The Callisto Protocol runs at you with gorgeous scares but mostly stumbles like a tired monster – Review

In aspiring to be Dead Space, it misses the mark of being something unique and special.

Image via Striking Distance

The horrors awaiting you in The Callisto Protocol are visually gorgeous, and simultaneously, gore for the sake of gore. From the grotesque creatures known as Biophages to the many grisly death animations for your main character, there’s always a stomach-churning moment awaiting you around every corner. Developed by Striking Distance Studios and directed by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield, the game could do a better job of setting itself apart from what it truly wants to be: another Dead Space game. Unfortunately, it gets in its own way so much that The Callisto Protocol falls short of spine-screaming horror expectations and misses what made 2008’s Dead Space special.

Monsters run the asylum now

Image via Striking Distance Studios

The breakneck speed of The Callisto Protocol’s plot propels players forward from one horror-induced encounter to another. Things start with protagonist Jacob Lee and his partner on a less-than-routine run to Black Iron Prison, making a delivery before they’re promptly shot down and crash land outside the prison. Upon landing, Jacob is incarcerated at Black Iron and is strapped with a neural implant (a visual faintly reminiscent of Isaac Clarke’s iconic armor). With how quickly we get to the disruption at the prison, the circumstances Jacob finds himself in, and the deadly threat of the Biophages, everything feels incredibly fast and rushed. There’s little time to process and truly appreciate any built-up horror.

As you progress through the game, everything is fueled by the next big cheap jump scare that leans on the visuals of a horrible thing than the actual scare behind it. The visuals are gorgeous, and The Callisto Protocol has a lot to appreciate if you have time to look around. Even the dastardly deaths inflicted on Jacob have a visual appeal, with excruciating detail weaved into these equally agonizing ends of them. They’re over the top, but that’s part of the appeal of a horror game, and The Callisto Protocol excels in the graphics department. That said, you won’t spend too much time valuing these visuals because you might be too busy jumping around the prison to the next horrible thing awaiting you.

With a runtime of 10 to 12 hours, the experience doesn’t give you long enough to form an attachment to Jacob or the other characters he encounters, and their passing appearances prevent any actual development from occurring. Because you feel no connection to the few side characters in this game, all they do is robotically move the plot forward, with only grisly monsters in between to keep Jacob on his toes. Eventually, and rather quickly, even the creatures become less of a threat.

Next in line at Black Iron Prison

Image via Striking Distance Studios

One source of horror for any game in the genre is the feel of the gameplay itself, and The Callisto Protocol is initially effective in delivering. At first, the combat feels heavy, and the various enemies are significant challenges blocking your path. The Biophages are a challenge, especially in numbers. Each unwieldy step forward was tense and gave me the desire to spend time carefully searching an area for every piece of valuable loot. The thought of losing any pip of health was a constant fear, at least for the first bit of the campaign. There is a limited number of weapons, your primary ones at the start being Jacob’s fists and other melee weapons. Eventually, the monsters become far less frightening as you find more equipment.

The numerous weapons and tools unlocked as progression picks up steadily stack the odds in Jacob’s favor. Unfortunately, the scales tip a bit too far toward his side, limiting the deadliness and ferocity of the Biophages. What’s worse is the game’s linear progression, leaving few opportunities to truly explore the terrors of Black Iron Prison. It instead becomes a dull hallway horror adventure where Jacob mindlessly blasts through enemies.

To the team’s credit, Striking Distance Studios took its time to develop the visuals of the creatures and the horrors scattered throughout the game. There’s no shortage of body horror around each corner. Anytime Jacob meets his demise against a foe or any environmental hazard, it’s a gruesome display of gore that would disturb most. However, much like the cheap jump scares littered throughout The Callisto Protocol, it feels like a poor way to get a visceral reaction from the player.

The verdict

Screenshot by Gamepur

The true horror behind The Callisto Protocol is how much it wants to be Dead Space without directly being tied to the franchise. The Callisto Protocol’s style and gameplay feel like hollow shells of what it’s trying to emulate, without any genuine, risky attempts to make the formula feel distinctly unique. 

The cutting-edge visuals and doubling-down on disturbing body horror are admirable, but ultimately The Callisto Protocol’s thin plot and eventually effortless gameplay turn it into a disappointing horror adventure rather than an honest nightmare-inducing endeavor for survival.

Final Score:

6.5 / 10

+Gorgeous visuals on every front
+Devilishly horrible gore and body-crunching scares
Thin plot with much to be desired
Limited characters that lack in development
Gameplay tips too far in players’ favor, cheapening monster horror
Disclosure: Gamepur was provided a game code for review purposes.