The Callisto Protocol Review – Tense, fun, difficult and maybe a little frustrating

The Callisto Protocol Review – Tense, fun, difficult and maybe a little frustrating

A mix of familiar and new elements, The Callisto Protocol has many strengths and some flaws that can detract from the whole.

There’s a particular piece of lore that dictates that we can tell the strengths – and flaws – of a shooter by looking at its shotgun. Weapons that gamers have been obsessed with pretty much since developers first learned how to implement pistols in video games, shotguns can be extremely polarizing: they need to be hard-hitting, heavy but not frustrating, and not powerful enough to break the rhythm. and the progress of the levels, but enough to make us feel almighty when we wield them. Although you’ll never see me put down, say, the Striker from Resident Evil 4 or the Super Shotgun from Doom, perhaps it’s time to bring up the fact that, after many years of reverence around large-caliber weapons, almost all video games that come into our hands have learned to solve them in a competent way, at least. For this reason, perhaps, I would like to postulate something that I have been secretly thinking about for a long time, and that I am confessing to you for the first time right now: perhaps the gameplay of the shooters classics can be measured through their shotguns, but the gameplay of the shooters contemporaries could well be measured through their hand-to-hand combat.

I understand that it is controversial to affirm that punches, kicks and various executions can define the gameplay of titles that in principle focus, well: on shooting. But, to some extent, a stab can actually become an intrinsic part of the shot. They imply a gameplay designed to be executed at various levels, in long distances but also in short ones; one in which we play with space, with positioning, with mass control of the enemies that we eliminate based on their relationship with the map. Above all, I think the key is that a good right hook is the perfect icing on the cake in a tense, desperate fight: when the ammunition fails, when the magazines jam or we don’t have room to maneuver between our inventory, the thing ends in a one-on-one confrontation between us and the enemy. Getting out of one of these is, really, one of the most adrenaline-pumping sensations that the medium can offer.

I’ve been obsessed with how The Callisto Protocol understands this perfectly for months. Specifically, since I was able to try its first demo last October.

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In the game we will go through the desolate ins and outs of a space prison in which our protagonist, Jacob, has ended up locked up without really knowing the reasons. Fortunately or unfortunately, his sentence does not last long: the facilities are invaded by grotesque aliens with bad intentions that we will have to face if we want, first, to survive, and second, to discover what has led us to be in this situation.

The Callisto Protocol is the first game signed by Striking Distance Studios, a recently formed studio but with an already consolidated team behind it: its director, Glen Schofield, is the creator of the Dead Space saga. The comparisons are obnoxious, and I don’t think the game is intended to be a surreptitious sequel to Dead Space 3; but we could describe it, in more than one way, as a spiritual successor to this series. Not only because of the space horror setting, the survival horror touches in inventory management or the obvious similarity in the interfaces; is that the story of the game also evokes us, on many occasions, the adventures already experienced aboard the USG Ishimura. Although I think it is legitimate to take references and rescue already proven functional mechanics, such as the detail of integrating our character’s health into his suit so that we can constantly observe it on the screen without being an intrusive meter, it is true that how much is The development and the enemies of The Callisto Protocol seem to those of the first Dead Space can spoil some surprises for those who have already played it. I’m not only talking about somewhat predictable script twists – I haven’t stopped to try to see if there is a hidden message in the first letter of each chapter of the game, but maybe… – but also very similar situations that we will know how to solve intuitively by pure comparison. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you probably already know how to deal with enemies that have tentacles, how to get rid of the small parasites that embed themselves in our bodies in certain areas, or that shooting at arms and legs will always put us at an advantage.


Still, I think the game’s great strength is the way it knows how to elevate its combat and make it something different, even if parts of it are already familiar. We will start with a basic pistol and as we progress we will find blueprints that will allow us to unlock, in the secure stations that act as a store and skill tree, new weapons such as assault rifles or shotguns. I don’t think this is the case for all players, but personally I’ve come to prefer using the starting pistol, with a plasma cutter soul, in almost all situations. At the very least, it’s a powerful enough weapon that it can see us through to the end game even if we don’t want to stop to explore and find the rest of the possibilities. Another of the tools that we unlock quite early in the game is the glove, a device made of metal and fantasy that we will always carry equipped and that will allow us to attract objects on the stage or even the enemies themselves, to then throw them in the direction that we want Thus, we can use ammunition boxes to hit enemies, throw some of them off curbs or great heights so we don’t have to worry about defeating them or even make them collide with each other, hurting each other. The glove depends on a limited energy system that we will have to manually recharge with batteries, so it will not be feasible to face all the levels juggling aliens; but interspersing its use with shooting and melee gives us a very powerful strategic value, and understanding in which situations we should use it will be one of the keys to playing well.

Two familiar elements, as I said, are joined by a newer one in this context, and my favorite of the three: an electric baton that is used to forcefully hit enemies. Despite its rather garish feel and sound, which makes it feel heavy and hard to crack, the club is unremarkable until we realize the trick: if we manage to chain a full three-hit combo to any of the enemies , we will gain a small opening in which we can quickly draw the weapon that we have equipped and shoot at one of the enemy’s weak points. The impact collision system, greatly improved here, will serve so that when doing this very frequently we take one of its extremities ahead, limiting its range of attack or hindering its movement. Thus, the most sensible way to combat most face-smashing aliens will be to pummel them at close range until we get this opening, then shoot and hit them or get a bit of a distance – in the case of weapons with more recoil – which we will use. to flee, heal or reload. Just a couple of hours into the game, this way of playing (hit, hit, hit, shoot) will be as natural to us as breathing. Added to this, of course, is the option of using the glove to control masses, displacing enemies that try to attack us in a group or simply eliminating those that we are not interested in facing from the battlefield.

