The Callisto Protocol has received mixed reviews due to its paradoxical nature. Aesthetically and mechanically, it clearly evokes the creators’ first survival horror game, Dead Space. However, the difference in combat and linearity make the similarities stick out even more.
In many ways, having mechanics from what many people consider a better game they would rather be playing is counterintuitive to the experience. These mechanics, while obviously influenced by Dead Space, only serves to highlight why The Callisto Protocol is disappointing fans by directly comparing itself to a better game.
“SHOOT THE TENTACLES”
The most blatant clue that yes, this game is inspired by Dead Space, is the room wherein a man wrote the message “Shoot the Tentacles” on the wall behind him with his own blood. It’s an obvious send-up to the iconic “CUT OFF THEIR LIMBS” room in Dead Space.
Many fans wish that the game had more diegetic information revealed like this. It was a fun little reference that puts fans in the mood to play what they thought was going to be the true next-gen Dead Space. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition as planned.
Dug Too Deep
Much like the Marker, the Biophage was uncovered when humans dug down a bit too far into the planet they were mining resources from. Their reward for uncovering this Lovecraftian horror beyond human comprehension was turning into fungus-infested mutants in constant agony.
There’s always a fascination with the idea that there are things out there that humans weren’t meant to discover. While Dead Space certainly wasn’t the first to ever use this concept, it’s clear how much the creators of The Callisto Protocol love the premise.
Literal Dead Space
Cosmic horror is an often underappreciated genre, and many fans were excited for The Callisto Protocol because there hadn’t really been a high-profile cosmic horror game since Alien: Isolation. Space is a new frontier, but many people forget that the frontier was a dangerous place.
The idea that something as massive as the universe itself is decaying, and the rot of something like the Biophage could threaten to end all existence, is terrifying. This is perfectly captured by The Callisto Protocol’s beautifully crafted environments that are signs of a bygone era of life.
A positive influence from Dead Space to The Callisto Protocol was the inclusion of a diegetic HUD. Everything from the health bar, ammo counter, and shops exists within the game’s universe. This is the sort of thing that video games ought to do more often, as it gives a great sense of immersion.
It’s also likely the biggest reason why players feel a similarity to Dead Space despite how different the actual gameplay is. Even just seeing an everyman in a roughed-up power suit with a health bar on their body evokes that familiar feeling of being Isaac Clarke.
Of course, nobody can wander around space without a suit, and to its credit, The Callisto Protocol has a pretty amazing-looking suit. However, it clearly takes inspiration from Isaac Clarke’s Intermediate Engineer RIG. The suit has definitely seen some wear and tear in its day.
It does help showcase that even protection is ramshackle and desperate in this horrible space environment. Everything looks like it’s either broken or on the verge of breaking, giving a real sense of urgency and decay to the world.
It’s not Dead Space if there’s no body horror, and thankfully, The Callisto Protocol does deliver on this. The Biophage is a virus that wreaks havoc on the human body, leading to things that no human body should ever experience. The key difference here is that the Biophage actually affects living creatures as well.
In this regard, the Biophage is conceptually more terrifying, since at least with the Marker, it wouldn’t turn people into Necromorphs while they’re alive (usually). If the enemy designs had just a bit more variety, then perhaps the body horror on display could have reached its full terrifying potential.
A key mechanic that moves over from Dead Space to The Callisto Protocol is dismemberment. The Biophage breeds terrible monsters who won’t go down easily. Disabling them is the only real way to avoid damage, and this can be done by cutting off their limbs one by one. There’s also the old, reliable stomping on them until they relinquish their life and loot.
However, the Biophage is made of tougher stuff than Necromorphs, so it’s more important to focus on chopping off the legs first, because headshots and severing arms won’t stop them from sprinting full-tilt at the player to harm them. It does make for a gruesome visual to see a monster lay waste to Jacob without its head.
Stasis was one of the tools that Isaac Clarke used on the Ishimura to solve engineering puzzles as well as fight off enemies. Stasis’ other unique ability besides moving stuff around for puzzles was slowing down enemies for easy pickings. In The Callisto Protocol, the player once again has a kinesis module.
However, this is different. While Grip doesn’t slow enemies down, it does have the advantage of being able to pull full-sized living enemies and throw them against the walls, spikes, or even other enemies. It may not be as nuanced as Stasis, but it’s certainly a lot of fun in its own way.
An Ancient Conspiracy
It’s cliché, but it’s a continuous truth that more often than not, humans are responsible for the worst tragedies to happen to humanity. Nature has no thought or motivation, it only exists as it does. It is once again humans who brought nature’s wrath unwillingly to the presence of innocents.
Much like how the government was using the Marker on the Ishimura as an experiment, the Biophage was unleashed on Black Iron Prison to further “human evolution”. As usual, this secret cult played with fire, and they all got burnt for it. At least, they hope to be burnt to end their agony.
The Jumpscare Ending
The Callisto Protocol isn’t quite as oppressively bleak as Dead Space was, but it did try to evoke those same feelings through its story and environments. While heavily actionized, the game does go out of its way to remind the player of the fact that it’s survival horror.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough, and this is why the game felt like such a slog for many players. Still, the game ended with yet another blatant reference to Dead Space by having the hero seemingly escape their situation, only to be attacked by an infected character and cut to black. The effectiveness of the scare just isn’t as impactful as Dead Space, and now fans hope the remake brings them the survival horror they truly wanted.