It has been a few weeks since the launch of The Callisto Protocol, the highly anticipated survival horror debut title from Striking Distance Studios. What was supposed to be a game-of-the-year contender seemingly failed to live up to its lofty expectations, receiving a lukewarm response from critics and derision from its audience. While I, too, initially felt disappointed that my most anticipated game of 2022 was not a perfect 10 out of 10 masterpiece, after subsequent playthroughs, writing guides, and even earning the platinum trophy on PS5, I can’t help but think that the echo chamber of social media negativity may have clouded my hasty judgment.
My time with The Callisto Protocol has led me to realize that the game is not as bad as its naysayers have made it out to be (with the exception of the PC version, which suffers from widely reported performance issues and crashing that must be fixed). Strictly speaking about the game’s console experience, although The Callisto Protocol may not quite be a game of the year contender, here is why 2022’s most controversial release is way better than you think.
Most of the Online Criticism of The Callisto Protocol is Uninformed
While there are plenty of intelligent, reasonable critiques to be made of Striking Distance’s sci-fi horror debut, there is no sign of intelligent life found in the many aspersions cast by the game’s biggest detractors. “The game is too short,” “It’s too much like Dead Space,” “It’s not enough like Dead Space,” “It’s not scary enough,” “It’s a cash grab,” the list goes on and on and on. Let’s rebut a few of these spurious claims:
- Critique #1: The Callisto Protocol is too short.
- Those criticizing The Callisto Protocol for being too short only expose themselves as inexperienced survival horror gamers. That’s totally fine, I’m not here to gatekeep, but it’s just a fact that The Callisto Protocol is easily within the range of most of its legendary horror genre compatriots like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Space, etc. Most horror games are not very long experiences because their eerie atmospheres would fizzle the longer they are explored.
- Critique #2: The Callisto Protocol is too similar to Dead Space.
- Since Glen Schofield directed the Callisto Protocol and was previously the co-creator of Dead Space, saying the game is too similar to Dead Space is like criticizing John Lennon for sounding too much like The Beatles. Schofield pioneered a new vision of sci-fi survival horror, so you can’t exactly fault him for reincorporating some of the best core gameplay elements into his latest work. Yes, The Callisto Protocol has many similarities to Dead Space, but that is also the game’s greatest strength. It is a Dead Space-inspired experience built for the next generation of gaming. Also, The Callisto Protocol differentiates itself enough from the first Dead Space game through its melee-heavy combat, fully voiced protagonist, and stealth elements.
- Critique #3: The Callisto Protocol is not enough like Dead Space
- Many critics can’t make up their minds, desiring to have their cake and eat it too. They want The Callisto Protocol to simultaneously recapture everything that makes Dead Space a horror classic and be a fresh new experience that surpasses its 2008 predecessor in every way, while entirely reinventing survival horror. How could anything meet that standard? Most games would be critically panned if they were incessantly nitpicked and juxtaposed against the greatest titles of their genre. The Callisto Protocol should be judged on its own merits and flaws; just because it isn’t good as Dead Space does not mean the game isn’t worth your time.
- Critique #4: It’s not scary
- For those who think The Callisto Protocol is not scary enough, like beauty, horror is in the eye of the beholder. Just because the game didn’t scare you doesn’t necessarily mean that others won’t be frightened by some of the game’s jump scares, disturbing setting, and shocking violence.
- Critique #5: It’s a cash grab
- Shortly before launch, there was a report that specific death animations and bonus content would be locked behind the game’s season pass, causing an uproar and setting a negative tone for The Callisto Protocol’s release. However, Schofield and Striking Distance attempted to assuage these concerns, noting that the DLC death animations were still in development, not part of the main game’s content. While the veracity of this is unverifiable to anyone who doesn’t work at Striking Distance Studios, as someone who followed the game closely before launch and completed multiple playthroughs, I can safely say that there are a vast array of death animations (more than any sane person could care to witness) and nothing promised in The Callisto Protocol’s promotional materials was missing from the main game. Calling The Callisto Protocol a cash grab is genuinely laughable.
