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The Callisto Protocol - Spiritual Dead Space successor


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On 14/01/2023 at 01:53, Spacehost said:

Some updated thoughts having just finished “Below”:


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This was a fairly excellent chapter with plenty of tension, TLOU-style stealth moments, and great atmosphere, ruined at the end by a mandatory tram ride with auto-mutating enemies and a bullet-sponge boss who, frankly, can fuck off. Dumped the difficulty down to lowest and turned on auto-dodge and still took three attempts. Lame as fuck.



Dunno what you mean, it was a piece of piss! 

I like the game despite serious, SERIOUS issues. Major stuff like: no map, no guideline (as in Dead Space, L3 click) with environmental design not clear enough to compensate; unskippable cut scenes; placing cut scenes before encounters so you have to watch them multiple times if you die; narrow FOV causing nausea; checkpoints too wide apart. 


The lost of snags pretty much stretches forever, too:


tight FOV meaning your enemy is often obscured; every weapon feeling the same; no melee weapon variety; enemy front and back of you leads to unblockable hits; attacked by standing enemy and crawling enemy simultaneously leads to unblockable hits; one-hit kills that are unavoidable; weapons take too long to upgrade, and loads more. 


To be honest, no matter the reasons it had no right to be released in this state. It needed another year in the oven. 


And yet... I still like it! It's atmospheric, the plot is good, the acting good, the combat fun when you get into its rhythm and adapt to its foibles, and has some very cool concepts. But yeah, objectively speaking it's not a good game as it doesn't respect the player's time and ignores decades of QOL improvements into the bargain.

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On 15/01/2023 at 02:21, Strafe said:

It’s flopped, apparently. Which is an odd term for something that’s shifted 2 million copies but it was forecast to do 4-5 and cost a shit load to make.




I bet there were a lot of trade ins on boxed copies, not because it’s a bad game - I enjoyed it - but there’s not a huge amount to go back for. Gamepass and PS Plus within 12 months I reckon!


All that crunch, for nothing <_<

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  • 2 weeks later...

So finally got around to playing this. I was hoping for a gameplay patch but in the end I couldn't wait.


Overall, it's a pretty decent survival horror with a mixed bag of pros and cons. Graphics are obviously stellar, with some amazing lighting. The story is as guff as you would imagine, although the performances are good. The sound is as you'd expect from a Dead Space riff, the problem not being so much the sounds themselves, but that they are so predictable in their useage - more on this later. I'll be comparing some things in Callisto to Dead Space because of the obvious commonality, and I think its interesting to see how that game's aged and lessons they've learned or not from it. But one thing I do want to commend with the sound is the 3D audio. Through earphones on the PS5 controller its incredibly well done.


As for level design, the levels are very linear, the corridor criticism is valid. There are usually a few offshoots or alternate routes to explore so its not super egregious, but still it feels restrictive compared to Dead Space and Resi. What's really annoying is there is no indication of the primary route, they really could have a Ragnarok or Dead Space main mission line. So sometimes you'll accidentally progress and have to spend ages backtracking to find the side content you missed, or worse, get locked out of it altogether.


Jacob's slow movement is nice for exploring and taking in the surroundings, but is frustratingly sluggish when climbing around vents, ladders, squeezing through cracks and the aforementioned backtracking. In some places you can't run, either arbitrairly or because there's biomass on the floor. It's pretty annoying especially if you're trying to run from an enemy. Exploring what is there is fun though, with some nice tucked away secrets and optional encounters to be found.


The devisive combat I'm a bit torn with. From a survival horror standpoint its a brilliant idea, the first big survival horror I can think of that seamlessly combines melee and shooting. It really captures that desperation and avoids those awkward situations in other games where you're just standing there right next to a zombie trying to shoot it at point blank range. Its far from perfect here but its so much better than just having a single melee attack, and I really hope more horror games take inspiration from this. The close combat is a real slugfest with big meaty hits and camera shake, and it feels brutal and dangerous. In practice though its got issues which have already been discussed here and in reviews.


