Lead character Jacob in The Callisto Protocol. | Image: Krafton

The sport, led by Dead Space creator Glen Schofield, takes an old-school method to survival horror. And it really works… besides when it turns into painfully irritating.

The first few hours of The Callisto Protocol are a few of the finest horror I’ve performed in latest reminiscence. It merges basic Resident Evil-style survival horror with the manufacturing values of a next-gen sport to create one thing actually terrifying — I sincerely dreaded having to slowly make my manner by way of the crumbling house jail the place the sport is about, understanding that some new horror awaited me. It’s not very unique, however the sport is brutal and violent and genuinely scary. Unfortunately, that sense of terror was ultimately changed by frustration, as the sport grew to become plagued with jarring problem spikes that fully destroyed the strain.

First, a disclaimer: I haven’t truly completed The Callisto Protocol. But it’s not for a scarcity of attempting. After round 10 hours, I made it to what I consider is the ultimate boss (that may be wishful considering, nevertheless it certain felt prefer it), solely to spend one other few hours fruitlessly attempting to defeat it. I’ve given up for now. There are solely so many occasions you’ll be able to watch the primary character get ripped in half earlier than you want a pleasant, lengthy break.

Early on, although, I used to be very a lot having fun with my time with the sport. The Callisto Protocol is developed by Striking Distance Studios, a brand new crew from PUBG firm Krafton that’s helmed by Dead Space creator Glen Schofield. (At one level, the sport was truly set within the PUBG universe in an ill-fated try at model synergy.) It takes place in a most safety jail on Callisto, a supposedly useless moon of Jupiter, and also you play as Jacob, a contract supply man who takes a foul job and finally ends up locked inside. Almost instantly, issues go fallacious when a virus begins turning the inmates into zombie-like creatures. Before he may even get acquainted along with his cell, Jacob is pressured to search out his manner out of the jail and off the moon.

A screenshot of The Callisto Protocol.
Image: Krafton

There’s little or no about The Callisto Protocol that’s unique. The most blatant affect is Dead Space. It mainly looks like a non secular successor, from the holographic UI to the fight that entails eradicating zombie limbs to the truth that it’s important to stomp on corpses to get ammo and well being. There are loads of different clear references as properly — enemies that look ripped proper out of Resident Evil, or the brutalist jail that appears prefer it belongs in an Alien spinoff.

This by no means actually bothered me although, primarily as a result of it’s all so properly performed. Callisto is an old-school survival tackle horror, which implies it’s extraordinarily linear; most of your time is spent slowly trudging by way of hallways, whether or not they’re underground caves or corridors linking the jail collectively. It’s the sort of extremely directed expertise that’s turn out to be one thing of a rarity in blockbuster video games. It works as a result of each facet of the expertise — the sound design, the darkish ambiance, the sluggish and heavy fight — is tuned for optimum scares. Few of the methods the sport makes use of are novel; the truth is, it’s filled with online game cliches. There are plentiful leap scares to make you suppose twice about opening a locker searching for ammo, lest an alien parasite leap onto your face.

I’ve seen all of these items earlier than, and but I used to be nonetheless terrified. Partly this comes right down to the extremely lifelike visuals, which make each house zombie look excruciatingly ugly, significantly whenever you’re beating them to demise with a metallic bar and seeing the blood fly. Some of the demise animations are downright disturbing. Callisto’s builders additionally use tried-and-true methods like dim lighting, fog, and even a snowstorm to obscure the terrors, making the jumps hit even more durable. I additionally couldn’t play this sport with headphones on as a result of the 3D audio was merely an excessive amount of; listening to zombies skitter round within the vents above made me rip the headphones proper off. I needed to pause the sport frequently to catch my breath.

And regardless of being a largely linear sport, Callisto offers you a stunning quantity of freedom for the way you method issues. There’s melee fight, a variety of weapons you improve over time, and even a high-tech glove that mainly offers you Force powers so you’ll be able to choose up issues (or zombies) and toss them round. I used to be a fan of stealth as a lot as I might handle, however as a result of it is a survival horror expertise, with comparatively restricted ammo and well being, I used to be pressured to make the most of just about each instrument to fend off the zombies. This was very true as soon as I used to be confronted with extra difficult foes; there are zombies that evolve in the event you don’t kill them quick sufficient, and others that skitter across the partitions like spiders. Some crawl as much as you simply to blow up. (I hate them.)

A screenshot of The Callisto Protocol.
Image: Krafton

For the primary half or so of the sport, it has wonderful pacing. I’d discover myself methodically clearing out areas of the jail, moving into some tense scrapes alongside the best way, earlier than with the ability to catch my breath (and compensate for the various, many audio logs) in one of many protected rooms. It was a pleasant steadiness between exploration, storytelling, and fight. I didn’t even thoughts a few of the hilariously misplaced online game conventions, just like the copious graffiti (it’s exhausting to consider anybody would write “shoot the tentacles” on a wall in blood earlier than they die) or the someway still-functioning 3D printing merchandising machines for upgrading your weapons and kit. Up till then, Callisto was proper there with Signalis as my favourite horror sport of the 12 months thus far.

And then I hit the issue spikes.

The first concerned waves of enemies that I needed to struggle off whereas ready for a service elevator to succeed in its vacation spot. Soon after that, the sport began throwing large bosses at me that required nearly good timing to defeat, since one hit would imply demise. Even after I turned the issue to its lowest potential setting, a few of these sequences would take me an hour or extra to efficiently get by way of.

These moments had been irritating as a result of they destroyed that rigorously directed pacing, but additionally for a couple of different causes. To begin, Callisto’s fight is sluggish and brutal, which is ideal for a steadily-paced horror sport. But the enemy waves and boss battles felt extra like an motion sport, and the controls are far too clunky to be working round and taking pictures (and utilizing the Force) on the identical time. I died loads of occasions simply because it took so lengthy to modify my weapon. The sport additionally tends to have checkpoints begin on the worst potential second, so that you simply’re returning to the sport on the precise second a boss is speeding at you, supplying you with no time to arrange. And a few of the bosses simply really feel downright unfair. One-hit kills in a sport that’s in any other case surprisingly forgiving do nothing to make the sport extra enjoyable or scary. They’re simply irritating.

These points are exacerbated by Callisto’s linear nature. If you’re caught at an unforgiving sequence, there isn’t a lot else you are able to do in addition to brute drive your manner by way of it (or take a pleasant calming stroll, as I did a number of occasions).

I wished to surrender many occasions all through the sport, however I powered by way of due to how a lot I dug the start of the sport. But ultimately a multi-stage boss struggle broke me and I needed to cease. This is what makes The Callisto Protocol so disappointing. It does a lot properly, and an enormous share of the sport is a blast. It’s the sort of high-end horror expertise that doesn’t actually exist exterior of Resident Evil. But then it sours issues with problem that provides completely nothing to the expertise. In the top, the scariest factor is the wasted potential.

The Callisto Protocol launches December 2nd on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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