The Callisto Protocol Is A Much Better Game On Easy Mode
The Callisto Protocol has had a rocky start. It doesn’t spend nearly enough time establishing the world protagonist Jacob Lee exists in, nor the burden on his shoulders that draws him to this Dead Moon in the first place. Everything feels a bit rushed, and before I know it I’m in a cell and waking up to a facility falling to pieces. Monsters are everywhere, some cockney dude is asking me to help him out, and the second enemy in the entire game keeps killing me in one hit. Yep, this is a Dead Space clone, but one that misunderstands what made it so special.
You aren’t given a health kit nor told how to heal until making it through this initial gauntlet, so if you’re low on health against the second enemy, good fucking luck killing him. I might suck at dodging or have straight up misread the text-heavy tutorials, but I dusted myself off at least a dozen times before I resorted to turning the difficulty down to wipe out this infected asshole once and for all. It was still a decent challenge, but I was no longer locked into an overlong death animation the second I took a hit. This pacing is bad game design, an intro that required a second, third, or fourth pass to see that some players would struggle.
Yes I’ll admit I’m a games journalist, and thus I was born with a genetic inability to play video games without sucking giant ass at them, so turning down the difficulty on Callisto was more or less inevitable. But what I didn’t expect was for it to be far more enjoyable once the quirks of its unforgiving combat were ironed out. Suddenly I had a fighting chance, wasn’t taking too much damage, and wasn’t seeing the same animations over and over and over because I couldn’t handle a room containing more than three enemies. All of a sudden I could survive, and there was still plenty of horror leftover to spook me. If you’ve been running into similar frustrations with this game, turn the difficulty down, and it becomes a decent rollercoaster ride. It still rips liberally from Dead Space and falls short of its grace, but it’s not all bad.
Striking Distance had a very clear vision for The Callisto Protocol, and that dedication to a legacy Glen Schofield helped establish is arguably its biggest shortcoming. It’s often overly slow, pondering, and obsessed with having us walk through dark environments and punish us whenever we fail to fight off an enemy with its clumsy combat system. The sucky thing is, once I catered the experience to be more forgiving I started actually enjoying it. Encounters still proved tense and satisfying as I fought for my life, while I knew the frustration that comes with death would only rear its head if I really messed up.
When I did, it was a rare sight, so I had confidence to try again and see it through. Repeated deaths through no fault of my own meant I wanted to ditch the whole thing and play something else, but now I’m having a blast and want to keep going. Sure it’s generic and uninspired, but Karen Fukuhara is there and I’m an absolute simp, so the maths works out.
Dead Space was as hard as you wanted it to be thanks to the skill-based implementation of dismemberment. A plasma cutter in hand turned each foe into a gruesome puzzle, each limb a piece you needed to tear away in order to leave them lifeless on the floor. Callisto doesn’t have that hook – at least not yet – and a heavy focus on melee combat based on constant dodging means it falls apart the moment you get overwhelmed because the majority of environments aren’t catered to it.
I’m now aware of the stun baton and pistol combo that allows each encounter to become a constant string of attacks, but before that I was completely screwed, and the game wasn’t at all interested in addressing its own unforgiving nature. For games as a whole, especially this genre, playing on an easier difficulty or relying on assists can be seen as an act of cowardice, or an idea that you aren’t playing it properly and thus aren’t worth its time.
As someone who’s been having serious trouble playing anything lately without falling off it, I’ll take a breezy survival horror experience where I don’t need to worry about hitting a wall every ten minutes over one that is harsh without justification. Play Callisto on easy, it’s a lot more fun.
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