The Callisto Protocol, a sort of spiritual successor to the hit series Dead Space, is now out. And if you have been following this game online, you know it has received quite a lot of criticism. But is it as bad as people are making it out to be?
Before I go on to this answer, I just want to quickly say that my expectations (and a lot of other people's) were high for this game. As the game is very reminiscent of Dead Space, there was a lot to be excited about for this game. And since it was announced and from all the trailers and news from earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to play.
And it is safe to say I am relatively disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, this game isn’t terrible, I think there is a lot to this game that is very enjoyable. Specifically, its story and visuals (I will go a bit deeper into this further on). But on the other hand, there are a lot of areas that miss the mark and some things I think should be in the game that isn’t.
By far the biggest complaint about this game is its optimisation. Specifically on PC. As I played the game on PS5, I don’t have much to vouch in this area. But going off what I have seen, the PC optimisation on launch was terrible. Almost constant stuttering and frame drops made the game borderline unplayable unless you reduced the game's performance. Though there have been several fixes already to counter this issue, the launch state has massively tarnished the image of this game.
On PlayStation 5, however, the game runs very strongly. There are a few issues that I ran into, mostly a couple of crashes in the early part of the game. I assume this is the same for Xbox Series X, but I have not tested this. There are a couple of more bugs as well, which I may as well mention now. Occasionally when fighting and stunning a single opponent, I would be attacked by seemingly nothing. Which, you can imagine, is very frustrating.
Frustrating is the right word to use in quite a bit of this game, especially the combat. The Callisto Protocol takes a large focus on melee combat with a mix of gunplay. And to put it lightly, the combat system is tedious. Fighting in this game is a regular pain that it made even the stealth sections seem enjoyable, and there is a multitude of reasons why.
Dodging and Blocking
First is the way that it works. The Callisto Protocol has a unique fighting style where you move the left stick left or right before an opponent attacks to dodge. Or hold the left stick back to block. But the block is pretty much useless as the dodging is far more effective, and you can still take damage while blocking.
And though dodging is more effective, it is still quite a tricky system. It does have a bit of a learning curve (which is fine), but my biggest problem comes with the fact you can only really dodge one opponent at a time. Which becomes a massive problem when you get into a fight with more than one opponent at once. As you can only focus on one enemy at a time, if you are fighting multiple at a time, you will very likely be overwhelmed. It does take a while to get used to the dodging, and once you do it makes the combat more tolerable. But there are few extra issues that I want to mention.
It doesn’t help that these enemies have a ton of health too. Each one takes a lot of hits with your baton and multiple shots from your weapon to kill. Which makes situations where you are fighting multiple opponents even worse. And these enemies can mutate as well if you don’t finish them off when their tentacles start to move. Which makes them even tankier.
The obvious way that you are supposed to play is by quickly shooting within melee chains. Which does work, but still feels quite slow. There are quite a few ways that you can utilise what you have and create your own kind of combos. This is cool, but actually getting them to work effectively takes a lot of practice and in a lot of scenarios you are best off going at it normally.
Both gunplay and melee combat on their own I found aren’t amazing options. The guns you get feel quite weak because of the enemy’s large health pool and going all out with melee still feels slow.
I do like the weapons you get, and the later upgrades for them are quite neat. But they don't do enough damage to warrant using them on their own. The riot gun and skunk gun, which are both shotguns, felt the best to use as they pack a bit of a punch and work well in combos. But weapons like the assault rifle I found weren't worth using as they feel quite weak.
Upgrading and Crafting
I want to quickly mention the upgrading too. To upgrade a piece of gear you need Callisto credits, which drop when you decapitate enemies or open containers. You can then spend those credits at a reforge station to get the upgrades you want.
I recommend getting any damage upgrades where you can, along with upgrades for the baton. Including one where you can break an enemy's arm if they try to block, which proved very useful as they do it quite a bit. Magazine upgrades for your weapon were also very good, especially for the shotguns mentioned.
The crafting/upgrading system is fine. I do feel like to make it better the inventory could be improved. With more inventory slot options or even having ammo stack as much as you want rather than have it split over multiple slots when you reach a set amount of ammo.
I feel this would be better as throughout the game I had to leave a lot of resources because I didn't have enough space in my inventory. So I was missing out on a lot of items I could sell for Callisto credits or consumables that could help me. This was a particular issue before getting the armour.
Also, some of the weapons (like the skunk gun) can only be obtained through schematics that you can find in areas of the game. These can be quite easy to miss and involve some backtracking in areas, and I would have preferred it if there was a set way to get them as you progress through the story. As I didn't even get to try all the weapons as I missed some of the schematics. In the end, I missed 5 weapons, which is a shame.
One thing I loved about combat is the GRP (or grip). Which is essentially telekinesis. You can lift enemies and throw them off ledges, into spikes or other objects. Or even throw objects at enemies. And this makes for a very entertaining and effective way of dealing with multiple enemies quickly. And this, combined with the quick stealth stab, is why the stealth sections were one of my favourite parts of the game.
