Review – The Callisto Protocol

Dead Space remains one of the greatest horror games of all time. A game that is equally both action-packed and terrifying, taking all the right notes from the amazing Resident Evil 4 and ramping it up to eleven. Dead Space 2 elevated this even further, with a more action-packed yet just as terrifying entry. The Callisto Protocol is from Dead Space creator, Glen Schofield, and some key members from that production team, so I’ve been keenly keeping my eye on this game for a while. I was really looking forward to playing it. Could it possibly even live up to its lofty expectations and deliver a new standard of survival horror?

The Callisto Protocol Jacob Lee

75% of the cast right here in this picture.

You play as Jacob Lee, a cargo transporter working for the United Jupiter Corporation. On a routine job, Jacob is attacked by a terrorist group known as the Outer Ways, with no choice but to crash on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. Just as things couldn’t get any worse, Jacob is arrested and brought into Black Iron Prison, right as a mysterious outbreak starts. Jacob must quickly adapt to escape the prison and uncover to truth of the outbreak.

For most of the game, The Callisto Protocol doesn’t really have much of a story. You are dropped into a prison and then the game starts with not much going on story-wise. With very little in the way of world-building, even the audio logs don’t explain much. It’s not until the final third of the game that things start to really pick up and show that there’s some potential here. Characters like Jacob and Dani become much more interesting, and a glimpse of the wider universe is teased at, but never really shown. Unfortunately, it never goes as far as it needs to, and just as things start to get interesting, it’s over, ending on a weak cliffhanger. Callisto really needed to use more of its campaign to develop these characters.

As you would expect from a game developed by some of the same key people from Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol takes a lot of that game’s notes as well. This a very tense and atmospheric game: from the moment you boot it up until the final credits, there’s a sense of dread, horror, and a lot of gore with dismemberment everywhere. It lacks subtlety, but in the absolute best of ways. Black Iron Prison is a place you definitely never want to be in. Every corner is dripping with tension. It’s not really a scary game, however, with an overreliance on jump scares that will eventually get tiresome and never really land in the first place.


Moon’s Haunted!

Where The Callisto Protocol does massively differ from its source of inspiration, though, is in its emphasis on melee combat, taking inspiration from games like Silent Hill and even The Last of Us. The melee combat is crunchy and impactful as you bash in the bones of your enemies. By using the movement buttons, you will dodge attacks from the Biophages, and by finding an opening, you will be able to use Jacob’s Baton to hit back and damage them. Completing a combo will trigger a quick shot prompt that will allow you to quickly fire your gun for extra damage. It’s a combat system that takes some getting used to, but it is a breeze.

The combat in The Callisto Protocol is all about positions and smart use of the environment. The tighter, more cramped combat arenas mean you can’t afford to be surrounded. Otherwise, you will have a tough time, especially when the camera can’t seem to keep up. It’s also a shame that the level design is excessively linear, which is punctuated with really tight corridors and an excessive amount of long vent crawling sections. There are a few side paths that have different encounters, but still not much in the way of branching paths. It’s not that this is bad, but the levels tease paths that don’t really lead anywhere.

You, of course, have ranged weapons that you can use to pick off some enemies, weaken them to prompt finishers, or simply just stun giving you moments to use melee. Guns are more of a tool to assist Jacob rather than being his primary weapon. To help you out, Jacob can also use a GRIP device to grab enemies and throw them around, may that be to simply reposition them or into one of the many traps and spikes around Black Iron. At its best Callisto‘s combat is fast, fluid and brutal with enemies punishing any mistake you make and you will die, a lot. The Callisto Protocol is a punishing game, but one that never becomes frustrating outside of a couple of sections. Most of my deaths are the fault of my own but a fair few times the camera was not playing ball.

The Callisto Protocol GRIP Device

GRIP-ping gameplay and OSHA violations are what Callisto does best.

