Everything WRONG With The Callisto Protocol
Clunky horror games were once the standard of the genre. Built on technical limitations that left them with a render distance measuring not much further than the player character's eyelashes, requiring either fixed camera angles or obscuring everything behind fog and darkness to hide the pop-in, which made combat feel like trying to drill your own cavities. And since most of them were coming out of Japan, the localized voice acting was on the level of nineties VHS porn, and the plots weren't much further than that either, if we're speaking honestly. Eventually technology caught up and freed them of the technical blemish, though it would take a bit longer before they got around to cleaning up the plot and characters. There's been such a noticeable improvement that I would argue that no other genre is had such an ugly duckling phase as survival horror.
That's why I'm always perplexed when some people deride the quality of life improvements made over two decades and desire a return to the old ways. They see that clunkiness as a critical element of horror. There's even an entire genre of retro horror games now that emulate the look of PlayStation classics. But if you're looking for a modern day Triple A horror game that aggressively does its best to get in the way of you enjoying it, then your prayers have been answered. The Callisto Protocol will provide you with all the frustration and horror that can only be matched by owning and driving a Russian made car. Marketed as a spiritual successor to the Dead Space franchise, it borrows heavily from it, but manages to remain legally distinct by being really bad at it.
You lose the spiritual successor moniker of it sucks and arrives on the heels of an announced remake of said beloved franchise. As much as I deride the Dead Space series for being schlock horror with no sense of atmosphere beyond having something with too many teeth yell in your face, I can't deny that I found myself having fun with the first two in spite of their narrative shortcomings, mainly down to very tight pacing where combat was kept tense since you had to go about it like you're late to a high school biology dissection exam. Didn't matter how messy you left the frog afterward, as long as you correctly extracted the organs. To give you one telling example of something they took from Dead Space but screwed up, allow me to explain how they couldn't even nail the easiest of them - the classic stomp. Isaac's weighty boot in Dead Space is an accurate simulation of Metal Gear Rex crushing Grey Fox. In comparison, Jacob wouldn't even be hired to crush grapes in a winery.
It's more like he's trying to shoo away a dog by stomping the ground in front of him, which feels wrong when busting open every diseased corpse to loot health injectors from their chest cavities is your main way of staying alive. Admittedly, it's a small complaint, but it reflects the game's overall failings. So much of Dead Space is here, but none of it feels right. Based on the timeline of the game I'm guessing everyone who heard this broadcast went, "Dani Naka-who?" since she was just a regular person until this event, which just occurred.
But somehow, in a short span of time, she managed to create an organization called The Outer Way that has already gained notoriety and considered a terrorist group. It's not only lights people forget to turn on inside spaceships, but they forgot to switch on the AC as well. Everyone will spend this game sweating like a pig despite being on a frozen moon in space. In The Callisto Protocol, you play as... this guy, Jacob Lee. His design seems to be a composite of every male main character in games from the 2000s. Like Isaac, Jacob as an everyman,
but instead of a mechanic, he's a space trucker. He somehow manages to have less personality than Isaac from the first Dead Space, and that was the one game where Isaac never spoke. The only time you can connect with Jacob is upon realizing that he seems just as frustrated by the game as the player likely is, because he never seemed frightened by any of the shambling horrors with unwrapped Taco Bell burritos for a face, just annoyed by them. Neither Jacob nor his copilot felt the explosion in the hull of their ship someone made to board it.
They only know because of a sensor that apparently didn't pierce the cockpit with a klaxon call after a significant amount of their ship was destroyed. Jacob opens the cargo hold to kill Dani and her Outer Way members. And from the looks of it, that should be extremely effective, given how they would be either sucked into space or asphyxiate inside the cargo hold. And this also causes the ship to crash once Dani shoots the window looking into the cockpit, which would only make the situation inside the exposed cargo hold worse. But Dani will miraculously survive this. Since this is Callisto, a moon of Jupiter that is inhospitably cold and has no breathable atmosphere, Jacob should be dying despite surviving the crash since the windows are all busted out.
The game will switch back and forth on the matter of whether you can survive in Callisto's atmosphere without a suit or not. Jacob's copilot has followed the long tradition of dying in the crash after being assumed to still be alive by the protagonist. The prison security captain, Ferris, needs an oxygen mask to survive being on Callisto, but Jacob is right there and breathing fine. Oh, thermal regulators enabled by putting on an oxygen mask.
