The Callisto Protocol | Review – A great horror that amazes

Who I am
Pau Monfort
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Having remained in the shadows for a period of time, it seems that the survival horror genre is making a comeback. It is no mystery that today there is a before and after Resident Evil 2 (remake) and that this has prompted the studios to return to developing level works, works such as The Callisto Protocol, a new IP, as well as the first video game Striking Distance Studios, a team made up of industry veterans, including some familiar faces from the Dead Space universe.

Born as a spin-off of Battlegrounds and then became a work in its own right, The Callisto Protocol it immediately created a certain type of expectation in the players, who for years have been dreaming of a new great triple A horror capable of telling something new. To be the team's first title, I can certainly say that the premises have been met if not even exceeded, since the experience I've had is without a doubt of a level, not without flaws, but certainly among the best games of the year.

The Callisto Protocol, welcome to Black Iron

The Callisto Protocol sees protagonist Jacob Lee, a freighter pilot focused on his last job before "retirement": a cargo is in fact to be delivered to Jupiter's dead moon, Callisto, home to an infamous prison called Black Iron. Following a series of events that I won't tell you so as not to spoil the story, Jacob not only finds himself a prisoner in a short time, but also in the midst of a real epidemic that is infecting the staff, transforming them into terrifying creatures.

Jacob, also thanks to the help of other characters, will have to try to escape to save his skin, but his journey will lead him to knowledge of what is really happening, facing situations on the edge of human survival. Although the story is nothing particularly original, falling into various clichés already seen and reviewed, I must admit that the Californian boys have been able to really do a painstaking job in making the title as cinematic as possible. We are not faced with memorable dialogues nor unexpected twists, but some moments are truly exciting and give added value to a production that smells really high-level.

To give more context to everything, there is a really important actor's performance on everyone's part, even if Jacob has never managed to get into me graces as other characters have succeeded right away (often even not speaking). Not bad, given that the real focus of the adventure remains the game model.

Don't call it Dead Space

If there's one thing I want to be clear about right from the start, it's that it's not Dead Space, and one of those people who immediately compared it during the announcement writes it to you anyway. Clearly, let's not hide behind a finger, there are clear inspirations, on the other hand behind The Callisto Protocol there is Glen Schofield, who knows the famous EA game well, but nothing that does not fade into the background over time plan.

The ravenous creatures from which we should defend ourselves in the game, in fact, are decidedly more resistant than the good old necromorphs. The weapons will be, at least for a good part of the adventure, practically useless, forcing us to continue fighting with white weapons with our electric truncheon. And it is precisely here that The Callisto Protocol becomes a soul in its own right, a survival horror that doesn't only think about the accumulated ammunition, but more about dexterity and reflexes; often more creatures will attack us at the same time, this means that we will have to decide how to hit, whether to dodge or aim to move away, perhaps using the GRP (Gravity Restraint Projector) to throw objects or take advantage of the surrounding environment, such as shovels or spikes, to easily kill the our enemies.

The infected are hard to fall and I don't deny it: in the first few hours I spent more time dying than continuing, a sign that in any case the curve to master all the mechanics is much higher than it might seem. As if that weren't enough, at some point the abominations will also begin to evolve, becoming faster, more powerful and more bloodthirsty, everything is up to our timeliness during the clashes to prevent this from happening, putting us in an even more complicated situation.

Moreover, healing takes time and is not immediate, this implies that during the fights it becomes practically impossible to be able to save yourself at the last moment. The only thing to do, therefore, is to train to learn how to defend yourself, counterattack and dodge the powerful lacerations of the creatures.

Exploration is present, Callisto hides several secondary areas with a lot of equipment to collect, audio messages to listen to to learn more about the events or Callisto's Coupons, the latter useful for upgrading our equipment in special 3D printers present from time to time occasionally in the levels. The invitation is always to look around and above all to dismember every being that we eliminate, so as to obtain loot that could even save our lives.

This is not a spoiler, but a fact that also left a bad taste in my mouth: there is no NG+, and I must admit that I was disappointed, because in a video game like this a new adventure integrating the unlocked objects would still stimulate replay value. I don't know if the team is considering including it, but I very much hope so, because the title would really benefit from it a lot.

A phenomenal technical system, but…

If there is one thing that immediately catches the eye once Jacob's adventure has begun, it is undoubtedly the incredible graphic and technical sector of the production. Although the team opted to work in Unreal Engine 4, the glance is phenomenal, rightfully returning among the most graphically amazing games that this generation has given us to date.

Striking Distance Studios has really done an excellent job, touching photorealism several times in various situations, partly thanks also to a successful artistic sector and animations worthy of a triple A title. The use of many Unreal Engine 5 technologies (especially motion capture) and the integration of the FSR ( Fidelity Simple Resolution) on the consoles, helped a lot to optimize everything.

But a quality of this caliber, in this enormous mass of volumetric effects, particles and so on, where do you pay for it in terms of performance? To be honest, nothing from a technical point of view: the experience maintains the 30fps with lots of active ray tracing without any problem, the same thing with regard to the performance mode without ray tracing at 60fps. Excellent performance when considering the visual rendering.

If I really have to mention some limits, I feel like pointing out an excessive use of hidden loads, that is to say all those moments in which the game forces us to slow down the path (perhaps making us crawl through the narrow tunnels) to give time to platform to render the next room. These loads are quite present and in the long run they annoyed me, even if they are clearly nothing problematic for those who consider them an integral part of the gameplay.

A great note of merit must be made to the audio sector: Callisto's moon is not only terrifying to "see", but above all to feel. Black Iron and the various places visited are always dotted with disturbing noises and music designed to always make us fear a danger around the corner. You will never feel safe and you will always try to look around to understand if something is wrong or if you have someone behind you. However, it should be emphasized that I didn't find it so disturbing, it must be the habit for horror video games or perhaps I was simply expecting something different, but despite the atmosphere working - and even well - I didn't have any particular anxieties playing it at night with headphones.

The English dubbing is good, also the result of great work on motion capture (the faces really left me speechless for the level of visual fidelity compared to the actors used), a little less the Spanish one, who suffers from a not exactly precise lip synchronization that sometimes clashes a bit during the adventure, especially in the cutscenes.

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