Survival-horror game 'The Callisto Protocol' strives for deep-space screams

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Posted at 2:31 PM, Dec 29, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. — "The Callisto Protocol" strives to resurrect the feel of the "Dead Space" series, which itself draws from the "Alien" films.

Focusing on the dread of being isolated, under-armed, overburdened, and set against creatures more powerful and dexterous than you, you scrap your way to put up a resistance to the threat that surrounds you.

Phil Villarreal: Echoes of "Dead Space" reverberate around nearly every corner. From the outset, the game establishes a disturbing feeling of despair and doom.

I appreciated the voice cast, led by Josh Duhamel and Jeff Schine. The interplay over the comm was lively and interesting. Many times, games like this are so tough that they intimidate me, but I felt capable while plowing through on the middle difficulty level.

I also liked how the game doesn't rely on darkness to make you feel lost and hopeless. I found the backgrounds surprisingly lively and colorful for a game of this ilk.

Some people have knocked "Callisto" for its leisurely pace, but I dug the slow burn.

What were your first impressions, Sean?

Sean Newgent: "Callisto" doesn't have a particularly interesting story. It feels a bit like "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay" meets "The Expanse". Your cargo ship crashes, you wind up in prison, and the moment you wake up on your first day in your cell, space zombies are attacking everyone.

While the voice cast does what it can with the script, the game feels very surface-level. But you won't notice that as you traverse the prison, a sprawling nightmare of blood-soaked corridors and impressive visual displays of nonstop action at every angle. Stepping out of the cell and seeing what was happening across the block, the people scrambling for their lives in the guard tower — regardless of any issues the game might have, on the PS5, it is a technical marvel.

Once you get to start smacking extraterrestrial spookies around, the gameplay loop becomes dry fast. There isn't a great variety of enemies, and boss fights are abysmal. Add to that the modern game trend of having you slowly squeeze through tight spaces (why is this something in every game I play?) and crawl through air ducts, and I can't say I was wholly invested in anything about the game aside from the visuals. I was more excited to see what the next portion of the prison would look like than what challenges or plot twists were on the horizon. So that pacing kind of worked for me, but the gameplay could have been a little more interesting.

What else pulled you into "Callisto"'s gravity?

Phil: I appreciated the craftsmanship. From the voice acting and visuals and even the unskippable cut scenes, I got somewhat of a sense of a Hideo Kojima feel at times. The sense of mystery combined with a sci-fi dystopia and a chilling vision of the future captivated me.

The combat does leave plenty to be desired, and the grim tone can drive people away. This is a heavy game, but I think any lightheartedness would have spoiled the effect.

I think "The Callisto Protocol" would work as a TV series, but I found the scares effective and a sense of accomplishment as I advanced. This feels like a deep, rich experience that fans of "Dead Space" will find plenty to appreciate.

Final thoughts, Sean?

Sean: If you can immerse yourself in "The Callisto Protocol", you'll find a gorgeous sci-fi adventure that doesn't try to over-extend itself with overcomplicated leveling-up systems or massive hubs. It feels nice to play a linear, very experience-oriented game. But I also can't help but feel it doesn't have all the polish and love that made "Dead Space" such a beloved game series. There's nothing innovative here, but if you're the kind of person who likes to play games for immersion and not for the challenge or to lose the fun, this is a pretty good eight hours. I can't say it was scary...about the only sense of dread I felt was in the sneaking portions.

"The Callisto Protocol" suffers from overhype and perhaps doesn't live up to the expectations of fans of "Dead Space". I enjoyed myself, though. It's not an enriching or memorable experience by any stretch, but it's still well worth a play at some point. Maybe just not now. Especially with the lack of a new game plus and a handful of graphical issues (and plentiful on PC) that are sure to be addressed in the coming months.

The publisher provided review codes. Phil played on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS5.

Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV
WWE 2K22
Weird West
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
TMNT: Shredder's Revenge
Capcom Fighting Collection
Capcom Arcade: 2nd Stadium
Digimon Survive
Cult of the Lamb
TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection
NBA 2K23
Lego Bricktales
Gotham Knights
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
Star Ocean: The Divine Force
Sonic Frontiers
The Dark Pictures: The Devil in Me
Evil West
Need for Speed Unbound