That stops you from freezing and from passing out from the loss of atmospheric pressure. Dani survived that crash in the exposed cargo hold of a ship as it plummeted through reentry and crashed on Callisto. She came out of it better than Jacob and his copilot from the looks of it. Jacob is arrested along with Dani and it's never explained why. Yeah, we find out later that Jacob unknowingly played a part in the attack mentioned on the news, but so did this prison. Maybe had the people behind the attack learned the Jacob discovered something incriminating in the cargo he picked up from Black Iron Prison would make arresting him make at least some sense, but Jacob himself doesn't even recall doing that, and the cargo he was transporting remains on the crashed ship.
Warden Cole likes to play recordings throughout the facility, and even the snowcat transport vehicles for some reason. They're one part cult tactic and one part motivational grifting. His approach doesn't really matter because he's just going to kill everyone in the prison anyway, so why bother trying to inspire them? Are you playing Six Degrees of Dead Space and proving this game is only separated by one degree when it comes to the name? We're inserting your health monitor in the one location you will never be able to see without a mirror. I never figured out why the prison implants these into prisoners.
It doesn't seem to provide any service that would make incarcerating them easier, like paralyzing them as they try to escape. The opposite actually, since all the functions it does have seem beneficial to the wearer. After the procedure, Jacob has a dream of this glowing purple child's toy that was also seen in the news footage of Europa.
Unless he's really latched onto that one obscure and meaningless detail from the footage, there's zero reason for him to dream of it. And here's why I've never been impressed by the horror of Dead Space, it's just something loud in your face. That isn't scary, that's obnoxious. If you're going to set your game inside a prison with a player controlling a prisoner, maybe make them feel like one.
The setting may as well have been an uncomfortable hotel made of concrete, because all Jacob did was show up and fall asleep in it before all hell breaks loose and his cell door is unlocked. Isn't it strange that every other cell in this prison is open but this guy's? And Elias' plan to escape the prison can't be that well put together if he never got around to figuring out step one of escaping from his own cell. Security in this prison is extremely lax. Every door is kept secured by a panel covering one ribbon cable that can be cut to open the door. The box and cable don't even make any sense engineering wise.
The cable leads from the half the box mounted on the wall to the face cover you pry off. At most, disconnecting it should simply disable any buttons or screens on the face of it. Even with the lock disengaged, this does not look like the kind of door you can open with your bare hands.
That's several centimeters of steel, meaning a ton or more in weight. I didn't go into Callisto Protocol expecting to be impressed by the plot, so it being as forgettable as a parking meter fee gave me some small comfort. But I did go in expecting the combat to be competent. Everything else about this game could have been terrible, but good combat alone could have still saved it, just like it did with Dead Space. Instead of guns that bisect enemies in half, you spend most of the game swinging lefts and rights with a stun baton, only occasionally stopping in between swings to pop a single round into an enemy to stun them so you can continue beating them with a baton. It's sort of the opposite of most games where guns are your main offensive tactic with melee coming into play only when the enemy gets close, you're low on ammo or you're one of those types who likes bragging about your knife-only run in Resident Evil.
It's a baffling enough choice to go with melee, but made even worse with how it's implemented. You see, it's more of a rhythm game than stringing combos together. You take a swing or two, then you have to dodge either left or right by holding the analog stick in that direction. You actually can't die in most situations as long as you don't let off the analog stick in combat and avoid swinging when it's the enemy's turn. Making analog sticks do anything other than move the camera, move the character or select UI options has always proven to be a bad idea. The reason being that I know when I've pressed a button, I might not know if my analog stick is doing what I want it to, since I'm simply holding it in a directional position, relying on screen movement to tell me if it's doing something.
