What makes for a good horror title? More than a smattering of jump scares, critically acclaimed titles are often smooth assemblages of grotesque imagery, chill-inducing sound design, and foreboding background storytelling. By themselves, these elements can create an amazing film or series. However, a horror game needs so much more to be effectively scary.
Today, a lot of games rely on a bag of tricks — sparse resources, brutishly overpowered enemies, emphasis on sneaking — to keep players on their toes throughout the entire playthrough. Branching from a long tradition of similar games, The Callisto Protocol is the latest title to take on the genre. Can it leverage horrifying storytelling with tense gameplay?
Back to sci-fi basics
The sci-fi horror genre needs no introduction. Over the years, it has spawned several notable titles like Alien: Isolation, Prey, and Dead Space. Besides waving the flag of the genre, The Callisto Protocol also comes from Glen Schofield, the co-creator of the Dead Space series. With that distinction, the title should be primed for success. Or so one thinks.
As the name implies, the title takes players to the frozen climes of Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. Jacob Lee, played by Josh Duhamel, finds himself trapped inside Callisto’s Black Iron Prison. Coincidentally, both inmates and guards alike are getting infected by an unknown virus, turning them into mutating zombies. Like other survival horror games, the title features dark hallways and a limited array of resources to fight monsters.
A feast of viscera
Given its creator, The Callisto Protocol successfully recreates the dark and ominous atmosphere of its spiritual predecessor. The game is as creepy as its gory. Claustrophobic, unlit hallways open into veritable museums of the human anatomy in various states of disfigurement. Entrails splayed out, entire torsos chopped off, naked bodies dangling on alien cobwebs. Even if you’re already used to the gore of the horror genre, there’s something in Callisto that can still inspire awe and disgust.
The same goes for the game’s limited-but-adequately-spaced out enemy design. Though most of the monsters you’ll face in Callisto are humanoid, there are a few enemies that escape comprehension including a human body contorted into a spidery crawler and another squeezed into a snake-like form. The game can always use more enemy types; however, it adequately spaces out special monster types, ensuring that the limited number we see keep their scare factor.
The Callisto Protocol deserves praise for its excellent environmental storytelling. However, a game needs more than just an environment. It also needs a complementarily scary gameplay system. Unfortunately, the title does little to deliver.
Though the game takes scarcity of resources to heart, The Callisto Protocol’s combat system is clunky. Instead of two dedicated buttons to dodge and block, the game asks players to use the left thumbstick, the same one you use for movement. Players have to accurately predict which side an enemy is attacking from and counter with the opposite direction on the thumbstick. Otherwise, players can block attacks by holding down on the stick. It’s certainly a chore to get used to, especially when most games these days use either the X or the O button to dodge.
Once you do get dodging down to a rhythm, the game doesn’t offer much variation for attacking. There are light and strong attacks, but it’s ultimately a spam of the right trigger then an occasional burst of gunfire. There are a variety of guns available, but a lot of the latter enemies are bullet sponges so it doesn’t matter much.
It also doesn’t help that the targeting system freaks out in scenarios with more than one monster. Most of the time, a strike just fails to land or mistakenly lands on an entirely different target, often leading to the player getting hit instead.
The game’s horror finds itself tied so much into the foreignness of its gameplay and the controls. As such, the fear factor quickly dissipates after mastering the system. A couple of hours into the game, the monsters stopped being scary. Whenever the game told me to sneak past enemies, I still got into fights intentionally just to quicken the pace. Fighting just became an inconvenience, rather than a death sentence.
A problem of pacing
In between fighting, players traipse through dark hallways and cramped vents. The game also offers divergent paths, adding a bit of choice as to where players explore first. In moderation, these elements can help build tension and reward players for exploring beyond the main path. The Callisto Protocol’s take, however, is problematic.
