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The Callisto Protocol review - dead ringer

Metro logo Metro 12/2/2022 Nick Gillett
The Callisto Protocol – survival horror in space (pic: Krafton) © Provided by Metro The Callisto Protocol – survival horror in space (pic: Krafton)

GameCentral reviews the spiritual successor to Dead Space, by the original creator, but is too similar to the original or not enough?

It won’t be so obvious to more casual gamers, but every survival horror fan already knows that The Callisto Protocol is Dead Space 4 by any other name. EA’s old survival horror franchise is back in fashion at the moment, with an official remake of the first game due early next year. From its grim, industrial looking sci-fi setting to its penchant for traumatic dismemberment, The Callisto Protocol certainly looks the part but there are key differences, and not all of them are positive…

For most, the Dead Space series peaked with its second instalment, before the franchise took a turn towards action rather than scares, in the co-op focused Dead Space 3. The Callisto Protocol is directed by Glen Schofield, the creator of the original game (but who didn’t work on any of the sequels), and while this is clearly intended to be a spiritual follow-up it simplifies the formula more than you might expect, abandoning puzzles altogether in favour of savage, mostly melee-based combat.

Protagonist Jacob starts the game on a smuggling run that ends with his ship crash landing on Callisto, the ‘dead’ moon of Jupiter, so called because it’s a totally barren ball of rock and ice. That makes it the perfect place for Black Iron, a bleak maximum security prison into which Jacob is unceremoniously thrown. Naturally, it’s mere moments before the place is on fire and overrun by monsters.

To preserve its sense of threat, The Callisto Protocol is single-player only, but despite the resolute anti-co-op stance, you’ll spend most of your time collaborating with other characters. Your first in-game buddy is a chirpy cockney lifer who gives you a shiv and sends you off to do his bidding via radio instructions. On the way you meet your first proper monster, which the game isn’t allowed to call a necromorph, but which totally is.

It’s also your introduction to combat, which relies on a novel system that uses the left stick to block, or duck left and right. Enemies alternate sides for each blow, so if you dodge one way, you know the next swing will be coming from the other side. That’s exactly how it’s described in the tutorial, which makes it one of the most contrived gameplay mechanics we’ve seen in a long while. Not only that but the whole combat system is fundamentally at odds with the game’s close-up, over-the-shoulder camera view.

The camera’s good for keeping the action feeling as in-your-face as possible, but also regularly interposes Jacob’s head and body between you and enemies, making it a lot harder to see when they’re winding up punches. It also frequently obscures pick-ups, forcing you to flail blindly at the interaction button whenever you’ve recently stamped on any enemy corpses, to release their ammunition or money supplies piñata-style.

The feel of combat is consistently solid, however, with a weighty sense of commitment to each blow. When one connects, it’s with a squelchy, bone-crunching impact, but if it misses, there’s a window of vulnerability that your creepy adversaries are quick to take advantage of. Fights are rarely straightforward, because, as in Dead Space, you’ll often find enemies turn up behind you while you’re busy administering a beating to a monster in front.

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