The only other element to the combat is that occasionally, occasionally in this instance meaning every enemy it seemed to me once past a certain point in the game, an enemy will start transforming after you hit them a few times and you need to shoot them once to stop it, and they all transform into the exact same thing. It wouldn't kill you to add some variation, but I also expect variation in regular enemy types. Even there, there's maybe like five, and three of them are just variations of a guy trying to clothesline you. How did you get from your cell, which Jacob just opened, to behind a checkpoint that isn't responding? Honestly, were I Jacob, I would feel like Elias is trying to run off and leave me. Why would the inmates be fitted with implants that have two-way coms in the first place, even if they are deactivated? There's a bunch of helpful features in these things that are all deactivated for prisoners. But why is something so strangely wrong with the elevator that it would take Jacob down to a specific floor? Wouldn't it just not work at all? Nearly half of the crates I opened in the game contain one of these leeches that attack you with a quick time event and take some of your health.
There's no way to tell which creates will contain a much needed Baha Blast flavored health injector or a dangerous fleshlight that will go for your neck. It's the gameplay equivalent of someone reaching across your table at a restaurant and helping themselves to some of your fries. What is even the point of these things game? You do know you're a survival horror game, right? I'm supposed to be checking every corner, corpse and crate for supplies to stay alive.
If you want to make that a bit more dangerous, that's fine. But there has to be a way to counter it other than not opening anything. Speaking of health, our boy Jacob gives inserting a syringe into his neck the same love and slow tenderness as two virgins on prom night. It doesn't matter if a monster is bearing down on him, Jacob will slowly get to one knee, take out the syringe, read the side effects on the label, call his insurance company to be certain he's covered by this and then finally inject the thing into himself.
This leads into another of the game's massive issues. Enemies demand a higher speed than Jacob's animations can deal with. Just switching weapons takes forever, and even his stun baton has to be pulled off his back at the start of every encounter, since there is no option to keep it at the ready, leading to several times where I would walk into a room and be unable to defend myself from an enemy. This game has few puzzles in it, instead relying on finding fuses for control boxes to open doors. Granted, Dead Space mainly relied on puzzles where you would stick batteries into slots too, but you at least got to use telekinesis for that. The irony of going so far to have no UI on screen during gameplay, just to create a needlessly cumbersome one whenever you go into the menus. They even forgot to let you play audio logs over gameplay, forcing you to stop what you're doing to listen to them in menu.
And each person has several logs that you come across that all go in the same page and nothing marks which one you've listened to already. So more than once you will pick one up, navigate to the log page, find the name of the person who's long you picked up, then play one you've already listened to. Warden Cole's recorded hologram messages play in the prison at certain locations, I assume, for the benefit of enlightening the prisoners here. The problem is that all the ones that played were in locations only the prison staff would see them.
Callisto Protocol is an extremely linear game, which I somehow kept getting lost in. More than once I found myself turned around and backtracking for a solid minute before realizing my mistake. Other times, the game would give me a split path but with no indication which way was the one that would continue the game and lock me out of ever finding out what was down the path not chosen. Anyone who has played games for more than a month will know that leaving a stone unturned causes withdrawal like symptoms to the point that we will avoid whichever path seems like the correct one until we've explored every optional corner. Another of Dead Space's better ideas this game could have used was the excellent waypoint system, where you click on the analog stick and the game would draw a line to your next objective so you knew not to follow it until you were ready.
Captain Ferris really isn't doing anything other than reprising his role as Starkiller from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed right now. Ferris' train of thought actually makes a lot of sense, but Jacob's crash landing here has nothing to do with what's happening, at least not directly. This is your first gun in the game. You'll eventually collect a pistol, another shotgun, another pistol, another shotgun and then a submachine gun. All of them are terrible and are only needed to kill one monster you fight a few times in the second half of the game and then the final boss. Making the guns suck is one thing, but making ammo for each one take up its own unique inventory slot gets maddening, especially when your inventory is so limited until you get something besides a prison uniform to wear, which isn't for a while yet.
Elias' privileges allow him to take the easy way to the SHU while Jacob has to take the dangerous path. How would that make any sense? The whole place has gone to hell, so I doubt any privileges he has will work without security to enforce them. And if they're automatic, it can't be more than a door opening for him, which he could lead Jacob through along with him. In another case of borrowing something from Dead Space but completely missing the point of it, Jacob finds a device that gives him telekinesis. Right off the bat it's very limited in how long it can pick someone up for and how far I can throw them.
