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The Callisto Protocol | Monster-carrier-very gory

Dec 10 - 10:39, by adaur

The Callisto Protocol | Monster-carrier-very gory 14 years after revolutionizing - let's not mince words - survival horror with Dead Space, 14 years after seducing gamers and critics alike, 14 years after delivering to video games his "Alien" before Alien: Isolation, can Glen Schofield, the legendary creator, repeat the miracle? Can he once again take horror gaming to the next level? Can he once again reach for the stars? And can...

No. The answer is no. In fact, it seems that there was a quid pro quo around Glen Schofield. It's true, the man directed Dead Space, thanks to him - he worked on Barbie: Game Girl too, and nobody ever talks about it - but he has also, since then, co-directed and produced three episodes of Call of Duty. The Callisto Protocol, if it unabashedly draws from Dead Space's heritage for its scenario, its settings and its monstrosities, rather leans towards Activision's franchise when it comes to articulating its gameplay: long corridors punctuated by fights and scripted scenes, with no big surprises and no dead time.

Why not, after all, shake up a well-known formula by removing what could, eventually, be considered as fat, and keep only the essential. Puzzles and riddles? Nobody likes puzzles and riddles. Managing your inventory? What's the point, you already spend your whole life working. A map to get lost in and go back to? You might as well go to Ikea. The problem is that all these elements, constitutive of survival horror, were there for a reason. Removing them is fine, but maybe they should have been replaced by something else?

The cliché of fear. A script, for example. It would have been nice, since it's only going to follow a big interactive movie, to have a writing that holds up. If the framework itself is not necessarily more shameful than what is done in the genre - bearded-brown lost in a space prison, space prison infected by a virus that turns everyone into a zombie, secret experiments carried out by powerful people -, the writing, on the other hand, only piles up the worst clichés: bearded-brown who exclaims every three steps, as soon as he hears a noise "what was that? "or who declaims, in an emotional voice while shaking hands with a dying ally, "see you on the other side, buddy".

A bit like a Uwe Boll film where the lighting designer would have done an extraordinary job.
At least, and this is to its credit, The Callisto Protocol does not overdo it. The cutscenes are rare and short, if not very striking, the dialogues are kept to a minimum and the game doesn't bother with exposition to explain the ins and outs that brought Beardy-Brown and five characters - his buddy from the beginning, his buddy after, a chick, a bad guy and the warden - to the middle of this prison. In its ambition to put the player on the tracks of a ghost train, The Callisto Protocol keeps its pace over its dozen hours. For the thrills, though...

In gore and in gore.
Even if they are rarely the most striking element of a game, puzzles and riddles have a reason to exist in survival horror: to place the player in a false sense of security, to lower his guard in order to pick him up when he least expects it. The same goes for the often tortuous maps, which force the player to come back and get lost in an area left empty and which, at the worst moment, is not empty at all. By removing the main mechanics of the horror game, from Resident Evil to Dead Space, Glen Schofield manages to make a game which, of course, spares itself some of the redundancies of the genre, but which never manages to surprise either, nor to create the slightest sensation of unease.

There are only two weapons left for The Callisto Protocol to move its little train towards horror: a lively direction supported by a beautiful art direction and an overload of gore. Living, in Callisto, is less funny than dying and watching Jacob, our bearded brunette, get his arms, legs, eyes, face or head ripped off in scenes that, by their visual and sound excess, are the only place where the game allows itself to be a little crazy and have ideas. It's a pity, by the way, to have such an inventive sound design in a game that rarely is, a bit like a Uwe Boll movie where the lighting designer would have done an extraordinary job.

Technical horror
If The Callisto Protocol, by its writing, its scenario or its atmosphere, doesn't really manage to give you chills, the same cannot be said for its technique on PC. Brilliant and terrifying: a game that constantly freezes and slows down to 5 fps during some fights, making each joust a bit more random. I was also petrified by the camera that does whatever it wants and constantly moves back to the wrong place, to make sure you shoot next to your target in a difficult moment. Among the very good ideas too: a lip sync that starts a few seconds too late, causing a gap between the sound and the image that reminds us, in its intention, of David Lynch. Especially when the protagonist, without any reason, suddenly starts speaking English or German in the middle of the VF. These are small details, but it was necessary to think of them.

The dirty air of fear. This staging, on which the whole title is based, shines around the main mechanics: the fights. Here too, Glen Schofield's studio wanted to shake up the formula, by organizing all the encounters around hand-to-hand combat. With a press on a stick, Bearded Brown dodges, and with another, he throws big blows with a bar, helped, here too, by an amazing and successful sound design (the baton makes "shtong" instead of "zbam", and it's of the most beautiful effect).

Even the firearms are designed to fit the hand-to-hand combat: the most efficient way to use them is to shoot after a series of bar shots, which unlocks a vulnerability. It's a pity, on the one hand, that this beautiful setting, brutal as it should be, is plagued by huge camera problems (see box) and, on the other hand, that the concept ends up going round in circles towards the end of the adventure, where the stunted infiltration phases no longer manage to hide the corridor-monster-bar-shot-shot-corridor structure.

The stupid legacy. It's hard, when playing The Callisto Protocol, not to think of Dead Space, even though it would like us to forget it. But everything in Schofield's new game is made to remind us of its former glory: the absence of an extradiabetic HUD, the spatial setting, the monsters that look a lot like those of the older game, or even the name of the main character, who is called Jacob here, while the one in Dead Space was called Isaac.

According to the Bible for Dummies, Jacob is the son of Isaac. Benjamin of his family, he buys back his birthright from his brother for a bowl of lentils. Did Glen Schofield want to make a parallel, by affirming, with The Callisto Protocol, that he was indeed the heir of the franchise he created? But Dead Space itself, although it was very action-oriented, was only an heir, which borrowed from a very codified genre some mechanics that it transposed to another environment. By trying too hard to scuttle this heritage, The Callisto Protocol doesn't rely on much else than its realization and transforms its ghost train into a rollercoaster whose loops squeak a little too often.

My opinion? For his great return to space horror, Glen Schofield, the creator of Dead Space, forgot the heritage on which his great game was based. By wanting to remove everything, despite a beautiful realization and a great sound design, he dropped the horror to keep only the gore, the action, and many technical problems. And you, what do you think about it?

Genre: Action, Horror
Developer: Striking Distance (USA)
Publisher: Krafton
Available Platforms: Windows, PS4/5, XboxOne/Series
Test platform : Windows
Download : 70 GB
Languages : French, English with French subtitles
Price : 60 € for the game

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