The Callisto Protocol: The Kotaku Review

The Callisto Protocol: The Kotaku Review

Oddly, after a biophagous mutant, limbs falling off as easily as picking up a pudding, puts his hands in my mouth and rips my jaw out of my face for the fifth time, it comes to me: Oh, that’s a transportation game.

Callisto Protocol is set on a moon ruled by sprawling enemies with loose limbs, but Dead Space game designer Glen Schofield’s so-called spiritual successor prefers to lead you by the hand through its squishy, ​​dank, and visually impressive maze. rather than letting you revel in killing. these enemies. Killing is never really the goal, getting to the next location so you can escape is. It’s more Death Stranding than Dead Space.

As cargo pilot Jacob – who I think looked very much like soap opera star Josh Duhamel before realizing it was soap opera star Josh Duhamel reproduced in sweaty, heroic detail – you need all the possible help to escape the black iron prison on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. You don’t know why you were thrown into one of its inhospitable cells to begin with, why something called a CORE device was stuck in your neck, synchronized with your thoughts and your health, why there are monsters everywhere, or whether you should trust inmates Elias (Zeke Alton) or Dani (Karen Fukuhara), the latter of whom crashed your ship and put you in this shit.

Jacob watches Jupiter in The Callisto Protocol.

Screenshot: Striking Distance Studios/Kotaku

But when they tell you to join them on the tram, or take an intimidating ladder underground, or activate this or that control panel, you listen and start running. What else are you gonna do? You’re trapped, there’s blood everywhere, do you have a better idea?

Not really. You do as Elias and Dani tell you, their voices crackle through your DualSense controller (or CORE device) as the prison creaks and crumbles. The sound design is incredibly meticulous – Black Iron is filled with an ambient groan, chunks of metal crashing and echoing, as your zombified, or biophagous, enemies take on the low notes, scuttling, screams and gurgles all around you.

I don’t think Callisto is a particularly scary horror game – watching Jacob’s neck twist and crack like a knuckle is entertaining the first time around, then an inconvenience once I realize that death scene is repeating and can’t be ignored – but its multi-layered audio keeps me at dizzying low-level anxiety. Like waiting for a text, or staring at the sun and realizing you can’t see, for a moment, after looking away.

More random, but still often admirable, it’s getting there that most interests the game – fighting a biophage is a temporary distraction. Your plan to escape Black Iron sends you flying through the sewers, through a snowstorm, and through dark corridors covered in organic matter, fleshy pods, winding tendrils, and slime. It sends you everywhere, past beautiful lunar vistas and lit desktop screens hurtling through space. Immaculate white walls. Sticky floors. Bloodstained air vents and loaves of glistening pink flesh. It makes me want to see more. And on the PS5, Callisto is able to deliver all the brilliant, polished detail without any issues. Or, close to zero, sometimes my weapon would mysteriously disappear before reappearing.

The Callisto Protocol also plays with the pacing of this journey, often forcing Jacob to quietly crawl through narrow cave walls or around blind Biophages or roar his large spacesuit body in a heavy sprint. Confronting so many different textures at so many different speeds is enjoyable with haptic feedback – even grabbing an ammo box or the in-game currency, Callisto Credits, triggers a satisfying and unique thwack. Callisto is like tangible cinema in this way, slow and steady, which might require readjusting some expectations if you were hoping for horror on your toes.

But as varied and masterful as getting there often looks and feels physically, I eventually grow weary of hearing my companions tell me that I’m approaching only to fall through a collapsed walkway, or finally reach the surface. cold of Callisto only to be immediately invited inside by the Herculean zombies. At these points the game seems aimless and I have no idea how much progress I’ve made. My frustration only increases when I’m stuck in a room full of relentless zombies.

Jacob watches a zombie in The Callisto Protocol.

Nothing a little concealer won’t help.Screenshot: Striking Distance Studios/Kotaku

Zombies might be the least enjoyable part of Callisto’s journey, which isn’t ideal, considering they’re Jacob’s motivation to get out, and likely your motivation to be curious and find out where they came from. . As I learn by dying so, so, so many times – so many times, that halfway through the game, I turn on the simplest setting, which still inexplicably lets some enemies kill you in two lazy shots – zombies are coming from everywhere.

