Seven weeks after its disastrous release, sci-fi shocker The Callisto Protocol has New Game Plus and runs much more smoothly. At least, as far as the technology is concerned …
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” This rule of thumb has been true in science fiction since the late seventies and although Glen Schofield, creator of the original Dead Space, takes us into those same infinite spaces in The Callisto Protocol, the lamentations of the original buying public were heard all too clearly.
Due to a lack of optimisation and problems with shader compilation, the bloodthirsty graphics and horror spectacle mutated into a single orgy of jerks that nipped any fun in the bud for many hopeful fans. As a result, the Steam ratings plummeted and we also devalued the game by a whopping ten points.
Seven weeks and four patches later, the tide seems to be gradually turning and the brand-new “New Game Plus” mode wants to encourage even long-suffering veterans to play again. Reason enough for us to don the prisoner”s garb once again in time for the release of the Dead Space remake. Whether The Callisto Protocol has improved not only the technical, but also the playful quirks, you can find out in the post-test at GlobalESportNews
The dead moon has us again
The gripping introduction skillfully sucks us into the dystopian scenario even on the second try. The striking voice and facial expressions of the sadistic warden Ferris are still cinematically staged and motivate us to let our protagonist Jacob Lee escape as quickly as possible from the hell of the Black-Iron prison on the icy Jupiter moon Callisto.
In order to benefit from the advantages of the New Game Plus mode, however, we first had to re-trigger the credits with our old score. Afterwards, New Game Plus could be selected directly from the main menu, and we could take all weapons, upgrades and credits with us.
In order to keep the prologue from being completely absurd, Jacob only gets his things back when he has rediscovered the electric truncheon, gravity bracers and the first upgrade station in the course of the story. At the latter, the hero also receives his other weapons such as an assault rifle or an explosive shotgun.
From then on, even on the hardest difficulty, you”ll have some luxury. If you skilfully exploit your technological advantage over the only tentatively increasing variety of enemies, your opponents will only look stupid. During our seven-hour playthrough, we even refrained from using the healing syringes for fun.
This only slightly detracts from the atmosphere, because mistakes are still rewarded with horrible death animations. On the other hand, we hoped in vain for a secret ending.
The finale of NG+ offers us the same (gentle) cliffhanger that was originally supposed to get us in the mood for the story DLC planned for summer 2023. As a consolation, we can at least smile about the name of the corresponding achievement: “Parole denied”.
The frustration factor: now with extenuating circumstances
The fights against several mutants at the same time as well as the boss fights (recycled four times) also caused painful contortions so far – both are now all-clear. The camera angle is now a little wider and enemies hardly ever hit us in the back due to the lack of counterattack options. Instead, they attack and push us, which causes far less damage.
In addition, the formerly absolutely deadly hits of the two-headed boss monster have been defused in the two lower difficulty levels. In easy mode you can now withstand three hits, in medium mode two. All reload, weapon change and healing animations have also been sped up.
However, these mechanical improvements are still countered by glaring design weaknesses. We still squeeze through countless narrow corridors and shafts to conceal loading times and stretches of game time.
The sad climax is the final battle, in which we are forced to follow a fighting pattern that lacks any logical basis. The first of two phases can only be completed in close combat, because then four to five series of blows are enough to advance.
If instead we shoot 90 (!) rounds of explosive shot into the opponent”s face, which lifts most opponents in the game out of their shoes with a single activation of the alternative fire mode, they don”t give a damn. Even 120 rounds of assault rifle ammo later, he”s still charging at us.
Whoever then rings in the final phase completely empty-handed with the truncheon can actually load the penultimate checkpoint right away, because that again cannot be won in close combat. Playful freedom looks different.
The technique: still with special gravity of guilt?
The Callisto Protocol looks fantastic, there is no doubt about that. The grandiose play with light and shadow as well as the crisp textures are a feast for the eyes, but despite all attempts at optimisation, they eat even high-end hardware for breakfast.
The options menu offers many settings and AMD”s FSR upscaler also promises minor relief, but those who are only prepared to make a few visual compromises should be prepared to play at half the desired frame rate.
After all, the annoying jerks are gone, which always occurred when an object or effect appeared for the first time and its shaders had to be compiled first. The game now takes care of this in one big step (i.e. loading bar) at the very first start of the game – a good thing! During zone transitions, however, the FPS still bends a little.
While the ray tracing reflections brought even the oversized RTX 4090 to its knees at release, they are now halfway usable at 60-90 FPS on such expensive hardware. If you had to activate FSR for their use, which comes with a slight blurring, you might as well not bother with them, because the differences are very small anyway, given the low-reflection environments.
The bottom line is that The Callisto Protocol can now be enjoyed without any problems on reasonably up-to-date hardware. Since high requirements alone are not a reason for devaluation (Crysis sends its regards), we cancel the original deduction of ten points. The minus point for the sloppy localisation remains.
Although just seven weeks have passed, I also enjoyed my second prison break. The beautifully dim lighting and pith-piercing sound design beguile my senses with their terrifying urgency. The catchy combat system also wears thin for me.
But even in NG+ I grudgingly stumble over design quirks. Although I can use ammunition more freely and unlock all the remaining weapons, the cat bites itself in the tail: now enemies also drop the ammunition for the rather uninteresting shooting irons and, in turn, give me fewer cartridges for my actual favourites.
This eternal crunch between breathtaking atmosphere and questionable design decisions is the great tragedy of The Callisto Protocol and illustrates the enormous potential that has been wasted here. Those who are aware of the weaknesses, however, can travel to Jupiter”s moon with an alert eye and enjoy the brutal horror-shocker for what it is: a horror show that is as imperfect as it is intense.