The much anticipated Dead Space 4 is finally…
Oh, It’s The Callisto Protocol now? Alright, I’m into it.
The newest game from the creators of Dead Space is now available, and I had the privilege of spending my weekend playing it all the way through so you can see if it’s worth your hard-earned dollars.
With a runtime of anywhere between six (that was my total time to complete) to fourteen hours, you have to wonder if there’s enough meat on the bones. There are plenty of fully-priced games worth admission despite a short running time. Sadly, Callisto Protocol may not be one of those games.
The Callisto Protocol Starts on the Right Foot
The beginning cutscenes and tutorials are some of the best the survival horror franchise offers. My favorite moment of the Dead Space genre was the crash landing in Dead Space 3. To see something like it re-created here was a great way to kick off this franchise.
I actually really enjoyed the entire first hour of the game. Black Iron prison is set on a dead planet holding some of the most hardened criminals. As their newest inmate, you’ve got some survival of the fittest ahead of you. Shortly after your incarceration, you go straight to jail. Upon arriving, an Alien Viral outbreak occurs, and you must escape the prison and planet to survive.
Unfortunately, this is where everything starts to fall apart.
From here, we’re introduced to the game’s combat mechanics. This game is focused more on melee than anything else. The core gameplay sounds simple enough: hold left or right to dodge an incoming attack and prepare for a counterattack. The problem, however, is that the game had me constantly taking damage while holding dodge from here until the very end of the game. It’s been a common issue that others have mentioned, too. When the game’s core combat mechanics suffer through such widespread issues, it’s not necessarily a problem with skill. It’s a problem with the game itself.
Shortly after you get your first melee weapon, you run into one of the prison’s security bots. These bots swiftly execute two prisoners trying to make their escape. You’re forced to stealth your way through this area to avoid being spotted and subsequently have your blood paint the walls if you are found. This sequence may have been my favorite in the entire game. Saying out of the robot’s line of sight while making your way through the medical bay had me feel a real sense of danger.
Engaging with the security bot is, unfortunately, a different story. Calling these encounters a letdown is an understatement. The sense of danger and tension the stealth gameplay built up is dismantled upon realizing a simple handgun eliminates the bots in a couple of shots. So much for that, I guess.
Combat Falls Completely Flat on Its Face
One of the endgame weapons you’ll acquire is Grip. This handheld device lets you harness the power of telekinesis to hurl enemies off cliffs and into environmental hazards. Sounds fun, right? Well, it is, until you realize that this thing is absolutely broken.
I had plenty of areas where I didn’t need to fire a shot or swing my melee weapon. Because I could hurl every enemy into traps or out of bounds. I even had some funny moments where I picked up an enemy and dropped him off the ladder. I don’t have to deal with frightening threats when I can dispatch them so easily.
If you spend your Callisto Credits on upgrading the Grip as a priority, the game’s enemies become hilariously trivial.
Also, the developers missed a golden opportunity to call their Currency BipCoin, after Black Iron Prison.
Shockingly, there’s a severe lack of puzzles to be found. You’d figure that puzzles and survival go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. That’s not the case here; there isn’t a single puzzle found anywhere in The Callisto Protocol. The only thing slowing you down is finding a key or fuse for a door somewhere else. This game could’ve used something to inflate the playtime a bit longer. Its lack of puzzles made the game shorter than I would have preferred and created an experience too linear for my liking.
The Environments of Callisto Protocol Are the Real Winners
The environment both looks and feels amazing. Everything from the prison to the rest of the planet is well-designed to be creepy and aesthetically pleasing. The story is shallow but gets the job done and is easy to follow. I can’t get over how much the combat holds Callisto Protocol back. This is supposed to be the game’s core, and its flaws cannot be ignored.
Melee combos get a little repetitive. The dodge mechanic needs some polish to be truly great. Half of the guns aren’t that good (looking at you, tactical pistol). Then there’s the awkwardness of the first boss you’ll encounter, a two-headed mutant. I had a surprisingly difficult time against him. It didn’t help that my checkpoint had me needing to reload my weapon before the fight even started. It took me about ten tries to finally down the dude because I was completely unaware you were supposed to melee him when he takes a knee.
The game doesn’t do a good job of indicating those to you. I just kept putting round after round into him until he eventually died.
To make matters worse, this boss is copied and pasted three more times throughout the game. The second time I fought him, I realized my mistake and came prepared. However, the arena we were in the second time was so small that I kept getting killed by him repeatedly. If you fail one dodge against this boss, he will instantly kill you with a grab attack. It’s like the game focuses on scaring you by punishing enemies rather than actually creating tension with unique or original ideas. Dealing with the same boss repeatedly is incredibly disappointing.
There is potential in The Callisto Protocol, but the game isn’t there yet. While there was plenty I enjoyed, it’s hard to shake the fact that the game feels like it could have used more to it. Launch issues with poor performance were thankfully ironed out with a day one patch, but there’s still more that needs to be addressed.
It may be worth revisiting, as New Game Plus and DLC are planned for the future. As it stands, though, it’s a rough experience.