Horror games have had a bit of an upswing in recent years and The Callisto Protocol promises another gore-soaked survival horror experience with a sci-fi twist. Led by creative director Glen Schofield, the mastermind behind the original Dead Space, new development team Striking Distance Studios attempts to wow horror fans with their debut game. Set on Callisto, a remote moon of Jupiter, this sci-fi shooter/adventure tasks you with escaping a maximum security prison amid a violent outbreak. Does The Callisto Protocol excite and terrify with its blend of body horror and tension? Let’s find out how it compares to classics like Dead Space as we dig into this much-anticipated debut from Striking Distance.
Dead Moon Prison Break
Set in the year 2320, The Callisto Protocol plays out from the perspective of Jacob Lee, played by actor Josh Duhamel. As a freelance cargo ship pilot, he regularly hauls shipments between Callisto and Europa, two moons that orbit Jupiter. During a normal trip, his ship is attacked by a band of eco-terrorists, sending both parties crash-landing on Callisto. Arrested without explanation by a power-hungry correctional officer named Captain Ferris and placed in the isolated Black Iron prison, Jacob’s day can’t seem to get any worse. That is, until an unknown contagion ravages the facility, forcing Jacob to escape Black Iron or succumb to the abhorrent, mutated creatures that lurk in its halls.
The majority of The Callisto Protocol is spent with Jacob alone, frightened, and dripped in sweat and blood. However, there are a few other characters who pop up for a scene or two, sprinkling in some human interaction every now and then. Elias, a fellow inmate with extensive knowledge of the prison, assists Jacob via radio during his escape. Conversely, eco-terrorist Dani and Captain Ferris offer opposition, acting as additional antagonists. Apart from brief conversations with these characters (and a couple of others), the focus of the plot is on Jacob’s journey of survival and the mystery behind the outbreak.
The Callisto Protocol presents an interesting premise, but pacing issues and a few plot conveniences hold it back from greatness. Very much like Dead Space, there’s a lot of narrative goalpost pushing, where plot progression is halted due to an onslaught of secondary problems. Jacob spends a lot of time repairing elevators, hunting down keycards to open locked doors, and shifting his plans up as his luck runs sour. This results in a lot of meandering, where it can feel like you’re wandering around the prison rather than pressing forward. Thankfully, a satisfying sense of isolation, some neat plot points, and excellent voice acting from the entire cast keep The Callisto Protocol‘s story from feeling like an unfocused letdown.
Familiar Fighting and Flashy Death
Much like with its storytelling, The Callisto Protocol pulls a lot of its gameplay inspiration from Dead Space. From an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, you’ll guide Jason across Black Iron prison as he shoots, dismembers, and demolishes mutated creatures aplenty. The game is distinctly cinematic, with minimal HUD elements, beautiful lighting, and impressive fog and steam effects. Jason’s breakout takes him through a variety of sectors in Black Iron, including the Medical Bay, Solitary Confinement, Waste Disposal, and more.
As you explore these industrial areas that are laden with spinning fan blades, exposed machinery, and other environmental hazards, you’ll fend off baddies with melee, firearms, and the stasis-like GRP module. At the start of the game, you’re mostly stuck with a simple stun baton, but special sci-fi firearms crop up after a few hours to spice things up. Truthfully, the melee combat and dodge mechanics feel clunky, which might be intentional, making it more likely that you’ll witness some of the remarkably brutal and gory death animations.
Ranged combat feels much better though, and once you’ve unlocked a few weapons, you’ll be stomping skulls and blasting viscera with ease. Like in Dead Space, you’ll need to employ a bit of strategy with your shooting, as ammo is scarce and enemies can mutate if you don’t aim true. There’s no regenerating health either, so if you get walloped, you’ll need to hang back and use precious healing items. The Callisto Protocol also includes some light stealth gameplay, but simple enemy AI makes it far from difficult to succeed.
As you explore Black Iron, you’ll also come across Reforge shops, which let you exchange accumulated credits for items and weapon upgrades. Each gun has a small skill tree that can be upgraded, providing enhanced damage, ammo capacity, and even alternative firing modes. That said, there aren’t a ton of weapon types or crazy upgrades to see, as the Reforge often acts more like a beacon of safety rather than a way to significantly power up.
How Scary is The Callisto Protocol?
As a spiritual successor to Dead Space, which is often considered to be one of the scariest games of all time, The Callisto Protocol releases to more scrutiny than its peers. We expect The Callisto Protocol to be creepy and atmospheric, but does it provide true spine-tingling terror? Ultimately, that will be up to the person who plays it, but for the most part, The Callisto Protocol is a jump-scare-filled gore-fest that only occasionally settles down for some tension.
While the beginning of the game is ripe with mystery and suspense, after a few hours, you can expect loud noises and excessive violence as the main course. Enemy spawns are accompanied by loud orchestral strikes, and every time you squeeze through a tight passage, there’s a 50/50 chance a jump-scare is right around the corner.
After a while, the jump-scares lose their luster, but The Callisto Protocol rarely lets up in the gore department. Combat is thoroughly violent, with constant dismemberment and bloody body horror. The death animations are so grotesque that they occasionally become darkly comedic, but even after dozens of deaths, they remain impressive. As a seasoned horror gamer, The Callisto Protocol rarely scared me, but it was a delightful exercise in body horror with some solid atmosphere to boot.
The Bottom Line on The Callisto Protocol
If you played Dead Space and enjoyed it a lot or consider yourself a fan of third-person horror games, you’ll likely be pleased with what The Callisto Protocol has to offer. That said, go in with tempered expectations, as it doesn’t feel as revolutionary or intense as the games it is obviously inspired by. Whether it’s the narrative, the gameplay, or the scare factor, The Callisto Protocol has some solid content that unfortunately comes with a few faults.
Overall, The Callisto Protocol is a good sci-fi horror game with gory combat and wickedly good graphics, but its short runtime might make you want to wait for a sale. Depending on what difficulty you play on, the game will last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours, with little reason to return until a New Game+ feature is added. It’s far from the masterpiece that many Dead Space fans were hoping for, but The Callisto Protocol is still worth playing for fans of the genre.
Note: This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Lighting, atmosphere, and visuals are incredibly life-like
- Death animations are visceral and disturbing
- Dead Space 4 in all but name
- Quality voice acting
- Melee combat feels intentionally clunky
- Plot is meandering at times
- Not a ton of replayability for the price
- No New Game+ (yet)