The Callisto Protocol is a classic survival horror from Dead Space's Glen Schofield that could have thrived with a bit more polishing
The Callisto Protocol is now available for purchase on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One. India Today Gaming got a chance at a hands-on of the game. Here's more on our impression.
The Callisto Protocol launched last year in December as the debut game of Striking Distance Studios. Glen A. Schofield, the creator of the iconic survival horror Dead Space, founded the development studio. After more than 10 years of the launch of Dead Space, Schofield fans were excited about what new he was coming up with this time. And that is where the Callisto Protocol came in.
The game was initially being promoted as being set in the PUBG universe. Even though the makers dispersed from that narrative a few months into the promotions, coming from India where the gaming audience is so closely connected to this particular battle royale, I was excited to see how they intended to fit this survival horror in that universe. And ofcourse, despite the fact that a Dead Space Remake has also just released, again to much critical acclaim, I was interested to experience this “brand new IP” from Glen Schofield. And true to what has been claimed, The Callisto Protocol is a Dead Space sequel in spirit. Regardless, the game had its moments.
India Today Gaming was provided a copy of the game from Krafton. For context, Krafton is the publisher of The Callisto Protocol, but is also known for popular battle royales, PUBG, PUBG Mobile, and BGMI. I have played through the entire game of 8 hours, and here’s more on my experience of the session.
The story of The Callisto Protocol is what has shone through for me.You play as the protagonist Jacob Lee, who is a freight transporter for the UJC (United Jupiter Company), moving goods from and to the company’s operative base on Callisto. Jacob’s journey starts along with his partner Max, as they discuss they’re retirement after this one last shipment to the Black Iron Prison, on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter.
The game starts on a high note, with depictions of a biological attack on Europa by the terrorist group Outer Way. Our protagonist gets into an engagement with the Outer Way which ends with the ship crashing into Callisto. You are then taken into the Black Iron Prison, this time as a prisoner, much to your surprise. And it's nothing short of a hell inside with zombie-like creatures, much like a cross between aliens and monsters running loose. The agenda is simple, find a way out.
In the meantime, obviously there’s a story to unravel about how the creatures came to exist, the secrets of the Black Iron Prison, and why it's next to impossible to get out of Callisto. However, the resolution of the game, and how the makers ultimately tied up the various strings of the story, ultimately left me quite satisfied.
Gameplay and World Building
The Callisto Protocol is a small game with only eight chapters, but they end up feeling long and tiring. One, you can consider this frustration of surviving in a space ridden with the same deformed humans who take different levels of damage, again and again, to be in keeping with the tone of the game, and maybe what the developers intended. And the high point here is definitely the atmosphere and environment that the game has been built to substantiate this. The eeriness, coupled with the disgust is real.
Having said that, here’s a game that had the potential of making you run high on your adrenaline, but somehow it fails to do just that. A survival horror is nothing without jump scares. But then there are also moments when you’re treading carefully, because you are expecting the unexpected. And that ruined the experience for me- the predictability supported by the overdone combat, and the slow gameplay. After the first two to three chapters, you know where the next enemy is going to just appear from. It is meant to catch you off guard, but you literally walk in all prepared.
The mechanics of the game feels dragged and lazy which gives the impression that the game lacks some power-packed action. The combat mechanics are pretty simple to pick, and based on a few tricks that you get to practice a lot, simply because of the sheer number of the same enemies that you face. Dodge, move, hit and upgrade, grab a few fuses, take a few elevators, is what the gameplay of The Callisto Protocol is to me. You get a little help here and there on the way, but the overcast mystery remains shrouded till the last part of the game, and rightly so. But then, when you look back, it’s hard to point out what real progress you’ve made through the major part of the game, other than moving from place to place.
However, in the process, you get to really take in the world that Striking Distance has beautifully made. And that includes the soundscape as well.
Audio and Graphics
Audio is one of the most important elements of any horror game. The Callisto Protocol does a good job by taking things up a notch with just the sound effects and music. But here too, there have been a number of times when I’ve felt that a particular effect has been forced in place just to drive home the fact that it is a horror game.
For example, the sound that doors make when opening are very similar to how some of the creatures howl, and often it falls right in place as there is one hiding right behind the door all ready to pounce on you. But more often than not, it's just a false alarm. Point is, too many of them did more bad than good for me, when after a while I knew that the door sounded like that just because it was one in a horror game. Personally that’s just overdoing it, and things could have been more subtle.
If I ignore the graphics of the cutscenes and those dead eyes of the characters in the scene, the audio alone did quite well to enhance the experience. The graphics on the other hand are commendable when it comes to the inanimate aspects within a frame, and ofcourse the monsters you are pitted against. The horror elements clearly come across as intended and sets the tone and mood of the game perfectly. However, depiction of the humans in the game, as ironic as its sounds, could have been better, and as realistic as the monsters were.
Regardless, I do have my favorite moments in this game that have been very fulfilling- be it for the cinematics, the audio, the gameplay or just the fear it instilled in me as an experience in the horror genre. The blizzard sequence that you can see stills of right here, is one of them.
If you’re looking for some unique and new concept, The Callisto Protocol does not offer any of it. It’s a classic horror sci-fi, involving interplanetary expansion and science gone wrong. However, if you are a sucker for horror and survival games, and you have 2.5K to 4.5K to spare, The Callisto Protocol is just another one like that. However, the experience is pretty satisfying except for the few botches here and there, but you can go for it. If not anything else, there’s always the fact that it’s Striking Distance’s debut game, under the helm of Glen Schofield, and they are bound to get better. And it’s always a good feeling to be associated with the rise of a studio, right from their first game, is it not?