Callisto Protocol Review: A Deadly Frustrating Room

what scares you? Body horror? Claustrophobia? The idea of ​​things being pushed through your eyes? Jump scare? Mediocre level design? The Callisto Protocol has everything, for better or for worse. Insistent on pushing you over the edge and making you sweat, Striking Distance Studios’ first game is overbearing; a carnival horror house trying to be a top-line escape room, and Michael Bay trying to be John Carpenter. It does everything Dead Space did, but when ground has already been broken, does it need to be broken again?

At least the game looks good.

There are differences, of course. The Callisto protocol is nicer. The characters are more fleshed out, and there is Hollywood talent in the spacesuits as well. The production values ​​are upgraded. The fight is better in the beginning. But the Callisto Protocol tries to be too many things. It tries to be a thriller, it tries to be a psychological horror, it tries to be a sci-fi space opera about conspiracy and religious fervor. Lacking the slim focus of its cinematic or video game inspirations, it often comes off as one of those quivering, shuddering corpses it loves to pounce on you when you think you’re enjoying a moment of safety, instead.

The developers at the fledgling Striking Distance Studios talked about the game’s “fear engineering” during development – a hyped, PR-fueled joke about how the game can read your actions and emotions as you play and react with brutal precision to scare you. In practice, this means that favoring melee will make enemies counter you more. Favoring your gun will mean they’re fooling you. Using your pseudo-telekinetic GRP device means they stay away from spikes on the walls. What was supposed to be innovative AI feels like the redundant enemies thrown at you in an attack of fate. It’s just a little harder to kill.

Out of the frozen planet.

For the first few hours, the game enjoys opening up slowly; a blooming corpse flower rich in stench and menace. It’s great. It’s slow going, as if the developers have attached a meat hook to your chest and are dragging you through sewers, hospital wards and prison cells. Like a whistle-stop ride of Silent Hill, Resi and Amnesia all rolled into one, beckoning you forward as you hate yourself for enjoying the horror, promising something new at the end of the tunnel…something that disappointingly never materializes.

You are tested all the way. As your tactics evolve and your inventory swells, you deal with more enemies—creatures that evolve with you, watch you from the vents, and learn your movements and motivations. After all, the whole game is about evolution: the evolution of man, the evolution of horror, the evolution of Glen Schofield from Call of Duty king to horror auteur. Except none of it really comes off, does it? Man never evolves, because these hideous mutations get in the way. Horror is never truly heightened, because it’s so obsessed with paying dues to what’s come before. And Schofield, it seems, is struggling to leave Call of Duty.

The fingerprints of Sledgehammer Games are all over this; thin corridors, scripted meetings, the illusion of choice. Labyrinthic paths through domed conservatories convince you that you’re playing the game your way, but really you’re just moving predictably through a flow chart before the next sequence, where you slide down a sluice or run away from something that explodes again. It worked for Dead Space because of the nature of its world, the realization of Ishimura, and the insidious threat of the Marker – the Callisto Protocol has none of that. Just a spreadsheet of horror references, an all-you-can-eat buffet of gruesome death animations to devour, and a spoon to feed you with.

Know me, know mutant.

The match is as prescribed. I like the intense head-to-head melee of The Callisto Protocol, but I can see why many people don’t; an over-reliance on timing, on making you duck and dive and respond in kind, is only partly tempered by the satisfaction of blowing a mutant’s head off with your gun at the last second. GRP – a fantastic realization of physics in a game as tight and over-the-shoulder as this – feels neutered and limp, even at its most powerful. When you first pick it up, you think of Half Life’s grave pistol and the horrors of Ravenholm – and the entire log complex in the game probably wants you to feel that way too. But by reminding you of some of gaming’s best horror action, Callisto Protocol just reminds you how milquetoast it is in comparison. And don’t get me started on the forced, insta-kill stealth sections that kill any momentum and dampen any tension that might just be bubbling up.

Jacob gets his face full.

This is not to say that there isn’t a good game oozing in the gooey flesh of this Frankenstein; it just feels like it’s not what Striking Distance wanted it to be. It’s not the next step in horror, the evolution of Dead Space, or a proposition unlike anything you’ve seen before – it’s the opposite. An amalgam, less than the sum of its parts, whose main focus becomes overwrought and frustrating by the time you’re halfway through its short run. Unfortunately, the scariest thing about the Callisto protocol is all the potential that has been wasted on a small moon in Jupiter’s orbit.

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