prison. Upon being found at the crash site, Lee is admitted as a prisoner and after a rather brutal intake, he awakes to find the prison has been overrun with the ghoulish undead. With the help of a fellow prisoner, Elias, it's your mission to stay alive long enough to escape this undead moon. 

If you've been on social media or peeped at any reviews, then you know this game has not been performing well. Most notably, the PC version of the game suffered the most, with its rendering and stuttering issues pushing The Callisto Protocol to have a "mostly negative" review status on Steam. Thankfully, this seemed to be a minor issue, with a developer allegedly launching the wrong patch on release day according to the game's creator, Glen Schofield, on Twitter. On the Series X, I'm happy to report I encountered none of these, or related issues. 

Generally, I make it a rule not to read reviews of games I anticipate and plan to play, as they inadvertently place a bias on how I end up perceiving it. I make the same rule for film and television. That is how I went into The Callisto Protocol

To preface, I am going to apologize for the upcoming comparisons between this game and Dead Space throughout this review. If you followed the development cycle for The Callisto Protocol, and have played the former, you'll understand why. 

The entire point of The Callisto Protocol is to immerse yourself in a terrifying prison landscape and make you feel as though you yourself are trying to escape a now desolate planet. As a result, this game serves more as a cultivation of atmospheric survival horror unlike combat-based survival horror, as its inspiration had done. Approaching the game with this frame of mind makes for a pretty neat survival horror game, even if it does feel somewhat common. 

However, this delve into dark space horror is not enough to help The Callisto Protocol stand on its own two legs. In fact, I'm going to flat out label The Callisto Protocol as a somewhat watered-down Dead Space game. This game borrows basically everything you can think from the Dead Space franchise: the over-the-shoulder camera angles, final blow animations, the D-pad functionality to access your inventory and quick heals, and overall controls -- yes including holding a bumper to run. This obvious mimicry therefore fails to make The Callisto Protocol its own game, instead riding on the coat tails of the franchise that made Schofield a powerhouse name in survival-horror gaming. 

That aside, The Callisto Protocol's plot is all over the place and the awkward pacing offers no favors. What plot development is introduced is spliced with overly long segments of sneaking, crawling, and traversing over obstacles left in the wake of the prison's collapse. When Jacob does have a moment to interact with minor characters, there isn't anything to hook players in. Comparatively, when you played as Isaac Clarke, the protagonist in Dead Space, despite his development being weaker in the first entry, he had enough of a haunted backstory paired with his discovery of the Artifact to keep you wanting more. The motivations of the supporting characters are equally lackluster, and every mission is laid out as the most basic "get to this area and do this" type. I suppose those linear type missions are acceptable when, again, you view this as a simplistic atmospheric horror game. 

This excess of mild cardio you endure as Jacob really offsets the mood the creative team was going for here, in my opinion. Atmosphere aside, the inconsistent enemy sequences leave you a bit confused as to what Striking Distance Studios was trying to achieve with this game. Poorly timed surprise music, paired with predictable jump scares, and the weird on-and-off influxes of enemies had me genuinely wondering if the development team had a clear vision of what Callisto was supposed to be. By the time I was two hours into it, I felt bored and a little exhausted by this game's structural inconsistency. In addition, unlike Scorn, which is along the lines of the tone I feel this game was going for, I didn't feel particularly chilled by Black Iron Prison or its demise. 

The combat is clunky and unpolished. I'm not sure if this is a "new release" thing or just another unfortunate "let's get this out as soon as possible so we can bring home the money", but I found myself really frustrated with the combat mechanics. Despite the controls being more or less identical to Dead Space, it seems like the developers were reaching for more realism in the way the combat plays out on-screen. You easily notice it when the camera angles adapt to landing blows and final kills. The culminating effect is an onslaught of combat that doesn't match what you press nor registers when you execute them as the tutorials had instructed you to. For example, I would go to block an oncoming swing by tilting down on the left joystick, and my character would get tossed. I assumed I was executing it wrong, so I played with the timing, changing when I would initiate the block. The outcome was still the same nine times out of 10. 

On the positive side, I freely admit that The Callisto Protocol is a stunner. While visuals are not a core necessity to make a game appealing to me, I can acknowledge it when credit is due. In recent years, Sony has been killing it in terms of visually stunning games. They lent approximately 150 employees to this game's development and their skill really shines through in the motion capture and aesthetics. The infestations, blood splatter, and enemy designs -- while VERY similar to Dead Space -- are terrifying and well-executed. 

So, after all this, where does The Callisto Protocol stand?

Despite being visually enamoring and excelling at eerie environments, the obvious mimicry to Dead Space fails to make The Callisto Protocol a unique entry to the space-horror subgenre. Striking Distance Studios missed the mark in attempting to stand above its inspirations, instead chosing to ride the coattails of it and using that to hook in prospective gamers that hold Dead Space dear. 

The Callisto Protocol is available for the PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows for $69.99. 


If you're interested in keeping up with everything and anything gaming-related, you can catch me over on Rumble every Sunday at 9pm EST for my "This Week in Gaming" podcast and find re-uploads on your preferred streaming service.