But after a few upgrades, it becomes your best option for avoiding the infuriating combat. Because for some unknown reason, this prison was decorated by Pinhead from Hellraiser. There are entire walls in nearly every room covered in spikes that you can throw enemies into for an instant kill. The lack of anything else to do with it is lost potential. I recall using the Kinesis module to solve most of Dead Space's puzzles, pull out of reach resources to me and even shoot enemies severed limbs back through them.
Here it's mainly for yeeting your foes into spike walls. Jacob survives an elevator freefall. Probably doesn't seem like that big of a sin, but recall he's already survived the crash that killed the person next to him. And he'll have a few more fatal falls later that he inexplicably survives. These things are the annoying counterpart to the leeches that jump out of crates are still some HP from you. You enter a room and one attacks you before you can do anything. The only time you will ever avoid
them is when you die a bit later, before the game's abysmal checkpoint system saved your progress, so you have to enter the room again with the foresight of it this time. And it will still probably nail you once again because you likely forgot about it or weren't sure which blob on the floor it was. Honestly, the only interesting thing about any new enemy type is the unique death animations, which I would show you, but this is YouTube you're watching this video on.
Is there any reason why mindless berserker zombies would kill their prey and then string them up from the ceiling by their own intestines? Black Iron Prison has very lax network security as well, since Elias, a prisoner here, can get into their systems and control them, including their maximum security ward. I know this is an off world prison, so maybe it wasn't exactly built to code, but there are a few too many machines that are functionally human meat grinders that pepper the areas where humans would be walking right next to them. Even the protagonist can fall for the prisoner isn't in their cell trick. Would have been easy enough to check that corner before going in. I don't believe that cell door is locked. Jacob just pulled it open without doing anything to it a second ago. It turns out that the prisoner Elias found that can call down one of the ships in orbit is Dani, who is apparently a hacker or something.
And she's only been in the prison a few hours like Jacob. So I have no idea how Elias had such specific information on her. They also lucked out because she's one of only three prisoners who survived the initial outbreak it seems. This maximum security cell has one of those easily openable electrical panels with a single braided cable that when court opens the door. All Jacob needs is a shiv to get anywhere inside this prison. Look at that, Jacob could have you slid the door open after Dani tricked him instead of standing there until the SHU switched on and separated him from Elias. Elias made vlogs during his time exploring the prison in the past that he uploads of Jacobs implant that will trigger and play when he reaches those areas. Clever way of padding your view count. Instead of draining the tank that for some reason makes the ladder drop down so you can climb it couldn't you just stack some stuff under the ladder to reach it? It's only a few feet above you.
This is the moment the transforming mechanic comes up for the first time. After hitting an enemy a few times they begin to transform, which you can stop with a bullet from your gun. Failing to do so sees them transform into a bigger version of the guy you were just fighting. So it doesn't change the combat in any meaningful way other than prolonging it. Is this really the mechanic they thought would be as memorable as severing limbs? I know they did because they even wrote it on the wall in blood just like was done back in Dead Space.
The stealth enemies from Dead Space are also recreated here, but instead of those weird chicken-things they would charge you then hide behind walls and poke their heads out to find you, this game just has enemies that turn invisible before attacking. It's time for the deadly water slide that goes on for way too long. Keep in mind, this is the path Elias sent Jacob on, one that led to a tunnel that floods that would be sure to kill most and then ends in a huge drop that would kill anyone who avoided drowning. I would like to know how these trees in the habitation dome grow without sunlight. Jupiter is very far away from the Sun and receives only a fraction of the sunlight the Earth receives. There doesn't appear to be any UV lamps either.
What do they even process timber for in this place? Everything here is made of metal. Captain Ferris is oddly clingy to a prisoner he really has no connection to. Ferris opens the airlock and Jacob and Elias are sucked out, which makes no sense because there's an atmosphere out there - and a thick one too by the looks of it. You would only get this level of suction if there was a vacuum or massive pressure difference, which we know isn't the case from the crash earlier.
Jacob's visor is open and he's suffocating. I demand an explanation for why he wasn't suffocating after he crashed his ship on Callisto. Jacob was pulled an unlikely distance by the vacuum, because I can't find any buildings near him that he could have been sucked out of when he comes to. And Elias got sucked even further away, since he's nowhere to be found. Elias tells Jacob his suit's power is failing, but when Jacob arrives Elias's problem is actually a broken visor and he's suffocating, which I'm assuming was broken when he was sucked out of the airlock.