It isn’t much of a spoiler, so I am going to mention it, there is a section where you must face a series of enemies who work purely by sound. And I had a lot of fun in this section because it was quick and easy to take them down, and because throwing them into wall spikes with the grip was just a blast. It does also help here that the AI is dumb. You can stab one enemy right next to another, and they will have no clue. And you can easily go past them all with crouch.
But this also brings me to another point that I am not happy about. And that’s the enemy variety. For the entirety of the game, you are facing the same opponents. I am pretty sure the number of enemy designs is around 5. And all of these have the same move set too. It’s just bad.
And the boss variety is even worse. There are only two bosses in this game, one of them being the final boss which isn't great as it only has two attacks. But the other boss is so easy to beat and has so little variety in its move set. It has about two attacks which you can easily avoid. And if you want to cheese it, you can easily just keep moving around a box or another object and it won’t hit you.
Things I’d Like in This Game
One thing I think the game is missing that should be included is a quick turn action. As the combat is mainly melee oriented, a quick turn action would be good to have when dealing with multiple enemies.
It’s a bit picky as well, but I would like the option to skip death animations as well. I do think the death animations are awesome and well done, but in a boss fight or tough encounter, I would like the option to skip just to get to attempt it a bit faster.
Now I want to get onto what I enjoyed about the game. The first is the atmosphere. From the moment you enter Black Iron Prison, the atmosphere hits you. And it constantly gets stronger as you go through the whole game. You see the prison transform throughout the game and it’s just amazing. Seeing the prison become infected and exploring crumbling ruins is just a joy to experience.
And when combined with the stunning visuals, this just becomes even better. Not only do all the areas you visit look incredible, but the characters look so realistic too. Everything is just so visually outstanding, that talking about it doesn’t do it justice. You should check it out for yourself.
Overdone Jump Scares
This isn’t tied to the atmosphere, but I can’t think of a better place to put this complaint. And it’s that the attempted jump scares in the game are overdone. The best example of this is the small parasites that hide within containers. They are used so commonly that it becomes frustrating to deal with. There are also these long-necked head things (I don’t know their names) that can attach to you out of nowhere and try to drag you closer to them, and these too are just a bit overdone.
Vents and Squeeze Spaces
Also just another quick complaint, there are quite a lot of vents and squeeze spaces that are used throughout the game. Some are quite unnecessary, like a tight space to go from one side of a corridor to another. And the use of vents is again overdone.
Though there is quite a bit that misses the mark in this game, the story is a big part of what I liked about this game. I won’t be including any spoilers here. Just like the atmosphere, the story grips you right from the beginning and only ramps up. Discovering the history behind Black Iron Prison and the infection is really entertaining.
My only complaint is that the twist and ending are a little bit underwhelming considering how strong the story was building up to that point. It opens a lot of avenues that we could see in the future. But I feel like the ending could have used a bit more time to be fleshed out better, as it is very quickly dropped on you and doesn't feel that impactful.
The characters are great also. Each character has their own clear motivation that you can easily get on board with. And seeing how these characters react and adapt to the problems that are thrown in front of them is good. The journey told is simply great and I don't have many complaints about the characters.
The Callisto Protocol is certainly not the perfect game. And it doesn’t meet the high expectations that were set for it. But as said at the beginning, is Callisto Protocol as bad as people are making it out to be? And my answer is no. There is a bit that misses the mark, yes. The game optimisation for PC off-launch wasn’t good enough and that is the biggest reason why it has been so negatively received. And the game can feel quite frustrating at points because of the tedious combat, low enemy variety and overdone jump scare attempts.
However, the game delivers a story and atmosphere that are very well done. The story is dark and gripping, the characters put on an excellent display, the atmosphere is strong, and the graphics are simply amazing. And the performance on consoles is solid.
If you are a PC player, there are a series of patches that have already been released that does help the performance of the game significantly. And Striking Distance Studios are quickly patching the game. So, it may be worth giving it another go.
Overall, I am going to give The Callisto Protocol a 7/10. I think the game is quite solid but is ultimately let down by the tedious combat.
I want to give a quick update on The Callisto Protocol just a month after its release. On launch, this game was a buggy mess for PC players, lacked a few big features like new game+ and had a tricky combat system. But over the course of a month, the developers Striking Distance Studios have done an absolutely terrific job at bringing this game up to speed. With numerous quality-of-life updates like improved healing times, improved melee combat, bug fixes and the new game+ mode.
If you have been holding off playing the game, or haven't tried it yet you should give it a go. Or if you have completed it, it is worth trying it out again on New Game+.
And with the Dead Space Remake coming up at the time of writing this update, this is the perfect game to get you in the mood. Or if you have just finished the Dead Space remake, maybe give this a shot too.