The Callisto Protocol: Final Transmission Review – Terminus

The long-awaited "ending" to Striking Distance's survival horror delivers an iffy conclusion to Jacob's tale and not much else.

Posted By | On 05th, Jul. 2023

The Callisto Protocol: Final Transmission Review – Terminus

It’s easy to forget how hyped The Callisto Protocol was. From the co-creator (and many developers) of the first Dead Space, it was expected to offer an enthralling sci-fi survival horror experience. That didn’t happen, with the launch version plagued with several performance issues and bugs on PC and Xbox Series X/S (PS5 users were relatively unscathed). While it looked incredible, and the story and universe had some potential, the biggest complaints surrounded the core gameplay, level design and overall exploration.

All these months – and updates – later, The Callisto Protocol’s first and only story-focused DLC is finally here. Final Transmission only takes a handful of hours to complete, and it’s not chock-full of collectables to find. Does it serve as a fitting end for the base story, or at least a satisfying conclusion on its own merits? The answer to both will depend on what you’re after.

"Without going into spoilers, the story utilizes a trope I’m not the biggest fan of since it can invalidate much of the plot. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it didn’t work for me."

Picking up immediately after the base game’s ending, Final Transmission sees protagonist Jacob Lee waking up in an unknown place in Black Iron. Dr Caitylyn Mahler contacts him about a potential escape to a different part of the prison. However, there are other questions to ask: What happened to Ferris? How did Jacob end up here, and why can’t he remember anything? Mahler claims that he suffered extensive psychological trauma, and his mind is attempting to protect him. However, slightly more is going on than meets the eye.

Overall, the DLC bookends Jacob’s character arc more than anything else and should have been in the base game. Without going into spoilers, the story utilizes a trope I’m not the biggest fan of since it can invalidate much of the plot. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it didn’t work for me.

Visually, Final Transmission is very impressive and again highlights Striking Distance Studios’ penchant for gorgeous backgrounds. The environments you’ll explore are claustrophobic and dimly lit, showcasing excellent shadows and lighting. Several smaller details are also worth noting, whether it’s the insects swarming about, fleshy strands dotting some corridors that disintegrate when you walk through them, the Security Bot assembly line in one section or the testing areas with their gory remains. Sound design is also on point, especially when you listen to the movement of Corruptors in the surrounding area to guess where they strike next.

It can be difficult to see in some darker areas, and the narrow field of view and closer camera doesn’t help. When tackling enemies in tight spaces, both work against you, resulting in headache-inducing encounters (especially if something ambushes you from behind). At the very least, exploration does feel a bit more varied due to Jacob’s hallucinations.

The Callisto Protocol - Final Transmission

"For the most part, however, you collect one Fuse and insert it somewhere else or align frequency sliders before the timer runs out to progress forward."

The latter manifests in interesting ways, like P.T.-style looping halls in one segment, though the level blatantly providing hints on how to get out kind of ruins it. Another part floods you with Biophages as you desperately try to advance, which is also appropriately harrowing. While it’s very Dead Space-esque, these parts at least offer some unique bits in the pacing.

Aside from this, there’s about one intriguing new puzzle which involves manipulating switches. You also evade killer machines in the vents and engage in some problematic stealth (more on that in a bit). For the most part, however, you collect one Fuse and insert it somewhere else or align frequency sliders before the timer runs out to progress forward.

You’ll also be fighting many of the same types of enemies. The grasshopper-like Corruptor, the Bloodworm which pulls Jacob towards its pod as you stab its head, the Combustors which explode on death, and the Big Mouths who spray projectiles from afar – they’re all here, and as grotesque as ever. You still shoot the tentacles that emerge, lest they mutate and become stronger and still watch (or skip) the long death scenes that can occur.

The one new enemy type is the Biobot, which is Black Iron’s Security Bot but mixed with the Biophage. They’re melee-focused and often release an electric charge that can punish players that try to follow up with attacks. In some sequences, you have to sneak past them, which becomes hilarious when caught since you can just keep dodging their attacks. In my first stealth encounter, which I failed, I fought back and defeated it without much trouble.

