Full disclosure: I'm not someone who believes video games are better now than they've ever been. I miss the good old days, when a game's worth wasn't measured by how long it was or how much 'content' it was stuffed with, but by the overall experience it provided.
Personally, I'll take a lean 8-hour experience over a 30-hour bloatfest any day of the week. In fact, every time a new AAA title comes along which boasts a vast open world and an endless list of tasks to accomplish, I die a little bit on the inside.
So when a game like The Callisto Protocol comes around, I sit up and pay attention. It's a title that positioned itself as a spiritual successor to the Dead Space franchise... but which has now copped quite a bit of flak for arguably achieving what it set out to do.
Is it linear? Sure. Is its gameplay loop somewhat limited? You bet. Does it feel like a game from a bygone era? Hell yes — and that's the best thing about it.
Is The Callisto Protocol a perfect game? No, but I also don't think it set out to be anything other than a straightforward single-player throwback. So, in defense of The Callisto Protocol, a game I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish, I will offer my unsolicited take on some of the complaints raised against it.
Complaint 1: It feels like a PS3 / X360 game
Some online commentators have noted that The Callisto Protocol feels like a game from the Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 era, and while this sentiment is surely intended as a criticism, I see it as quite the opposite.
As you undoubtedly know, the beloved Dead Space trilogy was released during this era, and although a remake of the first game is due to arrive early in 2023, it too will likely feel a little old-fashioned despite a number of gameplay improvements.
But that's totally okay! As someone who's had his fill of large, open-world action games with endless customization options and exhaustive loot-grinding, I genuinely relish the opportunity to play an uncomplicated throwback to a simpler time.
Complaint 2: The game is too difficult
With some reviewers rage-quitting The Callisto Protocol over its supposed difficulty, I'm left wondering why people still think that dropping down to an easier setting will somehow make a horror game less scary.
In fact, I would argue that a game being hard actively diminishes its scare factor. Let's be real: horror games aren't scary because you fear dying — that means nothing when you can simply hit restart and try again. Unless you're dealing in permadeath, raising the difficulty will only lead to you dying more often, and the more you have to replay something, the less frightening it becomes.
In truth, horror games are scary because of the atmosphere they achieve, and The Callisto Protocol has that in spades. So I ask you, wouldn't it be more enjoyable to play at an easier setting and make your way through the story without dying over and over again? I heard the complaints ahead of time and chose to play on easy mode, and found the game was still quite challenging and tense, only without the needless frustration.
Complaint 3: The combat is frustrating, repetitive
Many have complained that The Callisto Protocol's combat is frustrating, and this really feels like a carryover from the complaint about the game's difficulty.
It's been said that Callisto's focus on melee combat falls short when you're surrounded by enemies, but I rarely found that to be the case while playing on Easy mode. The odds between my character and the game's enemies always felt quite balanced, and while I died on several occasions, I never felt cheated by the game — it always felt like my own fault.
Likewise, many believe that the game's Punch-Out and Infinity Blade-inspired dodge mechanic is too unforgiving, but I never found that to be the case. Granted, it helps to play on an easier setting, in that you can withstand a few more licks, giving you more of an opportunity to pick the right side to dodge.
As for the repetitive nature of The Callisto Protocol's combat, I'd have to agree. A distinct lack of variety in enemies is the culprit here, and while I never really tired of game's melee combat system, a few more enemy types with different weaknesses would've gone long way in terms of keeping things fresh.
Complaint 4: The game is too linear
Maybe people have their rose-colored spectacles on with regards to the original Dead Space, but that game was quite linear, especially in the way that every level ended with you arriving at a tram station and taking the monorail to the next area.
So when The Callisto Protocol is taken to task for being similarly linear, it almost feels like people are just looking for things to dislike about the game. I know some gamers would prefer a Breath of the Wild-style horror adventure filled with endless possibilities, but The Callisto Protocol is an entirely different beast. This is a heavily directed horror experience — one that employs Hollywood-level actors and production values in order to feel like a playable movie, and it absolutely does achieve that.
Also, the claim that The Callisto Protocol is so linear that it makes exploration ultimately worthless is a gross exaggeration. While it's true that you won't get lost in this game looking for (actually worthless) collectibles, there are still plenty of gun schematics, supplies and even alternate paths which can be missed if you don't explore your surroundings.
Complaint 5: The game has no replay value
This may shock you, but not everyone counts replayability as a major concern when buying a video game. When I purchase a book, I rarely do so with the intention of reading it more than once.
Replayability may have factored into my game purchases as a child, when I was lucky enough to get a few new games per year, but as an adult who now buys a few new games per month, the importance of one specific game keeping me entertained indefinitely is pretty low on my list of priorities.
I never replayed the original Dead Space trilogy either, and yet I still look back on those games fondly like many other single-player titles from my younger days, such as Condemned: Criminal Origins and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
Sure, there are exceptions to this rule — many of today's most popular games (like Destiny 2, Call of Duty, Madden and Grand Theft Auto Online) are obviously designed with longevity in mind. However, when it comes to single-player games, I'm happy to move on once the story has reached its conclusion. In fact, shorter games can feel like a blessing when you have a huge pile of shame to get through.
Conclusion: Give The Callisto Protocol a chance
I'm not going to pretend that The Callisto Protocol is some kind of masterpiece that's going to please everyone. However, I do believe there's a specific audience for the game that will be more than willing to embrace it for what it is — an atmospheric space horror with a B-grade story and AAA production values. And if you have to wait for its price to come down a bit before giving it a try, then so be it.
I also believe that we, as gamers, need to let go of the idea that all AAA games need to fit the same mould. With nearly every blockbuster title these days embracing open-world design and building gameplay around live-service aspirations, it's important to allow developers and publishers the space to do things that buck the trend — or else we'll all be the poorer for it.