This article contains minor mechanical spoilers for The Callisto Protocol.
The Callisto Protocol isn't a masterpiece, but its combat is generally pretty fun. Swinging a crowbar at a weird mutant's head, dodging as they try to slap you, then smacking them repeatedly until the opportunity opens up to blast them with a shotgun, and stomp them into goo? That's the good stuff.
The major exception, though, is the ‘Survive The Platform Ride’ section near the end of the game. It's bad in and of itself, but it's worse because it highlights a bunch of weaknesses in the game's design that you might not otherwise notice. If The Callisto Protocol is the Death Star, playing this level is like shooting a proton torpedo up its exhaust port.
The section begins as you hop onto a tram and set a course for your next destination. As you wait, you are confronted by four waves of enemies. This is a game where even one or two enemies can wreck your shit if you aren't careful, and this section sends a couple dozen at you over the course of a few minutes. Worst of all, there's no indication of where they're coming from. In a game where everything is explained to you all the time, you suddenly need to pay extremely close attention. If you don't, and more than two opponents are allowed on the platform at once, it's basically over for you.
To complete this section, you just need to practice it over and over again until you know the pattern well enough to get it right. This is an inversion of the type of play the game usually requires. Instead of reacting to your opponent's actions, as you would normally do, Survive The Platform Ride requires that you know them before they happen. It's frustrating because nothing else in the game has prepared you for this moment.
The tram ride also highlights the game's major shortcomings as a stealth game, showing how wildly inconsistent it can be in determining whether enemies know where you are. In The Last of Us Part 2, a similarly cinematic stealth game, various factors determine whether your character is detectable. If you're out in the open, a character might see you from a distance, and if you're hiding in the grass, they could spot you as their patrol brings them nearby. If you throw a bottle or fire a gun, enemies will run to its location. If they have dogs with them, they can follow your scent.
In The Callisto Protocol, though, it just feels like stealth is set to an on-off switch. The tram encounter starts with stealth switched off, which means that as soon as the enemies hit the platform they instantly know where you are. There are boxes you could hide behind but, for whatever reason, that doesn't matter. They know where you are and they're coming for you.
The other big problem is that the game never gives you any passive items or traps to help you during stealthy situations. You get a shiv early on, which you can use to take out enemies instantly while undetected. But where another stealth game might give you tripwires or landmines or exploding balloons or any number of traps to set, Callisto gives you nothing. So, as the enemies land on the tram, you have to meet them as soon as they hit, shoot or throw them off the tram, then immediately prepare for the next ones to clamber aboard. Instead of playing as strategic tower defense, it becomes a simple exercise in memorization.
The tram ride concludes with one of the massive two-headed monsters that serve as a recurring miniboss, hopping onto the tram for a fight. There is, thankfully, a checkpoint before this. That's the one thing that makes this section bearable, because these two-headed monsters can kill you in one hit. And, given that dodging in Callisto requires pushing the control stick left or right, there are plenty of times where you will feel like your character should have dodged, but the game disagrees.
The Callisto Protocol isn't all bad, but it does do a whole lot wrong. This tram ride just happens to be where all of those wrong things converge in one miserable moment.
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