I love Dark Souls, the famous benchmark for challenging games, but unlike a boss fight from FromSoftware, you can’t “learn” how to progress past Callisto Protocol’s hordes of Vitriolic Biophages because they seem to spawn randomly and out of nowhere. “Are they invisible now? I yell at my PS5, before or after yelling, “I hate this fucking game!!!”

Biophages will suddenly come out of air vents or an otherwise empty room. They’ll look like they’re frozen, encased in ice, and then suddenly very much alive, warm, and murderous. They come in many different forms: standard rotting, rotting with armor, rotting and projectile vomit, wiggling with snowball-sized erupting pustules on their backs, coming towards you by looking like an evil mutant axolotl and then turning invisible (?!).

You have an arsenal to deal with it, mainly a sizzling baton for close combat, a hand pistol and an explosive riot gun, and a Gravity Restraint Projector (GRP) sleeve that bends gravity to restrain captive enemies in the air until you throw them into a spiked wall, or a spinning fan blade, or onto a ledge.

At the start of the game, only the stick and its signature hit feel like they’re actually doing something useful – enemies absorb your default shrimp balls like you’re throwing marbles into a funeral pyre, making also impossible to effectively deal with hordes. But as you progress, you can find the additional weapon blueprints like an Assault Rifle and Skunk Gun, and use Callisto Credits to buy upgrades at Reforge slots throughout the game. , which, to my amusement, does not allow you to buy more than one. thing at a time. Before each boss fight, I would spend five minutes individually buying ten boxes of ammo.

Callisto wastes your time with useless little things like that. The audio logs you collect from corpses throughout the game should help you uncover story secrets, but they don’t play automatically. You have to enter your menu manually, select them and stay in the menu. If you quit, they will stop playing.

But the most irritating waste of time that made me, at my lowest moments, consider throwing my PS5 controller into the muddy depths of the Gowanus Channel, is Callisto’s sometimes faulty dodge mechanism.

When facing an enemy, you must dodge their attacks by holding your left stick in the opposite direction of their swing, or down if you’re blocking them. The game tells you there is no timing window, do it, but I dodge so many times and get another long unskippable death animation – Jacob’s skull gets dabbed and turns into a spurt of blood in the ocean, Jacob’s eyes gouge out from big zombie thumbs, Jacob’s nose going concave from all the big zombie smacks to the face – to know it can’t not be true.

The Callisto Protocol

Quote on the back of the box

“Uh, what is it?”

Type of game

Officially, survival horror. Informally, grody strand type.


Beautiful and raw graphics, meaningful sound design, innovative beat and feel

Did not like

Uncomfortably difficult combat, unfair deaths, overlooked quality of life features


Studios within striking distance


PS5 (played), PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC

Release date

December 2, 2022


14 hours to complete the game and collect about half of the available trophies

Callisto’s two-headed bosses are the worst for fumbling your dodge mechanic. Might as well think about hitting them with your stun baton instead of staying away and shooting them will lead to an immediate skewer through the chest. Also, be sure to spend five minutes collecting bullets or health refills from Reforge. Resources found are limited, and manually saving the game launches you from your last checkpoint, so if you start a fight with low health and a depleted weapon, consider your fate sealed.

But despite all these temporary irritations, I finished the match in style. “There’s always a price to pay,” a villain repeats throughout The Callisto Protocol, reminding Jacob that making fallible, flabby humans great requires sacrifice. And in pursuit of video game greatness, I loved what I saw, so much so that I was willing to pay the price for faulty dodge mechanics. But as far as the actual price goes, I don’t think anyone should buy a $60 game, period, but especially not the one that currently seems to be runs poorly on PC and won’t get PlayStation’s New Game Plus until a free update lands on February 7, 2023. But.

I consider The Callisto Protocol to be one of the most ambitious games I’ve played this year, perhaps even the closest to Elden Ring (although I think Elden Ring is in a league of its own – I don’t know if something will be able to approach its depth and sophistication for long). Its thoughtful attention to environment, sound and touch is what I think next-gen gaming should be: an experience with the senses and with the story. The game also has its problems, which cannot be ignored. But at least he feels human.


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