Thoughts on The Callisto Protocol

So I got this game from a sale the other day only knowing that it was a child safety thing, uhm, sci-fi horror game. On starting it I was greeted with a 70 minutes download screen. Great. What was I thinking, expecting I could just purchase a game, put it into my PlayStation, and actually play it right off the bat? Anyways. A little more than an hour later I had to agree to a privacy policy before I could actually play. Now I sure wonder what good having my data collected will do me in playing a game. At least playing The Callisto Protocol does not require players to set up an account with its publisher's service. That is the point where I just shelve games if I can not return them.

Next the game tried to get me into purchasing its DLC. Is there a good reason the main menu's first option is to open the PlayStation store? Is there a good reason the game hides the interface graphics of the menu so that unsuspecting users would find themselves involuntarily in the PlayStation store upon pressing X on an empty screen? I also really liked how the game's splash screen before starting advertized one of its DLCs as the final chapter of its story. How ignorant of me to assume I would get a full game for the price I paid at the store. Never mind that the back of the game's box does not allude to the paid DLC that is required to get the full game. At this point I was almost ready to throw my PlayStation 4 out of the window and play something on my PS2 instead.

Having extra low expectations at this point I gave the game a chance anyways. The Callisto Protocol starts off with space transporter Jacob Lee and his officer Max about to deliver cargo to one of Jupiter's moons, Callisto. Their spacecraft notifies them of a problem in the cargo hold that Jacob goes to check out. At which point I was given control of Jacob. It turned out that The Callisto Protocol is one of those movie-games that have gotten popular over the last decade. As far as I could find out so far the game is of the ultra-linear kind, with the protagonist always hooked up to somebody else wirelessly giving instructions to him (or to be more honest, the players controlling Jacob). Not like the instructions matter much when the game is almost entirely made of straightforward tunnels. But it is a device to develop the plot and making sure players always have a clear goal to aim for (so they don't stop playing in confusion).
The moment Jacob spots the source of the ship's signal he identifies a hull breach and potential terrorist attack. He decides to quickly make his way back to the bridge, Max urging him on. I did as told, turned around and wondered if there was not a run button in this game. Watching Jacob casually stroll back to the bridge in this situation felt really off. To my surprise nothing much happened when I made it back there. I expected a cutscene to trigger, but instead Max urged Jacob to move on already. What? I had to ask myself in confusion, wondering what was going wrong with the game. However it merely turned out I was expected to further advance into the cargo hold. But the game told me to go back to the bridge. I checked my gameplay recording to be sure I had not missed anything. The game just did not expect the player to think on their own and assumed I would just keep pressing forward to advance the movie plot. How am I supposed to feel about this? Sad that this is what videogames have become? The answer is probably that I never should have purchased this "game" in the first place. Oh well.

A little later Jacob finds himself locked up in one of Callisto's prison facilities (in the game's world it is a prison moon) where he ends up having to fight his way to freedom past monsters (that are just mutated humans, never seen that before). The combat plays frighteningly similar to that of Silent Hill Homecoming: every fight feels like a minigame. Tilt the stick left or right to dodge, tilt it backwards to block. Repeatedly press R2 to unleash a combo of swings on the enemy. Monsters are not scary or frightening. You get to see every detail of them in their full HD glory (horror rule number 1: never reveal too much of the monsters' visuals, because you can not make up for the horrors people make up in their minds when given insufficient information and the right atmosphere). Jacob swings his weapons with such enthusiasm I never had to worry that I might be too weak to take on an enemy. He may be fighting against Hulk's siblings, but he himself fights like the Hulk himself. There have been a couple of stealth sequences in the first chapter, but those pretty much played themselves with those security bots never directly crossing paths with where the player is meant to go. Maybe the game will make better use of its stealth mechanics later on. But I have little hopes given the overall feel of playing through a movie that encompanies The Callisto Protocol. I can not yet comment on the ranged combat because that was not introduced in the parts I played as of writing this.

On the bright side there is potential for the game to develop a better than decent horror atmosphere later on (the first chapter just has a bit too much action going on with alarm sounds going off in the background). The sci-fi setting and its visuals are spot on, the sound design seems to be strong and the game's story has at least been interesting so far. My gut feeling is that The Callisto Protocol will be a disappointment throughout and never not feel like a playable movie. But I am willing to give it a chance to prove me wrong still. There have been hints that there could be more to this game. Should that be the case I will likely keep playing it and might follow up with a review of it in its entirety. But so far The Callisto Protocol has managed to put everthing I dislike about modern gaming into its first hour of gameplay (which is why I had to rant about it in the first place). And as far as the horror genre goes it has so far played like walking through a theme park's haunted house attraction, with silly jump scares happening around the path the player walks on. Hopefully this is not the full extend of what The Callisto Protocol has to offer in the long run.