In The Callisto Protocol, death is only ever a few wet lunges and gooey smacks away. From the smallest, lumpiest vermin to the biggest, two-headedest monsters, everything in the sci-fi survival horror game can kill you, and will take its sweet time doing so. Which means that if you’re not careful, you will end up on the receiving end of the most elaborately gorey death animations I can ever recall seeing in a game.
There is a great variety, too, Protagonist Jacob Lee gets torn in half by massive monsters, his torso lifted into the air by his head before being spiked into the ground like a fleshy volleyball. One recurring kill sees him getting his head pounded in until the bridge of his nose caves inward, like a dented soda can, then collapses completely. Another enemy might use a spiked appendage to turn Jacob into a shrieking, tormented shishkabob. All of this is excessive, but as a fan of the gruesome practical effects in John Carpenter's The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, I was on board.
These effects aren't practical, obviously — nothing in a video game is — but they feel like they come from a similar place. Carpenter and Raimi stretched their small budgets and big imaginations to produce the monsters in their horror movies. The Callisto Protocol looks extremely expensive, so budget seems like less of a concern. But, you can still feel the care that went into producing these hyper-detailed and creatively gross altars to bodily destruction. I admire the commitment to the bit.
But even as a gore enjoyer, these death animations are way too friggin’ long. Some are brief. If you die while pinned in a tight space or get hit by a projectile, you'll just collapse to the ground. Sometimes with half your head shaved off, sure, but the whole thing is over in a few seconds. But, others take much, much longer. In some of the more elaborate kills, it can take more than 20 seconds for Jacob to get fully dismembered.
I talked earlier this year about Carter, the South Korean action movie on Netflix that is presented as one long, ultra-stylized shot. The movie's presentation feels exciting at first, as you watch the camera zoom wildly, craning above the street, droning high above rooftops, and dollying along during chase scenes. But, the longer the movie goes on, the more the action escalates. Aside from some brief exposition scenes, the action keeps going and growing for over two hours. Eventually, you just feel numb to it all.
And, after a dozen hours with The Callisto Protocol, that was how I felt. Though there are a wide variety of ways that Jacob can eat it, the number is not infinite, and eventually you're seeing death animations for the dozenth time. What made you wince on hour one, makes you reach for your phone on hour eight. Worst of all, they're unskippable. Given that The Callisto Protocol's big bads can kill you in one hit, you end up seeing these kills a lot, with no option to bypass them. It gets tedious.
As indebted as The Callisto Protocol feels to Carpenter, that's a key difference. Carpenter had the wisdom to know that, sometimes, you just need to get in, turn a dude's head into a weird little spider, and get out.
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