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The Callisto Protocol review: an inescapably intense yet eerily beautiful space horror

Will McCue

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The Callisto Protocol review: an inescapably intense yet eerily beautiful space horror

Featured Image Credit: Krafton

The Callisto Protocol is intimidatingly intense, grotesquely gory and inescapably claustrophobic. Striking Distance Studios’ latest sci-fi survival horror doesn’t introduce anything new to the genre, but everything it does is exquisitely executed.

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The game is set in the year 2320 on Callisto, one of Jupiter’s dead moons. The player takes control of protagonist Jacob Lee, who finds himself in Black Iron, a maximum-security prison. Obviously, everything starts to go downhill pretty quickly as the inmates start turning into all kinds of horrific abominations. Without giving too much away, you have to escape with your life, while unravelling a mystery that kept me intrigued throughout the 10 hour campaign. When I put down The Callisto Protocol for a break, I couldn’t get the game out of my mind - it was an itch that I had to scratch.

The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton

The baddies that you face really pack a punch and you’ll die - a lot. However, after every death you learn how to use the surroundings to your advantage, when to engage and when to switch weapons. Whether it’s using the GRP gravity arm to chuck a zombified inmate into a rotating propeller or luring a half spider-half human thing into a well placed explosion, there’s always a better option than running and gunning. When you die, you’ll load in fairly close to where you perished, keeping the gameplay pretty fast paced and eliminating any annoying backtracking.

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I played most of the game on the normal difficulty, however, for a few chapters, I turned the difficulty down as the constant deaths got to the point of frustration. Seeing the same unskippable death animation for the tenth time gets a bit much. Conversely, the easy mode is far too straightforward. I could just run and gun, which isn’t what Callisto is about. Something in the middle would be perfect. On the higher difficulties the GRP gravity device isn’t just helpful, it’s essential. There’s also a ‘Maximum Security’ difficulty for the maniacs out there who like to punish themselves.

While you're here, why not check out 5 things we learned while playing The Callisto Protocol below:

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The Callisto Protocol is, as I mentioned earlier, outrageously gory. Certain deaths reminded me of brutal Mortal Kombat finishers, and the designs of many of the creatures you face will make your skin crawl. Although it’s a shame that there isn’t a massive variety in enemy models. After facing the same mutants for several hours, I was no longer intimidated by them as I knew the best ways to survive. Towards the end of the game, there’s an exciting boss battle that reminded me a little of the fight on the moving platform with Mr. X in Resident Evil 2. The biggest, baddest creature I’d faced so far really upped the ante. However I was disappointed when around 30 minutes later the game throws out the exact same enemy. Then again an hour later. It’s kind of like Elden Ring using the Pumpkin Head boss about eight times.

The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton

I can’t imagine how many watermelons were crushed to create the squelching sounds for all the hideous ways you can perish. With that in your mind, please, please play Callisto with headphones. Glen Schofield and his team have designed the audio to really enhance the scares, you’ll frequently hear all sorts of beasts crawling through vents below or darting across walkways above. You never know when your worst nightmare will jump out.

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The enveloping atmospheres across a variety of environments are, again, expertly crafted to maximise the player’s anxiety. They somehow manage to make the most bleak situations look visibly beautiful, a real juxtaposition of the senses. Confined paths make me feel the claustrophobia I never even knew I had.

The ambient lighting really is fantastic; wading through snowy surroundings with very limited visibility while the omnipresent breathing of something hunting you from the shadows, never stops being terrifying. The Callisto Protocol takes full advantage of the fear of the unknown. Striking Distance Studios isn’t afraid of pushing their audience to the limit. So much so that the end of each chapter is designed to allow the player a perfect opportunity to take a break, if it’s needed.

The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
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There isn’t a standard HUD in The Callisto Protocol. Health is shown on the back of Jacob’s neck and remaining ammo can be seen when aiming. This minimalism really adds to the immersion and fits seamlessly into the gameplay. I was constantly triple checking I had reloaded my guns before turning dark corners, just in case. The bare-bones display is simple but very effective.

While I was totally engrossed for the most part, after several hours, the general gameplay loop became a little tiresome. This is because the majority of tasks include finding a keycard or a fuse to open a door, while getting jumped by maleficent monsters, naturally. Similar to a Friday night out in Manchester to be fair. On the other hand, the enigma of the main story, being on edge at all times and the excellent acting from main characters Josh Duhamel and Karen Fukuhara are enough to make this repetition a minor problem. There’s a surprising amount of emotion and humour while protagonist Jacob is crawling through a tunnel of literal faeces. That must’ve been weird to film.

The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton

The harder difficulty you play, the longer the game will take to complete, probably taking between eight to twelve hours. For some, this may feel too short, however Callisto doesn’t outstay its welcome- although any longer and it may have started to drag. For those 10 hours I was hooked, and really that’s all that matters. There are audio logs to collect, and even a hidden mystery to uncover if you want to do some extra exploring. Some replayability for sure, but nothing like you’d find in a Resident Evil game.

One very cool, and very tiny, detail I noticed is that Jacob’s hair slowly grows back over the course of the story, after being shaved off in the intro when he’s thrown into prison. I don’t really know why I’m writing about this in my review but it’s something that has stuck with me. I’m a big fan of attention to detail, obviously.

There are also a few cinematic sequences that remind me a little of Uncharted. Fail one of the quicktime events or crash into an obstacle and you’ll see the most gory death play out before your eyes. It’s almost worth failing on purpose just to see the detail in the animation. Just once though. Once is enough.

The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton
The Callisto Protocol / Credit: Krafton

The Callisto Protocol is a lucid dream of a game. You want to escape the terrors flickering before you but once the game gets hold with both tentacles, you’re trapped in the hostile environment of the best horror game of the year.

Pros: The goriest game I’ve ever played, intriguing story, spine-tingling audio.

Cons: Nothing we haven’t seen before, too many keycards, normal mode is hard whereas easy mode is too easy.

For fans of: Dead Space, Resident Evil, horror games.

8/10

The Callisto Protocol comes to PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox and PC December 2. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Topics: The Callisto Protocol, PlayStation 5

Will McCue
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