The Callisto Protocol - Final Transmission_02

"Like the base game, the combat in Final Transmission is clunky and inherently awkward. Even when you get a handle on the mechanics, it’s still very one-note."

The second stealth section involved sneaking past several Biobots. After failing that, I casually walked through them, dodging most of the attacks and reaching the objective. Is it a viable strategy for Hardcore runs? No. Would I have preferred a stealth sequence where I instantly died? Also no. These parts just fail to add terror or tension to the proceedings, much like the rest of the DLC.

Biobots feel even more like a joke once you get the Kinetic Hammer, a powerful melee weapon which creates a shockwave that can one-shot most Biophages and stun Biobots. It’s pretty great at first, with the shockwave making mincemeat out of groups of enemies. Sure, its purpose is to counter the Biobots’ electrical burst and supersedes most of the weapons for the remainder of the game, but hammer goes boom, and it feels good.

However, the keywords are “at first.” The shockwave can be inconsistent at times – sometimes it’ll stun when an enemy is just out of range, and other times it won’t even phase the Biobot tickling your face with its fist. It will also sometimes activate its heavy follow-up attack without your input or not stun an enemy, even though the attack has gone off. It’s fun when it works, which is more than can be said about the rest of the combat.

Like the base game, the combat in Final Transmission is clunky and inherently awkward. Even when you get a handle on the mechanics, it’s still very one-note. You’ll rarely beat enemies to the punch, so lean the Left Stick in a direction to dodge their attacks, follow up, and repeat. This mechanic can be annoying with the Kinetic Hammer since its heavy attack will push Biobots back. When you run up to continue attacking, they may recover and pieface you away.

The Callisto Protocol - Final Transmission_03

"Alone, the DLC isn’t even the video game equivalent of “This should have been an email.” It’s more for tying up loose ends than really expanding on the universe or its concepts."

Using the GRP to pick up and throw enemies into environmental hazards still feels nice, though it can be awkward in some sequences to turn around and pick up sawblades on the walls and launch them at foes. The firearms are still dandy and have a nice amount of heft, though pulling off the melee strikes into a close-quarters shot combo still feels unintuitive due to the camera.

As for the only boss in the DLC, it does do some new things that you haven’t seen before. However, you’ll likely find it more annoying than anything else due to constant knockbacks. It’s more challenging than the base game’s final encounter, so there’s that.

It’s hard to recommend Final Transmission, even for those who enjoyed The Callisto Protocol, warts and all. If you’re in it for the “ending” to the base game, it may or may not satisfy you. There aren’t nearly enough new enemies, mechanics or weapons to warrant dealing with the annoying combat, even if the environments can be pretty. Those hoping it at least provides some genuine frights are also out of luck.

If nothing else, Final Transmission reinforces the sheer potential of The Callisto Protocol, but if a sequel ever happens, many aspects will need some serious reworking. Alone, the DLC isn’t even the video game equivalent of “This should have been an email.” It’s more for tying up loose ends than really expanding on the universe or its concepts. It’s a shame but also sadly par for the course.

This game was reviewed on PS5.


THE GOOD

Gorgeous environments and details, with stellar lighting and shadows. Interesting new mechanics centered on Jacob's hallucinations that break up the pace. Kinetic Hammer is a nice addition to the arsenal.

THE BAD

The ending invalidates the entire plot and everything you do. No real expansion on the universe or its lore. Combat remains clunky and one-note. Kinetic Hammer's heavy attack is frustratingly hit or miss sometimes. Only one new enemy type. Final boss can be annoying due to knockbacks.

Final Verdict:
AVERAGE
Final Transmission is the proper "ending" for The Callisto Protocol, and while it closes Jacob Lee's story, the overall execution and content leave a lot to be desired.
A copy of this game was purchased by author for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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