Remember Dead Space? Back in 2008 it was the hot new survival-horror franchise on the market, threatening to shake things up for long-running genre standbys like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, and it turned out surprisingly good. So good, in fact, that they made another one, and Dead Space 2 was actually even better. Sadly, however, the third game was a black sheep at best, and since then Dead Space has mostly fallen by the wayside.
While a Dead Space planned reboot is on the way, if you’re interested in more horror in the void right the heck now, you might want to check out The Callisto Protocol.
Space cargo hauler Jacob ends up in a bad way after terrorists attack his vessel. He crash lands on Callisto, home of the Black Iron Prison, and quickly finds himself locked up with all the other inmates. Due process isn’t much of a thing in the future. All of this would be bad enough, but it turns out there’s a spooky contagion going around BIP, turning inmates and guards alike to horrifying zombie monsters. Jacob’s going to have to team up with some of the other less-than-trustworthy sorts in the prison to survive and find a way out. If this sounds suspiciously like Dead Space, well, you’re absolutely right!
Unlike Dead Space, though, The Callisto Protocol’s combat is all about melee. Jacob comes across a smashy crowbar pretty early and it doesn’t take long to switch it out for an even smashier stun rod, which you’ll then use to beat the everloving crap out of hordes of infected mutants. You can smack foes, smack them harder with an upgrade, dodge in various directions and block enemy attacks. Bashing enemies feels great, particularly when you’ve got haptic feedback, and there’s a nice rhythm and flow to combat that makes The Callisto Protocol feel unique among its peers.
This works pretty well when you’re fighting one on one, which is why you probably won’t be surprised to hear that you rarely spend a lot of time doing that. Combat with multiple enemies tends to turn into an awkward crowd-control dance where you’re trying your best to keep the hordes under control. In true horror game fashion, damage tends to be fairly high and resources tend to be fairly rare, so you’ll want to take things as gently as possible to keep your stocks fresh.
Likewise, while there’s firearms available, ammo tends to be a luxury, so most of your time is going to be spent trying to wrangle enemies via melee combat. It’s a little rough around the edges, though the currency-based upgrade system can help take some of that roughness off as you progress deeper into the adventure.
That descriptor also suits The Callisto Protocol’s performance. On PC, even with high-spec components like the RTX 3080 TI, the game struggles to run in an acceptable manner. It’s a sad day when top-end gaming hardware still needs a little bit of finagling – but that’s owing more to software than hardware. Likewise, on next-gen consoles the game offers a “performance mode” where the visuals take a hit but performance is acceptable. Unfortunately, this isn’t the default, so you might feel like you’re running through molasses until you toggle things around. The Callisto Protocol looks great at high settings, but a game like this is far better served when it’s running well, so it’s unlikely many players will really get to see it at its best.
That said, The Callisto Protocol is a fairly short and largely acceptable stab at survival-horror (in space!) that could have used a little more time in the development oven from both a gameplay balancing and technical perspective. It’s got weird difficulty bumps and doesn’t run particularly well, but if you’re able to overlook or tweak your way past both of these complaints you’ll probably get what you’re looking for. Dead Space fans in particular who felt a little burned by the third entry in the series would be well served to spend a stint in space prison.