Meaning he should have been dead well before Jacob reached him. And if he's suffocating, he shouldn't be able to speak. Dani, without knowing anything about this prison, found her own way out and even as a suit, a shotgun and a vehicle. How is she doing so much better than Jacob and Elias? You met him once, and I don't recall him ever mentioning that to you.
Furthermore, you're already outside the prison, which would have been the extent of Elias' knowledge. Whatever information he has in his Core will not help you any, proven by the fact that this never comes up again. Did you cut through the suit to get Elias' implant? Seems hard to do, and there's no evidence of his suit being damaged afterward. But you're headed to the hangar as well, and you head off in a completely different direction from it. You boarded his ship and tried to kill him. It does not make you even.
Didn't you drive a working snowcat here? Why do you need to fix a new one and drive it out? The shotgun isn't as useful as Dani claims. You still end up beating enemies to death with a stick and using a shotgun to stun. If Dani really suspects Jacob of being behind the attack on Europa, why would you leave him in the snowcat while she checks his crashed ship for evidence? He's the last person she should leave in control of their only means of transport. Dani opens the snowcat's door, and Jacob doesn't have his visor on, yet he doesn't gasp for air or even get sucked out of the cabin.
Jacob even stands in the open door of the snowcat without his visor on and still no gasping for breath. Dani checks the crate we saw Jacob briefly check back at the start and inside is just medicine like he claimed. There's actually more than that there, incriminating evidence even, so you would figure Warden Cole would have had the contents brought back to the prison instead of leaving it here in the crashed ship and locking Jacob up for no reason. Jacob is quite clear on his belief that he had no hand in the attack on Europa, even though he did, he just doesn't recall it, presumably because of the implant messing with his head. But that is a highly specific memory to lose since he forgot nothing else.
Why is there even an empty ship floating around Callisto for Dani to call down, which Warden Cole then shoots to stop them from escaping. Wouldn't someone have to fly it up there in the first place and leave it for no reason? Another certified Dead Space classic - falling through a bunch of debris is in a manner that you're highly unlikely to ever survive. The surface gravity of Callisto may be much lower than Earth's, but I still don't see this working out for you.
Towards the end of the game, something will happen that will allow Jacob to see Dani's memories. That because that hasn't happened yet, there's no reason why Jacob can see her memories at this moment. This new one enemy time is completely blind and can only find you using sound. But there's a huge hole in its design.
Once they hear you there is no functional difference from other enemies. Normally you would make this type of enemy kill the player instantly upon grabbing them, but these can only wail on Jacob like every other enemy, and their attacks can be dodged as well. The other issue is that because you're inclined to stealth around them, you're also likely to stealth kill them with your shiv, but the ship has unlimited uses, so I would string kill after kill together and clear out entire rooms of them. I felt more like a serial killer stalking the halls of a retirement center than someone hiding for my life. What could have been a tense moment becomes the easiest the game ever gets because I have enemies that can detect me as long as I crouch walk and all of them die in one hit. The original colonists traveled through the underground tunnel on a platform with an exposed structure that goes extremely fast, sending rocks flying everywhere, and behind them would be an exposed intake fan that would suck anyone standing on the platform into it.
Infected managed to board the platform - impressive since it's traveling as fast as a bullet train. This 'thing' serves as your first boss fight in the game - as well as your second, third, fourth and fifth. At first it seems like a pain to deal with since it kills you with one hit and is the only enemy in the game you must use your weak guns to kill since the stun button does nothing, but once you discover it has no combo to its attacks you can just hold down right or left on the analog stick and it cannot hit you. I'm serious. You can dodge it effortlessly for eternity if you want. Dani is jacked into the implant of a corpse so she can see the recorded memories of one of the original colonists. This is another feature of the implant they give the prisoners.
And I really have to question why it has such a feature. Dani is in such shock after being pulled out of the corpse's mind that she pushes Jacob against the wall And that's enough to collapse the whole structure, spilling them into another fight with a big guy again. That was seventy or more years ago. You're telling me the implants you guys have are compatible with theirs?
