When The Callisto Protocol was first announced with a teaser trailer a few years back during the Game Awards it immediately struck a chord with me. It didn’t hurt that the team behind the new sci-fi horror franchise at Striking Distance Studios was being led by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield and had several other former Visceral Games employees on the team as well. So when I had a chance to get some hands-on time with a preview build of the Callisto Protocol at a recent event, I jumped at the chance. And it wouldn’t be the last time the game made me jump either. While the game does share some of the DNA that made Dead Space such a hit, I am pleased to say that Callisto Protocol is feeling like so much more than just a spiritual successor.
Callisto Protocol takes place in the Black Iron prison colony located on Jupiter’s Callisto moon. The prison colony has been infected by something that’s turning guards and prisoners alike into grotesque, violent, and quite deadly mutations. Players will assume the role of Jacob Lee, (who is being played by Josh Duhamel) a prison colonist trying to escape from the horrors surrounding him. In order to make it out alive, he’ll have to scavenge for resources and fight off and fend off all sorts of scary monsters.
The atmosphere of Callisto Protocol gives a sense of dread, like anything could pop out from anywhere and try to kill you, and that’s because it totally will. There were several instances where I would cautiously make my way through a room only to have something pop out of a wall or ceiling and try to eat my face off. There were several times where they did get to eat my face too as I failed to button mash my way out of the QTE that was deciding my fate. Many of the areas I experienced felt massive but also empty, like I was the only living thing for miles in a maze of industrial pipes and walkways. Some spaces had been overrun by the infestation as well and felt like something out of the Aliens franchise or Event Horizon. There were several instances where I’m glad I took the time to explore the various areas as they would open to me and if I hadn’t I would’ve missed out on several helpful items like credits, healing shots, or extra ammo.
That sense of dread that I felt in every moment while playing Callisto Protocol was palpable. I could not shake the feeling that something was going to burst out of a vent or other opening and try to eat. That feeling was well-founded as danger lurked around every corner. Most of the enemies you encounter are humans that have been mutated into violent creatures hungry for your flesh. Some may start off as sort of a standard zombie-like creature, but tentacles may burst out of them causing them to further mutate and become even harder to kill. One enemy I encountered felt like a cross between a Xenomorph alien and a Predator with its beast-like appearance and the ability to turn invisible. While there will be moments where you’ll have to escape the grasp of some creatures with the aforementioned QTEs, players are more likely to have to throw down in a mix of ranged and melee combat.
The combat is probably one of the strongest ways in which the game sets itself apart from its spiritual predecessor as there’s much of an emphasis on melee combat. Many of the combat encounters I experienced during my demo would start with throwing a few strikes at a creature using a shock baton, dodging left or right to evade their attacks, throwing a few more strikes and then finishing them off with a couple of well-placed blasts to a critical hit area that would appear when I’d weakened them enough. Players also have a tool that gives that function sort of like a gravity gun that they’ll be able to use to pick up and toss enemies that get in their way. It came in quite handy when facing off against multiple enemies and in several instances I used it to throw creatures off ledges or impale them on environmental objects.
I get the feeling that part of what’s going to make the overall Callisto Protocol experience so intense is the focus on up-close combat. This is not a game where you’ll have an unlimited supply of ammo or health and you’ll have to get up close and personal to really get through it all. Also there’s no running which keeps things moving at a cautious and sometimes ominous pace.
One thing that I thought Dead Space did really well and I am grateful to see elements of in Callisto Protocol is the way they integrate HUD features into the world itself. Players will be able to monitor their health by taking a look at a bar on Jacob’s neck or how much ammo is left in a gun just by looking at the character on screen. It’s a smaller detail but it goes a long way in terms of overall immersion. Also, Jacob essentially just moves at a slow, cautious pace through all the environments, which for me personally helped drive that sense of unknown dread possibly lurking around every corner.
While it’s too early to fully judge every aspect of Callisto Protocol I was definitely left wanting more after my demo. I have made no attempt to hide just how much of a scaredy cat gamer I am, but man did this game scratch an itch for me. Did I vocally scream and jump out of my chair at a couple points? For sure. But I also found myself having a few morbid laughs at the many brutal death animations my character experienced. There were even moments of intense terror as I frantically held off multiple enemies, feeling the same sense of flight or fight that my character was probably going through as I blindly mashed away at anything in my path. The blind mashing also helped emphasize just how much keeping a cool head in dire situations is going to be important, as most of those aforementioned death animations came from such moments of panic.
This preview is based on impressions from an in-person hands-on event. The Callisto Protocol is set to launch on PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series S/X, and PC on December 2.