I feel like one other problem with combat is that once you're in melee, you're often trapped due to how long enemies take to kill. You can't back off or run away without getting wrecked and so any other enemies around are either wailing on you or waiting in line for their turn to bash your skull in. One other big problem I had with melee was I simply am not very good at it. My brain's not good at parsing the direction of enemy swings to dodge, especially as they can be so fast and sometimes poorly telegraphed. The lighting can actually be your enemy here too, because the darkness or flickering lights can make it hard to see incoming attacks. I started on Hard and had to knock it down to Normal because you get killed in a few melee hits. I bumped it back up to Hard after a few chapters but suffered immensely for it in some of the melee sections and especially near the end of the game where I had almost no ammo. Funnily enough the bosses are much easier to deal with in melee with clearly telegraphed swings and more leeway on dodging direction. Of course the penalty for failing is instadeath so it keeps the tension high. I died so many times to Mr Platform!


The gunplay is fine, though I miss the more impactful feeling Dead Space limb dismemberment and gun variety. It's chunky enough though. I was doing great for ammo until near the end of the game, when within a few hours you have multiple bullet sponge bosses to deal with. I had upgraded a number of my guns to max, but in the last hours never got to see the benefits because my ammo was so low! This is a punishment from playing on Hard but it was frustrating given how many resources I'd invested. Let me sell my upgrades please, then I could buy ammo instead! Unfortunately the gun swapping controls are abysmal and the UI for them is also terrible. It may fit the survival horror trope but it kind of breaks the tension in boss fights when you are dodging swipes whilst frantically mashing the d-pad trying to find which of your guns has ammo in them.


The gravity weapon is pretty useless for flinging things, at least on Hard. It's too difficult to target objects to pick up when the combat is so fast. But its incredibly effective and satisfying to pick up enemies and instakill them on environmental hazards or just fling them off walkways. The game embraces this with giant fans and silly spiked walls all over the place, but I appreciated that as they got me through some otherwise near-impossible encounters. Unfortunately there's a bit of a problem in that its too easy to suck an enemy towards you instead of an object, or suck an enemy towards you and then promptly run out of gravity juice, which means you've just inadvertantly screwed yourself. 


Balancing wise the game does a pretty good job overall with its resource hunting. Its a satisfying search/shop/upgrade loop even if its a bit annoying carting around items in the early game when your inventory is limited and the game so linear (no Resi item box here!). Resource drops from enemies are randomised or at least dynamic, which makes for some odd balance when you keep dying at one spot and sometimes hit the jackpot with ammo drops, or get screwed with credits or health top-ups. The upgrades are probably better and more impactful on Normal, because on Hard enemies are so beefy its hard to see the damage increases from them.


Enemy designs are generic but they have good animation and a frantic energy to them. They aren't really scary. In fact for a supposed horror game, I didn't find Callisto scary at all. It is tense in places but nowhere near Dead Space's gut twisting anxiety. Dead Space was full of horror tropes and cliches to scare, raise tension and jumpscare but it did them very effectively. Here it just falls a bit flat. We've seen it too many times aready. The zombie running across a corridor ahead. The clanking of vents around you. The incredibly predictable jumpscares (I only got jumpscared twice in the game and both times it was from unexpected holograms popping up to deliver exposition!). The atmosphere is good, but not really that scary.


The environments are jam packed with detail and feel really immersive. Although the setting is sci-fi, most of the game is in very industrial or grimy areas. Its a bit dissapointing to have such a cool setting but then have it full of brown and rusty generic prison, factories, concrete tunnels and hospitals we've seen in a million other horror games. Where it goes more sci-fi it immediately looks more interesting, with a few cool locations. I imagine they wanted to differentiate themselves from Dead Space (which also had plenty of industrial stuff but it was more sci-fi industrial), but I feel like they missed out on the setting's potential. I wish the final location had been a fully fleshed out level (I bet it was and it got cut).