Best Graphics of the Generation
From the photorealistic character models to the gorgeous space scenery and its disturbingly detailed death animations, The Callisto Protocol features some of the best graphics of the current gaming landscape. Also, its lack of a HUD (heads up display) give players a uniquely unobstructed view of Black Iron Prison’s breathtaking and pulse-pounding locations. While graphics alone don’t make a game great, The Callisto Protocol undeniably lived up to its visual expectations.
The Callisto Protocol Provides a Realistic Challenge
The Callisto Protocol’s combat is arguably its most controversial aspect. Some call it clunky, others enjoy its uniqueness, while I personally found myself somewhere between the two positions. However, I appreciate some of the refreshing realism found in the game. For starters, on the game’s higher difficulties, small groups of enemies, even the most basic, can still be deadly. You cannot just hammer away on a grunt with a stun baton while its friends helplessly watch; an attack on one biophage is an attack on all. I found myself aided by my past Soulsborne experience, strategizing to pick off enemies one by one instead of fighting large groups. For this reason, I highly recommend playing The Callisto Protocol on Maximum Security Difficulty, as it ratchets up the challenge and provides the most authentic survival horror experience with its increased enemy strength and resource scarcity.
Furthermore, while some complain about the fact that the game’s bosses have one-shot kill attacks, I found this to be an excellent aspect that makes Jacob feel more human compared to most other videogame protagonists. Seriously, how many hits do you think most people could take from a ten-foot-tall, two-headed parasitic alien with a chest full of razor-sharp teeth? While not everything in The Callisto Protocol is necessarily realistic, such as the game’s stealth sections, I appreciate that the essence of the combat experience is believable and balanced.
The Callisto Protocol’s Compelling Narrative Themes and Setting
While The Callisto Protocol sometimes recycles past sci-fi and horror tropes, the game features interesting thematic underpinnings that deserve recognition. One line, in particular, frequently echoed throughout the corridors of Black Iron Prison, which stuck with me long after the credits rolled, was: “There is always a price to pay.” To avoid any spoilers, The Callisto Protocol is a game about redemption. What better setting than a sprawling space prison to explore this compelling theme, with a diverse cast of morally ambiguous characters facing the consequences of their past mistakes and traumas? This game has mystery, and intrigue, and most importantly, it doesn’t hold your hand to explain every nuance of its world.
The Callisto Protocol Takes You on a Journey
Thanks to the game’s varied locations, increasingly powerful enemies, and overarching mystery, The Callisto Protocol truly takes its players on a journey during its eight-chapter duration. Starting with nothing but a shiv, eventually, through surviving the horrors of Black Iron Prison and slowly but surely unraveling the mystery, the arsenal grows into a potential seven-weapon armory that morphs Jacob Lee from an unassuming cargo ship pilot into a biophage killing machine. At a certain point in the story, once again avoiding spoilers, you are brought back full circle to your starting point in Black Iron Prison, truly highlighting how much Jacob has done in a short amount of time and how far he has come.
Bonus – Photo Mode
While photo mode is a minor bonus feature in many games, The Callisto Protocol has one of the better versions of it that I have ever experienced. You can even activate photo mode during cutscenes, which is usually not an option in most other games. As someone who usually spends very little time in photo mode, I found myself exploring it frequently, snapping pics throughout my time as a tourist in Black Iron Prison. True photography experts will undeniably stage some amazing scenes in the game’s photo mode.
The Callisto Protocol may not be Dead Space, nor a game of the year, nor the next survival horror classic, but I ask only one thing of those reading this article: play it for yourself and make up your own mind. Give the game a chance, unclouded by social media negativity, unshrouded by Dead Space’s shadow, and unburdened by lofty expectations. You will find there is more than meets the eye to 2022’s most controversial game.
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