The Callisto Protocol review: An all-time horror masterpiece

enemy attacking jacob lee in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

The Callisto Protocol is the spiritual successor to the Dead Space series and one-ups it in almost every way with a perfect recipe of fear, fun, and a constantly fragile atmosphere.

When Striking Distance Studios, led by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield, set out to make their debut title, their vision strayed from a PUBG tie-in to an eventual, fully-fledged, third-person survival-horror experience – The Callisto Protocol.

Helmed by creators with a passion for the horror genre, The Callisto Protocol is built from a solid foundation of knowledge and expertise, and it shows in the game’s final product.

From tantalizing tension and intense set-piece fights to mindblowing sound and visual design that will leave you with nightmares, The Callisto Protocol is a fascinating exploration into a truly horrible and twisted universe.

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The Callisto Protocol: Key details

  • Developer: Striking Distance Studios
  • Price: $59.99 USD / £49.99 GBP / $89.95 AUD
  • Release date: December 2, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC

The Callisto Protocol Trailer

Claustrophobic Chaos on Callisto

You’re Jacob Lee, a contracted transporter that specializes in the transferral of precious cargo, and it becomes immediately apparent early on that the inventory you’re shipping from Europa to Callisto, one of the moons of Jupiter, is a bit sus, to say the least.

Intervening forces eventually apprehend you and you wind up in Black Iron Prison, and therein lies the beginning of your traumatic journey.

From start to finish, Call of Duty: WW2’s Josh Duhamel and The Boys’ Karen Fukuhara put in stellar performances, along with the rest of the cast, and only add to the ever-growing mystery surrounding Callisto and the events that have led to a mass outbreak of a new infection.

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jacob lee talking in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

One of the biggest criticisms aimed at Dead Space was that it was hard to be sympathetic and engage with a nameless, voiceless protagonist. Whereas Jacob is the complete opposite and is chock full of facial expressions and reactionary movements to the sordid sights and sudden sounds of his environment.

The narrative builds to an exciting and shocking climax and it’s clear that proper attention was carefully woven into The Callisto Protocol to keep you hooked until the end.

Gratutitous gore and hellish horror

When I interviewed Steve Papoutsis, Chief Development Officer for Striking Distance Studios, a while back, he promised me: “An experience that players would really enjoy and be scared while playing.”

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Boy, he really undersold this notion. The second you’re let off your leash in The Callisto Protocol you’re subjected to what becomes the game’s trademark over the course of the next 12-14 hours – a feeling of helplessness.

screaming enemy in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

The atmosphere has a constant air of uneasiness and trepidation as the game attacks all of your senses from every direction and you never know what’s going to jump out at you next.

The Callisto Protocol regularly throws curveballs and teases something horrific without anything emerging from the shadows, but the pinches and squeals of high-pitched violins make you think otherwise.

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Unlike its predecessors, The Callisto Protocol has fewer weapons, but it places a greater emphasis on utilizing the game’s deeper melee combat. A Stun Baton will become a violent bludgeoning tool that rewards you for paying attention to the blocking, dodging, and combo mechanics by conserving your ammo – which becomes more scarce the further you progress.

While the game may not boast an iconic weapon like the Plasma Cutter, its excellent 3D Printer upgrade system offers plenty of ways to customize your weapons, and gear, and ultimately allow you to manipulate your gameplay playstyle.

With different Pistols, Shotguns, and an Assault Rifle to use, players are also greeted with the GRP – a familiar gravity-defying launch mechanic that lets you hoist up eligible enemies and either use them as a non-human shield, toss them into an insta-kill hazard, or play Pong with them against the walls.

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The tools at your disposal allow you to paint disgusting viscera murals in Black Iron and the game’s countless other locations. From flinging enemies into giant exposed fans to unloading sledgehammer-like Riot Gun shots into the limbs of vile creatures, there are different ways to approach combat scenarios with specific attacks eliciting a different reaction from enemies.

Whichever methods you prefer, expect a copious amount of blood and guts to saturate poor Jacob.

jacob lee attacking enemy in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

I maybe would’ve liked one or two more enemy types, and definitely more bosses as The Callisto Protocol only really has a couple that are repeated. Nevertheless, between blind creatures that demand stealth to nasty specimens spewing acid at you, there’s always something new to account for.

Also, it’s ok to die too. Not only does the game pose a testing challenge, but you’ll be treated to a litany of truly disturbing death sequences ranging from Jacob’s eyes being gouged out to his face being pummeled into a squashed grape.

You’re never safe in The Callisto Protocol

The Callisto Protocol’s presentation and sound design are exquisite thanks to the unnerving cocktail of chilling tones and unsettling noises making you feel like an orchestra is composing your own personal symphony of destruction…and anxiety.

They encapsulate the horror vibe immaculately and the jumpscares never let up either. What’s cool is they never get boring and will constantly take you off-guard – even if you’re expecting something.

You can see vents and holes in the walls knowing full well something unpleasant is lurking beneath, but you become too busy focusing on every other aspect of the environment to even notice a giant beast hurtling towards you at a rate of knots.

The game’s locations vary from dank hallways to the snow-covered, stormy winds of Callisto itself, and the visuals are splendid. The lighting is great with dim lights and fire-covered debris bouncing off the foul, rancid corridors, and particle effects allowing smoke to coarse through the levels.

It becomes a serious challenge of oneupmanship by the end to see which area can be dripping more extraterrestrial fluid and house the most grotesque sights to make you retreat to the underwear drawer.

corridor in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

The nauseating squelches and howls from enemies make a welcome change from the inordinate, and a bit frustrating, amount of time Jacob spends in crawl spaces and vents, but this is to be expected in major AAA games now to avoid loading screens.

In my experience, I encountered next-to-no technical issues, outside of the odd framerate drop.

The Verdict – 5/5

A wonderfully exhausting exercise in futility is probably the best way of describing The Callisto Protocol as no matter the strength of my own resolve, I was constantly on edge and reveling in those fleeting moments where the game allowed me to breathe following yet another life-threatening fight.

The constant fear and dread incited by the phenomenal visual and sound design are only complemented by the compelling story. The Callisto Protocol is, hopefully, the start of an exciting new franchise, and is another sign that survival horror is anything but dead.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5