So despite flaws and genericness, I feel like Callisto does just enough to stand out from the crowd with its overall presentation and a few new ideas. Its certainly enjoyable in a schlock horror kind of way, and I played it through without dipping into any other games, which is testament to its pacing and engagement. It knows what it wants to be and embraces that, its just a shame it doesn't have as many new ideas, variety or fun level design as the original Dead Space. It isn't nearly as good as that gamem but if you need to whet your appetite before or after the remake, I'd definitely recommend giving this a shot.

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@Alan Stockenjoyed that write-up. Mostly echoes my thoughts from playing through it over the launch weekend. Having said that, the first half hour of Dead Space Remake last night was enough to highlight the weaker parts of Callisto Protocol. I hope they're given a chance to do more in the game world and find more of their own identity.

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Indeed. What I find dissapointing about Callisto is that Dead Space brought so many new ideas and variety to the survival horror formula, but the Callisto leads (who worked on Dead Space) have instead come up with a very narrow vision and the only new twist is the melee combat. Clearly a bunch of the creative minds behind Dead Space weren't actually the leads, or the new Callisto team was too inexperienced or scope-constrained to add new wrinkles into the mix and instead just prove they can do a competant survival horror. Hopefully now they've proven that, the ideas can start to flow.


But a big worry for this team has got to be the game's sales... which sadly was what saw the original demise of the Dead Space franchise as well. So will they be given the faith and budget to continue? I feel like they played it too safe and didn't differentiate Callisto as much as it needed to. And if they wanted to just mimick Dead Space they needed to make at least as good a game to sell Dead Space fans on Callisto as an alternitave. And as the remake is showing, its simply the better game.


For me one thing that Dead Space really doesn't get enough credit for is how well balanced and engaging its exploration, upgrade and resource management is. The node and suit upgrade system is very compelling and really incentivises scouring every nook and cranny of the Ishimura. The level layouts see you using mini-hubs and clearing out little complexes whilst carefully managing your resources. The ammo and health balance is finely tuned where low resources is always an issue to worry about but you're rarely completely screwed. Dead Space does the survival part of survival horror very well and Callisto doesn't make it in that department.


PS The audio logs having to be played in menu is indeed shit... but it doesn't really matter because they're all rubbish and only last about 15 seconds each. What really got my goat was sometimes the reward for a side-room would be literally just a shitty audio log, when you'd wasted a bunch of ammo and health to get to it.

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On the subject of audio logs the oddest thing that stood out for me was the picture of the person leaving the log. It’s a cartoon-ish picture of the person. Given that


a) they spent millions on state of the art facial capture so they didn’t have to use unrealistic looking faces and


b) it’s set in max security prison which is really the last place you’d expect to get a name badge of you with a cartoony picture on it instead of a photograph


it really felt odd.

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I finished the Dead Space remake yesterday and decided to give this a try since it's half price on Amazon. Playing PS5 in performance mode and damn it's good looking. I like the focus on melee which feels very weighty. Those heads on tentacles can fuck off though. Huge design mistake making them unavoidable. Only up to just past Max security and my inventory is far, far too small. Hopefully I can start upgrading that soon.


Had some occasional really bad moments of terrible FPS. Most noticable right at the start of max security when you're waiting for the system to power up. All those things are spinning like you're at a metal concert, there's like 3 or 4 mobs on screen and the fps just tanks hard.


One thing I'd wish though is for an easier difficulty mode than the easy I'm playing on. I'm doing ok with the combat (And slowly improving) but I suspect I'm going to hit my limits at some point and I really want to see how the story goes. I did do the accessibility dodge but I'm still getting whacked loads. I also wish I could have kept the pick you start with :)


Also bonus points for the astounding audio design. I'm playing with my Arctis Nova Pro Wireless headset (The one with the usb basestation) and everything just sounds amazing. Dead Space Remake was good too but in this the 3d and quality of the audio is just *chef's kiss*.

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