The Callisto Protocol review: could be stupid bloody space fun if it ran on PC

Sometimes when we are sent a review code for a game, the PR will say they will get the PC code later, but if we want we can have a console code so we can get a head start on playing the game. There are many reasons why that could happen, but I’ll be honest: there’s never one great divorced. I’m usually pretty relaxed about the occasional unsightly animation or frame stuttering when running a game, but in this case the Callisto protocol runs so badly on PC that if it was my kid and the coach hadn’t put it in to play football – even as a sub in the last five minutes, you know, just to try it, like – I’d say, “Yeah, bench sucker, I get it.”

Stuttering and slowing down when something moves is especially problematic in a horror game where your survival depends on quick dodge-reaction to sudden threats. So I can’t, right now, recommend you get The Callisto Protocol on PC. If Striking Distance makes it work properly? Eh. May be.

Mutants? IN my space prison?!

I tested the game on PC for a few hours, which is why the screens I have (except for the header, which is a PR image) are from the early part of the game. The Callisto protocol has a lot of thing in the air to provide atmosphere: at various times there will be fire and smoke, snow, ash, searchlights, and blinking or flashing lights (side note: if you are at all light sensitive, this game will kill you). My PC isn’t top notch anymore, but it’s by no means terrible, and the game ran about as smooth as a Ryanair landing. There aren’t exactly an abundance of graphics options to try and improve things either.

WOOOO PC gamers are eating GOOD right now!!1! I had to keep turning down the rendering percentage (16GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070)

For most other purposes of a review, I played The Callisto Protocol on PS5 – where, for what it’s worth, it runs like a dream. Directed by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield, this is a similar “you’re stranded in space and there are mutated monsters!”, with a few changes. Your character Jacob Lee is a cargo pilot who crashed on the dead moon Callisto. The problem is, Callisto is a prison planet, and Jacob is thrown into a cell without so much as your leave, but with a biotech stake in his neck that will practically act as a health bar for the rest of the game. Soon after Jacob arrives, a riot breaks out – only it’s not a riot, it’s some kind of virus that mutates the other inmates into big, glistening fleshy rage monsters, officially called genophages.

What is the caretaker’s deal? What’s the deal with that terrorist group? What is it really about Jacob? Where did this virus come from and how did it spread to the prison? Is that one douche bag guard going to stop showing up? All these questions and more will be answered to varying degrees as you pass the baton around the prison, the prison sewer, an ice storm, an old outpost, an even older colony, and so on. The Callisto protocol takes you on a relatively linear path through areas that it succeeds in disguising as sprawling. I particularly liked the oxygen garden, which felt like a nod to the extremely good space horror film Sunshine.

At each point you will be plagued by monsters that pop out of the floor or walls. The enemy designs are great, and have an Annihilation-esque too-many-sets-of-teeth flavor. While you get your usual scrub, tank and spit guys, there are also e.g. head chest guys who spring at you on a long fleshy string, floor dragging exploding guys, and sight-is-based-on-hearing guys. stay on your toes. It’s especially cool if you see them in different biomes, like during the blizzard where an icy statue can come to life and chew on your neck. Jacob is armed with a baton, a variety of 3D-printed weapons you can buy or upgrade at scattered printing stations, and a magical anti-gravity gauntlet to throw people into giant fans in the hallway. There are some pretty fun set-pieces to lighten it up, as well as gruesome kills (and deaths) by the arm and/or head being dragged for variety to enjoy.

Like butter

But it is with the fight that we come to two problems. Well, a problem and an observation. My observation is that I don’t think the Callisto Protocol is scary. I’m not as keen on body horror as the game would like, but when you compare it to Dead Space (which you probably have to) the opening hours aren’t nearly as conducive to being scared. In Dead Space, Isaac came upon an inexplicably empty ship and finds a boy banging his own head into a wall until he dies; The Callisto Protocol gives you a battle guide where you hit monsters with a metal rod during a riot where everything is on fire. The film adaptation was to have Jason Statham in the lead role. Like, you can’t just put blood and limbs on the floor everywhere because pretty quickly I start going “oh, some regular blood and limbs, there”. By the time the game asks you to crawl around in the dark, you’ve already learned the rhythms of its cheaper jump scares anyway.

On a scale from Babadook to dog soldiers, I know where I’d place the Callisto Protocol, is what I’m saying. That’s not a bad thing. I really like Dog Soldiers, and if anything I would have liked The Callisto Protocol a lot more if it took itself less seriously in that regard. You can have rooms full of unguarded saw blades and spikes that lure enemies into, and have the player collect loot by stamping on bodies, or you can have the menu read “New Experience” instead of “New Game”. I think doing both gives an inconsistent vibe.

Jacob enters a room full of murdered guards hanging from the ceiling

As an aside, several times Jacob will be like crawling through a vent and hear a bang, or see something run by, and he’ll mutter “What the hell was that?”. Like, idk man, probably another one of those big damn mutants you’ve been fighting for the past few hours?!

The big problem is the combat controls. There isn’t a dedicated dodge or block button on the controller. Rather, you pull the left thumb stick either left or right to dodge, and back to block. This looks incredibly cool to an outside observer: dodge left, dodge right, hammer the guy in the face, then pull out a 3D printed shotgun to blow his leg off. The game claims there are no windows for dodging, but it feels like there definitely is, and combined with limited health and compliant enemies, I found it too easy to have a bad time with a controller. It’s going to be divisive. If you play fighting games a lot, you can get on with it more, but I kind of hated it until I got a proper shotgun, which does enough damage to swing things in your favor. I actually think the controls work much better with WASD on PC. A thumbstick may be slightly off-angle to register the correct input, but a W or D key is either pressed or not.

In fact, I’d probably enjoy it more on PC than console. But the thing is, it’s not just that the game goes bad. There are a bunch of minor annoyances I noted on both platforms. Enemies can grow tentacles as a prelude to mutating into something worse, and you’re supposed to shoot or crush them to stop it – except I could never tell when I actually managed to. The different varieties of enemies don’t make significantly different sounds, so you can’t quickly read a situation like you can in, say, Left 4 Dead. If you start entering the dodge too early, the game reverts to motion controls and you start punishing, which is annoying. The quick-kill message doesn’t appear if you have the gun out, but the gun is also your flashlight, so you have it out almost all the time. I was looking forward to the Callisto protocol and I want this dog to hunt. I don’t think it can right now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *