The Callisto Protocol has gone gold and is more or less finished and being printed onto discs as we speak. But amid this fantastic milestone for Glen Schofield and his team at Striking Distance Studios, who we spoke to earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to be treated to an extended slice of gameplay from the game in a hands-off preview. While it was equally exciting (to see more of it) but frustrating (because I just want to play it), what I saw of The Callisto Protocol is shaping up to be pretty fun. More importantly, it looks to be doing just enough to step out of Dead Space’s shadow, which is always good.
The Callisto Protocol, if you’ve not been paying attention, is a wholly original game from the mind that brought us the original Dead Space. Originally conceived as an experience in the same world as PUBG, it eventually grew to inhabit its own universe. In it, you play Jacob Lee. He’s a pilot who was imprisoned in Black Iron Prison on the moon of Jupiter, named Callisto. We’ve no idea what they’re even doing there – but I’m sure that will be clear as the credits roll. Through a freak accident of some kind, an outbreak happens, and Jacob can escape. But he probably would’ve been better off in prison.
Our preview takes us through a level called Habitat. The team estimates that the level is about ninety or so minutes long but gives a good idea of the variety of gameplay on offer in The Callisto Protocol. It’s about four or so levels into the game and takes place in the underbelly of Callisto. That’s right – we’re watching a sewer level! A usually maligned category of gameplay for me regarding horror games, but Callisto Protocol looks to be doing all the right things to keep it fresh.
The most striking thing I noticed in my time with the game is how combat works. The team appears to have built it under three pillars – melee combat, ranged combat, and the GRP. Melee combat allows you to belt the crap out of the biophage with Jacob’s trust stun rod. Ranged combat is self-explanatory – you aim and shoot. The GRP functions similarly to Dead Space’s telekinesis, allowing Jacob to pull enemies into the air and throw them. Of course, you can use spinning turbines or spikey walls in combination with the GRP to land massive damage, or throw them away to buy some time and relieve pressure in combat.
Deviating away from the inevitable Dead Space comparisons, a few defense options have my eye in The Callisto Protocol as well. For one, Jacob can dodge attacks by pulling the control stick to the left or right just as an enemy attacks. You can also block attacks entirely by pulling the stick down (as in, toward the camera) before an enemy attack. It’s always hard to get a gauge for how these types of combat mechanics work without actually playing the game, but if it works, it could alleviate some of the stress that might be induced by Callisto Protocol’s scarce ammunition and resources.
Of course, other little additions make the game look and feel good. As gross as it is satisfying, you can also stomp enemies to make sure they’re dead and to make them drop valuable loot once they’re downed. Additionally, after inflicting enough damage, reticles will appear on enemies and, if you line up a shot on them, will cause critical damage. It remains to be seen if this is a dynamic system that makes the reticles appear on areas you damage specifically, but it does a good enough job of differentiating itself from Dead Space’s strategic dismemberment system. Is it better? I’m not sure, but it certainly is different.
Through time in this level, I also got a bit more of a look at the Biophage, the (presumably) primary enemy type you’ll encounter throughout The Callisto Protocol. They’re grotesque, and I’m excited to see what more will be coming in the final game. So far, in this preview, we were privy to see the more standard type as well as larger ones that were immune to the hold of the GRP and crawling ones that were harder to hit. I hope there is some more variety in the final game, including some gnarly boss types, but I’m impressed with what I see so far.
The biophage are made more grotesque by the new mutation mechanics, which appear to once again differentiate the whole experience from Dead Space. At specific points in combat, tentacles will burst from the enemy you’re fighting that attempt to mutate the enemy further. If you destroy them, the virus (and the host) are neutralised, and you’re good to go. Fail to kill them, and the biophage will mutate into something tougher. Once again, it’s hard to gauge how dynamic this system is without actually playing the game, but if it is as dynamic as it seems, it could be a great way to keep combat fresh. It’s genuinely grotesque, and in this preview, I even saw one creature actively tear off its own flesh to mutate.
As the preview ended, I had many questions about The Callisto Protocol. Are there more weapons than the pistol in all the trailers? I spied a mystery tree in the in-game shop, but could there be more? Just how long is the game? Are there more enemies to battle? What am I even doing on Jupiter? Thankfully, The Callisto Protocol is out in less than two months, so the wait shouldn’t be too long. Nonetheless, as the event ended and I could meditate on what this game will be, I was still left wanting more. And that’s never a bad thing.
The Callisto Protocol launches on December 2nd 2022 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.