The only method this game has for separating Jacob from another character is to have him fall off something so he's forced to take a more dangerous path than them. No one would record their presentation inside an evil biolab like this, where it stops and starts as you walk through it. Who's even going to be visiting that would need it? This is a secret facility on a moon of Jupiter. I assume if you're here, you're meant to be here and already know all of this.
You know, evil scientist went to the same medical schools as non evil scientists. They would know that you should start your test with mice before moving on to humans to keep costs down. A prisoner test subject is still going to cost a lot more than a mouse. The disease came from this dead alien they found under Callisto's Ocean.
the larva that have jumped out of containers for most of the game are the way the disease propagates. These larva were aquatic in nature, having been the children of this alien in a sealed underground ocean, they shouldn't even be able to survive in atmosphere. Also, shouldn't a lava be maturing into something? That's what larva do, not spread a disease. How did Ferris even become infected? We saw him knocked out a window by several of the mutants. But only the larva can infect you, as seen when just before they can make a clean escape Dani is infected by one of the larva the second Jacob turns his back. Two the prison robots take them by surprise. This was done on the orders of Dr. Mahler. She had Dani brought to her,
but for whatever reason had Jacob taken back to his cell and then directs him to find his way to her because she can help him by curing Dani, Why didn't Mahler just bring Jacob to her like she did with Dani? There was no reason to drag Jacob back to his cell. Several times throughout this Jacob has seen Dani's memories, but only now is his implant linked with hers. So what was up with all those moments from before where he saw a purple toy? You can cure the disease, but you need to synthesize it by taking a sample from the Alpha.
Okay. Why isn't the dead Alpha that you have in this room good enough then? This secret society that has existed for centuries and desires to control human evolution - what were they up to for those centuries before learning of this virus just a few decades ago? Were they just sitting around hoping an answer would present itself? Because they don't seem to have done much when it comes to evolving humans. Then why hasn't he already done that? Ferris is the Alpha and he already has him. Jacob begins to experience Dani's memories of Europa. The big revelation is that Jacob discovered there was something else in his shipment but decided to ignore it and deliver it anyways, making him partially responsible.
And then he just up and forgot this and the game never explains why he didn't recall it. You had no idea what you were shipping. It was just a weird bug in a container. Could you have stopped it? Yeah, sure, but no one would because no one would be assuming that what they're transporting would cause a zombie outbreak. The inhibitor Mahler gave Danny lasted one hallway and an elevator ride. I think a placebo would have been just as effective.
You didn't know all this before you ordered him locked up? I figured there had to be some reason for that. Cole simply decided to lock Jacob on a whim after he crashed on Callisto. If this game gets a sequel, the title is going to be a bit of a bugbear. Since I doubt every game will take place on Callisto and be about someone deciding to release an infection in his compound to test his theory. But you're already in space. You're living in a frozen moon of Jupiter right now.
How is a physically stronger version of a human more suitable for life in space? So you're going to make Ferris and Jacob fight to prove who's superior. But if Jacob wins, it doesn't actually prove anything and you will continue to pursue the virus idea. This fight highlights every single annoying element of the combat: clunky dodging, weak guns, slow healing, inability to deal with multiple targets, and the switch to guns for boss fights when the majority of the game placed the importance on melee combat. If you can take a sample from Ferris now that he's dead to complete the cure, why couldn't you take a sample from the other dead Alpha Mahler kept in her lab? Didn't you just make them fight to decide who was the future of humanity? Play by your own damn rules.
Couldn't you just take another sample from Ferris then? His body is right there. Since Warden Cole isn't actually here, This being a hologram of himself, why was he having a meeting with the other members of his secret society with his hologram projection standing here? They were all broadcasting from somewhere else. But Cole was broadcasting his hologram to here inside the prison and then broadcasting that to the other members. It's like having a Zoom meeting where one person is pointing their webcam at their reflection in a mirror. Every evil facility comes with a self-destruct system. Also Cole just told Jacob about the escape pod a minute ago.
An escape pod made with only one seat isn't a very good escape pod now is it? Jacob past that vial to Dani as he shoved her into the pod, did he? I've rewatched that scene multiple times and nowhere did he do that. It even ends like Dead Space, with a jump scare and sequel bait.