Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Callisto Protocol DLC Review The Final Transmission Fails to Improve on a Flawed Base Game

In Thomas Wilde’s review of the Callisto Protocol last December, he wrote that the game could have used more time in development to reach the full potential of what developer Striking Distance was going for. In the last seven months, the game has received patches fixing bugs and adding new game modes, including New Game+ and a combat-focused Riot Mode, culminating with its last piece of content, a story DLC called “The Final Transmission.”

Unfortunately, even with the extra time, the core problems of the base game still plague this expansion, highlighting the fundamental flaws in the game’s design. “The Final Transmission” takes place after the events of the main game, following Jacob (Josh Duhamel), under the orders of Dr. Caitlyn Mahler (Louise Barnes), in his efforts to escape Black Iron Prison with data about the nefarious experiments taking place. Aside from the additional story content, the game adds a new weapon and enemy type. The Biobot enemies are a neat idea, combining the big robot guards with the mutated Biophages, which is important to the narrative of the DLC. The added Kinetic Hammer weapon gives you an additional area of effect attack that can damage crowds while also granting you the extra oomph you need to take out the Biobots.

Callisto Protocol DLC Jacob

Despite these additions, combat feels similar to the base game, which to me, was very flawed. The core mechanic of alternating holding left and right to dodge attacks remains uncompelling, especially since so much is out of your hands and mostly handled by the game’s autotargeting. The melee, while viscerally satisfying to watch due to some very chunky animation, never feels like it has the nuance to be the focal point of the combat. The enemy variety isn’t robust enough to make the encounter design interesting, just throwing larger numbers at you in ways that don’t feel like you can mitigate cleverly.

The area of effect attack from the Kinetic Hammer does seem to work towards alleviating that concern, but the charge-up for it felt like it made it useless when you’re at your most overwhelmed. An instant slam with a cooldown would probably have made it a lot more tactically interesting, making you think carefully about when you want to use it. Guns in the game are entirely unchanged, which is to say there are too many to justify, given the game’s emphasis on melee. I would much rather have them work like Bloodborne’s guns, where they are something to stagger an enemy or break its attack animation in a pinch, instead of just a mechanical carryover from the game’s Dead Space roots.

Jacob heads into fire

Much like the encounter design, the level design in “The Final Transmission” doesn’t have any new tricks up its sleeve. It’s primarily hallways that lead you to the next encounter arena mixed in with some bland mazes that got me turned around frequently. There were lots of dead ends that had resources in them, but usually, it was just ammo or batteries to recharge your telekinesis, so it was rarely anything that felt worthwhile. At times I could only tell that I was going down the right branch of a maze by seeing the autosave symbol appear in the corner, which isn’t the greatest sign for a feeling of meaningful progression.

Jacob now experiences hallucinations as you explore the new areas of Black Iron Prison. Still, to me, he’s never really had enough depth as a character to have these be emotionally impactful. There are some cool moments where it plays with the geography of the space, looping things back on you, but it never really feels like it goes anywhere with the concept. On the Resident Evil to Silent Hill spectrum of horror styles, The Callisto Protocol always felt way more Resident Evil to me, so they feel out of place here, perhaps again, another attempt to add something from the Dead Space series.

Bloody scene in The Final Transmission

The hallucinations are explained through the narrative, which, once again, isn’t that much to write home about. The actual actions of the game are a lot of unlocking doors with fuses to progress, and the lore you discover that sheds light on what’s going on at Black Iron never really goes beyond early Resident Evil-levels of ‘bad people doing experiments with viruses.’ I wish the game had used the prison planet setting to say something clever or exciting, fully integrating it into its theming, like the PlayStation 2 game The Suffering, rather than just using it as a grimy and bleak backdrop for the action. The two to three-hour narrative definitely wraps things up for the story of The Callisto Protocol while also having one of the most bizarre post-credits sequences I’ve ever seen in a game. Still, it doesn’t leave me in a place where I’m dying to return to that universe.

One thing “The Final Transmission” does is maintain the base game’s high visual quality. While most areas are still bland stone or metal hallways that are occasionally covered in gross-looking goo, every once in a while, I’d come across an image that would immediately make me jump into photo mode. The game’s stellar lighting allowed me to frame some truly great screenshots. It’s some of the highest visual polish I’ve seen in a game and shines as the game’s strongest element. That said, even when it’s at its best, it’s still borrowing from better series like Aliens or Dead Space without adding much personality of its own.

Gore in The Final Transmission

Despite all my complaints about The Callisto Protocol, there’s still something there that made me want to give the DLC a shot. There’s a certain late-night movie appeal to the simplicity of its setup and the crunchy and brutal nature of its combat that is satisfying when you’re in the right mindset. I just wish it was a game that took some risk to establish a stronger identity rather than just trying to be a more cinematic and modern version of Dead Space. I wish I could say “The Final Transmission” was the strongest part of the game that improved on the flaws, but it’s more of the same. I’m very curious to see what’s next for Striking Distance, as they clearly have a talented group of people there who can visually realize a world in striking (no pun intended) detail. Hopefully, they can move out of the shadow of Dead Space and find a way to forge their own path into something unique.

The Final Transmission DLC code was provided by the publisher. The Callisto Protocol is out now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC via Steam.

The post ‘The Callisto Protocol’ DLC Review – “The Final Transmission” Fails to Improve on a Flawed Base Game appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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