The Callisto Protocol review: A relentless horror show

Magnify / Hi, beautiful.

In the survival horror genre, building tension and heightening a sense of dread is the backbone of the experience. As a new sci-fi horror IP comes from the creators of Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol home in on the creeping sense of unease as it forces you to confront the many grotesque threats head-on. When you play The Callisto ProtocolI have always felt on edge, even in moments when I could have failed.

The game takes some strong influences from its spiritual predecessor Dead Space and puts his own spin on a more visceral type of horror experience. With that said, The Callisto ProtocolThe influences and genre are clear, and it occasionally falls back on familiar tropes and some frustrating combat encounters. Still, it retains its solid, relentless poise as a nerve-wracking yet thrilling survival horror game.

Welcome to Black Iron Prison

You play as Jacob Lee (Transformers‘ Josh Duhamel), a freelance transporter in the future with a murky past who crashes on Jupiter’s frozen moon. After being abducted by the ruthless head of security, Captain Ferris (Days away‘s Sam Witwer), Jacob finds himself trapped in the mysterious and inhuman Black Iron Prison.

Eventually, a mysterious viral outbreak mutates nearly everyone inside, turning them into voracious monsters called Biophages. Launches an escape with other prisoners, including the enigmatic anti-company activist Dani Nakamura (The boys‘ Karen Fukuhara), Jacob digs deep into the Black Iron Prison and the lower depths of the moon to uncover what happened and get out alive.

Right from the start, and despite the grotesque, over-the-top horror setting, there is a palpable sense of realism to The Callisto Protocolits history and pictures. This is hard sci-fi through and through, in the same way as Paul WS Anderson’s Event Horizon or John Carpenter’s The thing (or the original Dead Space series, not surprisingly). The game plays it straight with its unsettling vision of a future gone wrong, providing a rich environment to play in. Aside from rare one-liners, there isn’t much levity, which keeps up with the game’s bleak narrative and atmosphere.

Remember to breathe.
Magnify / Remember to breathe.

As a cinematic, story-driven game, The Callisto Protocol keeps the pace and structure tight, focusing on Jacob’s ordeal as he is ferried to various encounters and events in a mostly linear fashion. Apart from chapter changes and more in-depth cinematics, you always see events from Jacob’s perspective. The performances from the main cast do an effective job of selling the plot’s sense of urgency and dark tone. While the story mostly keeps the twists toned down and doesn’t venture far from the original premise by the end of its 12-hour campaign, it still succeeds as a solid vehicle for an intense and brutal horror game.

What really sells The Callisto Protocol and the frame is the amazing visual and sound design. The presentation is incredibly effective at establishing mood, with small details combining into the most impressive and effective survival horror tapestry I’ve seen in a long time. This is particularly evident in the gruesome design of Biophages, as well as the many, harrowing death scenes.

When the visuals and sound design work together, it creates a strong sense of dread and unease that sticks with you until the end. One part had me exploring the depths of the prison as the power fluctuated, creating dark moments for the enemies to move around unseen. Just trying to keep track of where these monsters were putting me on edge. It was a nerve-wracking section that really showcased the craftsmanship of the game’s impressive presentation.

While Black Iron Prison is somewhat similar to USG Ishimura from Dead Space, the setting comes into its own as the game’s scope expands, showcasing breathtaking views of the frozen lunar landscape beyond and the darker depths of Callisto. The game’s linear progression and tight pace reduce backtracking. That said, there are still moments where you can venture out and explore hidden rooms, mainly to uncover some intriguing clues and audio logs about Black Iron Prison history and what came before.

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