The Callisto Protocol’s Final Boss Is A Case Study In Bad Game Design

The Callisto Protocol was pretty good until the final act. Granted I was playing on the easiest difficulty, so managed to avoid a lot of the frustrations that plagued more seasoned gamers, but otherwise it was a cliched yet effective rollercoaster ride of a sci-fi adventure. None of it was remarkable, but as a big fan of Dead Space, it mimicked its inspiration with just enough new ideas to keep me invested. That is, until it ran out of new ideas and jumped the shark.

Its third act, for lack of a better term, sucks. It is a mess of mandatory stealth section shanty towns and clumsy exposition with narrative stakes that come out of nowhere and fail to justify their own existence. Every single bad sci-fi horror cliche you can imagine is formed into a single uninspired mass, and nothing about it is redeemable. Josh Duhamel and Karen Fukuhara do their best with the material, but even the best actors in the world couldn’t bring this script to life with its lazy contrivances and petty attempt at conjuring stakes. It’s real bad.

It’s a shame, because the premise of a prison operating on the husk of a dying moon is a great one, and could have paved the way for an original plot, but instead it becomes clear that evil scientists found a deceased alien and used its blood to create a virus that will push our race forward, because that has never gone wrong in any piece of media ever. Even the religious angle used by Dead Space or Event Horizon is barely touched upon, only explained through scattered secret locations and badly implemented audio logs nobody will bother listening to. I could forgive these shortcomings if the third act didn’t fall apart so brilliantly, but it does just that.

Spoiler: They’re experimenting on the prisoners, and believe offering up the dregs of society will eventually benefit the upper class, because someone becoming a hulking alien monster with loads of veins and limbs is a good thing. I’ll never understand evil corporations in films and video games, none of them make any sense. These revelations are when it all starts to fall apart, with Callisto pushing you on a clumsy trail of set pieces before arriving at the final boss out of nowhere. Dani is infected, and a cure can only be constructed by finding the evil warden and stealing some of his alien juice to create a vaccine. Obviously, this goes tits up.

The final boss is a mutated version of a security guard who has appeared three times across the entire game, but for some reason is built up to be a worthwhile adversary who has been chasing you down the whole time. Either that isn’t true, or Callisto has done a terrible job of establishing this being the case. So, him being the big bad moments after a bunch of exposition not only comes out of nowhere, but it feels lazy and unjustified. Unfortunately it isn’t a battle against another human equal, but a badly designed alien beast with all the worst genre archetypes.

His face is covered up by a bullet sponge shield hiding his true weak spot, meaning ammo must be wasted in order to deal any real damage at all, while his attacks are so difficult to predict, often coming out of nowhere or changing pattern entirely purely because the game feels like it. Better yet, there is no way of escaping this battle or reloading an appropriate checkpoint if you happen to stumble into the room without appropriate ammo and supplies.

Yes, a number of crates containing ammo and healing items are scattered across the room, but opening them requires the use of clumsy animations, fumbling with the inventory, and taking into account the boss constantly chasing you and dealing one-hit kill animations that come out of nowhere. I haven’t even mentioned the respawning enemies who also explode the second they get close, often combining with the boss attacks or ruining your focus mere moments before pushing ahead. It’s so bad, filled with micro-frustrations that would suck on their own, but Callisto thought it was a good idea to include them all together for top results.

Making it through this battle wasn’t satisfying, it was a relief. Like I had gotten lucky with the right combination of item drops and animations that didn’t doom my tenth run to gruesome oblivion. The game’s third act is filled with awkward encounters like this, but to see it come to an end with a boss fight so barbarically mediocre is quite something. Survival horror design is meant to strike the perfect balance between tension and relief, and failing to ride that line leads to frustrating instances like this, where it doesn’t feel like these limitations are forcing you to act resourcefully, but are instead actively working against you.

The Callisto Protocol tries so hard to mimic the atmosphere and mechanics of Dead Space, but not once did the series ever have a moment as bad as this. It is decades out of date, and brings an otherwise solid homage to a horror classic down to its knees.

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