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The game’s dodge system is also interesting. Instead of having a single dedicated button, to get rid of enemy attacks we will have to hold the right stick of the controller in various directions. If we hold it to the right or left, we will automatically dodge in these directions when the next enemy directs its claws towards us. If we hold it back, we will execute a block that will keep us in place and prevent only part of the impact. I do not want to appeal to the old cliché of saying that this mechanic of The Callisto Protocol is like dancing with the enemies, but sometimes it is a bit: by not having an invincibility range in the dodge, everything will depend, at all times, on our positioning. This also makes it much more difficult to deal with enemies when they are in a group: we can only dodge one of them at a time, so getting rid of an enemy blow does not mean that another cannot attack us from behind and, this time yes, achieve a full-blown impact.

And since there will almost always be more than one enemy on the screen, we will have to figure out how to approach them intelligently, using all the res at our disposal. When we approach combat like this, as a playground on which to experiment until we find the optimal solution, The Callisto Protocol shines on par or perhaps above all the titles it’s based on. The times when he deviates from this to impose other challenges on us, however, are a little less appreciative.

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All this that I just talked about is, in general terms, what makes the game interesting, or what makes it fun. But there is another factor to consider here: it is a shooter Third person, yes, but it’s also a horror game. It is understandable, therefore, that you also wonder if The Callisto Protocol manages to scare us or generate that tension so characteristic of the survival genre.

The general answer is yes; but in this case, I’m afraid, there are more nuances to consider. The first thing, the obvious, is that the game is aesthetically very striking. Not only because of the very high definition of its models, especially the monsters, grotesque creatures full of eyes, hands and too many teeth, but also because of the extremely violent death animations that will make us feel sorry for poor Jacob every time we leave him. die impaled, crushed or decapitated by a pseudo-xenomorph with a bad temper. The settings, on the other hand, will always be very dark, with just a couple of residual light s that allow us to glimpse silhouettes or corridors but almost never allow us to see the entirety of a room or a hole. Adding to the sense of tension is the fact that enemies are usually not in view at first, but instead activate and come out of hiding when you move forward and activate them by walking close to them. Thus, a perfectly deserted corridor can quickly become a fest of gunshots and hits as enemies appear in all directions, falling from the ceiling or the floor or from the ventilation ducts; and – this may also sound familiar to you – a corpse lying there in the middle can, many times, rise up to give us a good scare if we are not careful.

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Although the darkness of The Callisto Protocol levels takes a little bit to learn to read at first, we eventually got a pretty good understanding of how to navigate it. Personally, the feeling of never being quite sure if we’re moving in the right direction is one of the things that has made me feel most insecure in the game. On many occasions, a path forks, and it is not very clear which route is optimal and which is a secondary route; There are some scenarios that can be resolved quickly if we manage to find our way soon, but that also goes a long way if we stop to explore. The game’s puzzles, almost always simple and without much mystery – the game would last about seven hours less if the building’s engineers had bothered to leave spare fuses next to each door – are a good excuse, sometimes, to get closer to sniffing, always alert, around corners that we have left behind.

The game strikes an almost perfect balance between action and tension during its first half, but the effect falters a bit as we move into the final parts and the difficulty escalates. When the enemies start to get stronger and hit more and take more shots, and when we start to die more frequently due to the sheer accumulation of situations on the screen, repetition makes some of their tricks quite clear to us. After two or three deaths, the appearances of the enemies, which generate so much effect on the first occasion, become predictable and even a tool that we can use to our advantage, moving carefully so as not to alert them if we do not have the necessary res to defeat them. , or even running through areas to avoid them. His biggest sin, however, is the disposition of his bosses. The combat system, varied and deep, is very lackluster in confrontations with powerful enemies in small arenas in which we can barely use the melee attack or use the glove to strategize. Worse still, many of these challenges are, in no subtle way, bullet sponges intended to improve the res that we have been collecting during the previous phases. At a certain point, it seems that the game does not want us to get too confident and makes us fight, up to four times, with the same strong enemy so that we spend half our inventory and have to return to the starting point.

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Even the best moments from the later stages of the game, such as some fairly finely executed stealth sections, pale before the accumulation of these small design flaws. So, I could understand why many players don’t have a problem with all of this, but I think there will be many other cases where the frustration generated far outweighs the positives. The most frustrating element of all, however, is even more angry due to how easily solvable it seems a priori: a saving and checkpoints very careless that does not allow us to save progress manually at any time, and leaves us at the mercy of the automatic save points that the game has. This translates into awkward situations where we have to repeat a puzzle because we got killed after solving it, or we get stuck on a boss because we entered the room without ammo and the checkpoint, right at the door, does not allow us to go back to collect more res. The maddening part of all, though, is that if you use the store to buy res or upgrade your weapons and die soon after, you’ll have to go back to your previous save point and repeat the menu navigation to reacquire all of these items. or increases.

It is even more unfortunate because these small defects can separate many players from an experience that, for everything else, is more than solid and a notable exponent of its genre and of the reasons why players approach these titles. I personally hope that some of them will end up being fixed in post-launch updates. For others, like repetitive bosses or overly dramatic difficulty spikes in some areas, there may not be much to do anymore. Still, what’s here is a solid gameplay base and plenty of relatable familiar elements, on which it’s more than possible to experiment and build new titles. At least, this is how an ending seems to indicate so open that it would hardly have been surprising if it redirected us directly to the sequel’s reservation page. Perhaps in the next installment, yes, the world of Callisto reaches complete excellence.

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The Callisto Protocol Review – Tense, fun, difficult and maybe a little frustrating

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