Though framed as a way to increase tension, the game also uses empty hallways and vents as cleverly disguised loading screens. Jacob crawls through at a snail’s pace so the game can load the next area. While other games use this moment to build lore or continue the dialogue, a lot of Callisto’s loading screens offer nothing but silence or the same, reused set pieces of monsters running offscreen to parts unknown. One segment even had a vent, an empty room, and another vent follow each other — basically, three loading zones in quick succession. It’s just a tax on time.
The divergent paths aren’t as effective either. There are several times when exploring a hidden room ends up with nothing, a battle, a middling reward, or just an audio recording. It’s hardly rewarding enough to explore unbeaten paths.
Is The Callisto Protocol your GameMatch?
For what it’s worth, The Callisto Protocol is still a masterclass in depicting virtual gore. Schofield knows how to make space terrifying. If you’re looking for a quick fix to tide over a hunger for horror, this title might be for you.
Unfortunately, the title’s lackluster gameplay keeps The Callisto Protocol from hanging with other masterpieces in the genre. However, if it’s any consolation, the title still has a post-launch roadmap to follow including story-focused DLC. The game might be more worth its price tag once the DLC comes out.
Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of
Wait for a sale
It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.
First, the good
Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.
Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.
Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.
A communication issue
For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.
Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.
The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.
Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.
Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies
Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.
Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.
Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.
On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.
A lack of optimization
For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.
Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).
The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.
Better on sale
Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.
Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.
The free PlayStation Plus Collection is going away
Iconic titles will no longer be available
Gaming subscriptions have brought a wave of notable titles to gamers on several platforms. However, as streaming platforms have shown as of late, subscription-locked content can disappear in an instant. In a surprise move, Sony is putting an end to its iconic PlayStation Plus Collection.
Back in 2020, Sony’s subscription service added the PlayStation Plus Collection, an easy way to play all of the most iconic titles of the past era. By paying for the monthly fee, players can access titles such as God of War and Bloodborne.
Surprisingly, Sony has announced that PlayStation Plus will no longer offer the PlayStation Plus Collection starting on May 9. Before then, subscribers can avail themselves of the titles and keep them in their libraries. Players who do so before May will keep their access to them as long as they are a subscriber.
After May 9, the subscription service will no longer offer these titles for free. Players have to buy them individually.
The cancellation is a monumental change for the subscription service. The current games catalog already features a revolving series of titles changing monthly. The Collection, which has featured the platform’s bestsellers over the years, was thought to be untouchable. It already made the price of admission worth it. That’s no longer the case.
The Collection, as it is now, includes: Batman: Arkham Knight, Battlefield 1, Bloodborne, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy, Days Gone, Detroit: Become Human, Fallout 4, Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition, God of War, Infamous: Second Son, Monster Hunter: World, Mortal Kombat X, Persona 5, Ratchet & Clank, Resident Evil VII, The Last Guardian, The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Until Dawn.
Sony, Xbox, Nintendo are skipping E3 2023
Might hold their own events
E3 used to be one of the most anticipated showcases for the gaming community. However, since the pandemic, the event’s impact gradually shrank especially because of in-person cancellations. Now, despite the return of in-person events, E3 still has a massive uphill climb to bounce back from the past. This year, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have officially pulled out from the event.
For the first time in four years, E3 is holding an in-person event at the Los Angeles Convention Center this June. Unfortunately, according to IGN, three of the biggest companies to grace the show floor will not make an appearance for the event this year.
In an interview with the source, Microsoft says that Xbox will still hold a showcase around the same time. However, the company will likely skip the floor itself and hold its event concurrently in another location.
IGN also reports that Sony and Nintendo will follow in Microsoft’s footsteps and skip E3 this year. Nintendo usually holds its own Direct events online. Holding its own outside of an in-person event is just what you’d expect for the Switch’s growing library of games.
Sony, on the other hand, has not shared any official plans during June’s showcase yet. If anything, the PlayStation 5 is in for an optimistic year, given the console’s upcoming games. An exclusive event sounds possible, too.
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