You will eventually meet more challenging enemies, and ones that mutate when you see tentacles sprouting from their chest, but it doesn’t add a lot. The Callisto Protocol could have gotten crazier with these mutations, but they all feel the same. Tentacles sprout from the same place and always have the same result. Also, being stuck in a prison with some horrible people, I was half expecting to encounter some more human enemies with different strategies, but this is not the case, outside of the game’s tutorial. Dodge two to three times, combo, rinse and repeat, this is the core loop. Regardless, I didn’t really get bored, thanks to its multiple layers and strong horde moments.

The Callisto Protocol does try to play with stealth, but it doesn’t quite work. The giant robot guards are infrequent and easy enough to take out normally, whilst Biophages follow predictable patterns and it becomes clear when the game wants you to take them out stealthily. The only difference is in the mid-game that introduces the blind enemy type that is alerted by sound. Whilst there is some tension in sneaking past a dozen blind enemies being incredibly close, these sections drag on for far too long becoming more tedious as it goes on. There are a couple of boss fights, one of which is just a mini-boss that is used a few times, whilst the final boss does have some interesting ideas, but doesn’t quite feel like a final boss fight.

Now to talk about inventory management, which is a bit of a weird one. In my review for Signalis, I praised the game’s highly limited inventory system. The Callisto Protocol also has a limited inventory with only six slots for the vast majority of the game (weapons have their own inventory) that doubles up towards the game’s action-packed second half. The problem with this is that Callisto is incredibly generous with its resources to the point I was actually struggling to get rid of them. The generous distribution of health and ammo actually removes a lot of the tension so feel free to go a bit wild with the resources.

The Callisto Protocol Shoot the Tentacles

“Cut off their limbs”… Sorry, wrong game.

The design of the world and the technical side of things is incredible. This is some of the best world design and visuals of the past couple of years. From great character models that rival that of Death Stranding to atmospheric lighting that touches every corner and thick volumetric fog. And the big wow moments when you finally get to explore the surface of Callisto are one of my favourite moments. However, the over-reliance on underground caves can feel a touch repetitive.

As for Steam Deck’s performance at the time of writing, the official rating on Steam is marked as playable with notable downsides being in-game text being difficult to read as well as requiring manual configuration of graphics settings to perform well. After trying one of the more demanding sections I can confirm this is the case. I would recommend starting the game at low settings and working up until you find that sweet spot but 30fps is comfortably achievable. Similarly, sound design is also spectacular. With some fantastic positional audio where you hear biophages scurrying around creating a sense of panic as you never know where they are going to drop out from. That’s not to mention the great sounds during combat giving the melee a real sense of weight.

Not only this, but The Callisto Protocol has a really good cast to help push it forward. Josh Duhamel takes the lead as Jacob and despite a good performance, I found it hard to care about this underdeveloped character. On the other hand, some of the side characters take on a much better role. Prisoner Elias proves to be a great ally throughout the game delivering some touching moments. Whilst The Boys‘ Karen Fukuhara was solid as Dani Nakamura as was the main villain Captain Farris. It’s a shame that Callisto Protocol doesn’t let us spend any time with these characters.

MFW Jacob gets brutally killed.

The Callisto Protocol has all the right ingredients for what could have been a phenomenal action-horror experience. Sure, it was still a great time, but repetitive combat and enemy designs mixed with a lacklustre story leave for a somewhat underwhelming experience but one that was dripping in atmosphere and phenomenal visuals. It’s not a disappointment per se, but maybe wait for a discount before tackling this one.


Graphics: 9.5

The Callisto Protocol is a technical achievement, delivering one of the most detailed and stunning worlds I’ve seen in a game in a long time.

Gameplay: 7.0

The melee combat is punchy but the overall gameplay is a little lacking in variety and level design.

Sound: 9.0

A great, yet underused, voice cast that tries to salvage a somewhat lacklustre story. Karen Fukuhara is the star of the show.

Fun Factor: 7.0

The Callisto Protocol falls flat in multiple areas, namely with its design, but is still a compelling action horror title.

Final Verdict: 7.5

The Callisto Protocol is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5.

Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X, 16GB RAM. Game installed on SSD. Tested on Steam Deck.