Warning: This review will contain spoilers for The Callisto Protocol.
An infectious disease runs rampant. Entire colonies – planets of people – are succumbing to and becoming violent, mindless creatures. A pretty common trope within the sci-fi and horror landscape, but Striking Distance’s The Callisto Protocol makes an interesting new mark with great potential in their future installments.
Set on Jupiter’s dead moon, Callisto, Glen Schofield’s survivor horror action game takes a few great leaps. But the stumbles leave an impact.
When Life Comes Crashing Down
The year is 2320. A cargo ship pilot, Jacob Lee, and his partner, Max Borrow, are on their final haul. But as the duo leaves Callisto, a group of apparent terrorists (The Outer Way) boards their ship hoping to steal their cargo. After a close encounter and enemies sabotaging their ship, Jacob crash-lands onto Callisto’s surface. Soon after finding his partner dead, Jacob and the last remaining member, Dani Nakamura, are wrongfully imprisoned at the Black Iron Prison.
Moments after waking up in his cell, Jacob finds that an outbreak has spread through the prison, leaving few survivors. Jacob has to work with fellow survivors and reluctant teammates in order to find the cause of the disease and escape the terrors of Black Iron.
Something Bad Happened In This Room
Atmospheric, moody, dark. From the moment you wake up in the burning Black Iron while prisoners riot to the shocking last moments after the escape pod launches, the world of The Callisto Protocol is stunning. As you navigate Jacob through the decay of Callisto, each room and new environment is a visual feast. Whether you navigate the disgusting slime and creature-filled halls or trudge through the unforgiving snow of Callisto, or take in the view of space from different control rooms across the game, there’s not a single space that doesn’t fit into this mostly cohesive and detail-rich world.
However, there are a few questions that come up when thinking of the BIP’s design. During one of the later chapters, Elias relates to Jacob that there was a trap set up to prevent prisoners from escaping. Just as Jacob shimmies through pipes, a giant moving wall of spikes slams through and disembowels anything in its path. In this context, knowing this is a weak point of the prison’s design, makes some sense to have installed. Although the GRP is a great combat tool, why are there spikey walls littered around a prison? Or giant metal fans that chop up bodies when being too close? Was this implemented as part of the Warden’s security protocol for their experiments?
Auto Dodge Will Always Be There For Me
Callisto Protocol relies heavily on letting your enemy get up close and personal with Jacob. Rather than how fast you can kill an enemy, combat here focuses on reacting. With varying techniques for each of the biophage the player comes across, it makes for an interesting playthrough. Each of the weapons at Jacob’s disposal has pros and cons the player needs to adjust to while playing. While using various ranged weapons found in the game, ammo is scarce (as is your inventory) and it generally takes several bullets to down, much less kill an enemy. This isn’t considering the clunkiness of utilizing dodge (left stick) while trying to change weapons (D-pad and X) while running from several enemies. This leaves players to lean on the melee system. The melee system isn’t without flaws though.
Using the stun baton and dodging works great when you’re going against one enemy, but when mobbed, the dodging becomes a hassle. The GRP could be used to put some distance between you and enemies, but when they’re within baton range, the GRP animation is too slow to keep up with the fight. Then, the remaining option is to put some type of distance between yourself and the biophage, and slowly work your way through the group. While this brings new challenges and keeps combat interesting and evolving, the tools at your disposal drag you down.
Stories Told and Untold
The world of BIP is filled with an incredibly interesting lore and even darker secrets. From the settlements of the United Jupiter Company and their exposures to the biophage pathogen to the secret meeting rooms of the Kallipolis group, there are intricately woven threads of a greater world outside Callisto waiting to be uncovered. Although with so many threads, there are bound to be a few loose ones that snag.
At the beginning of the game, Jacob learns that the CORE device has caused some inmates to go insane. In a few instances in the game, players are able to hear Jacob’s name being called or a quick glimpse of Jacob’s dead partner roaming the halls. While Dani does comment on Jacob’s mental state, there really isn’t a follow-up or greater showing of the hallucinations. This extends out to the purple box that Dani sees on Europa and Jacob sees in his nightmare at BIP. Smaller details including the apparent gang roaming BIP, the location of the warden, and the spread of the biophage pathogen remain up in space.
However, the creative team has said that players would be getting a taste of more with the Season Pass. This could give an interesting opportunity for players to learn more about how the Callisto world works outside of Jacob’s perspective. Future DLCs could include more information about the formation of Kallipolis, The Outer Way, the outbreak on Europa, or the initial outbreak within the colonies and Arcas.
Since launch day, Striking Distance has been upfront with players about current bugs and fixes they are hoping to implement soon. As of writing this review, there have been updates to alter aspects fans have brought up like the first-aid animation and gun change speed. However, one aspect fans are bringing into question is the ability to create a new game or chapter select. The new game file would allow for players to use the weapons they forged and upgraded during their first playthrough in a new save. Or for players to utilize the photomode to recapture iconic moments in the game.
While players are able to create a new game, no data transfers over to the file. This means if you miss one data-bio in the game, you have to replay the game to collect the achievement. Now, without this feature, there still is some replayability. Players can still run through to try and find the secret rooms or gun schematics they may have skipped the first round. Or to forgo specific weapon upgrades to allow for other weapons to max out their ability.
A separate, albeit very different mode that would be exciting to see in this franchise, is an arcade mode. Something like Call of Duty‘s Zombies or Gears of Wars‘ Horde, where players could master combat with friends.
The bottom line – The Callisto Protocol is fun. It’s a new take on an established genre with the potential to leave a greater impact.
The Callisto Protocol is available now for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One.