The first weapon players get is an electro-charged baton. Striking Distance has been clear that Callisto is supposed to be a melee-heavy experience, with “about half” of its combat based on baton-swinging, though there’s just one such weapon in the game. The baton is upgradable, as are the five guns that the protagonist picks up over time. There’s also the GRP glove, which unlocks telekinesis abilities. The GRP ability is exceedingly useful (and fun!), allowing players to throw projectiles and lob enemies into environmental hazards like fans, spike walls and rotating motors, securing an instant kill in the process. However, the gravity glove doesn’t have a ton of battery and it recharges slowly, even when maxed out at the upgrade station. There are also some enemies that simply can’t be picked up with this ability, and the only way to discern which is to give it a try during a fight.
Now, if five guns sounds like a lot for a game that’s designed to emphasize close-combat melee, that’s because it is. I have myriad issues with Callisto’s gun-management system, starting with the fact that there are too many firearms in the first place. The game’s main battle mechanic revolves around securing melee combos until a reticle locks onto the enemy, allowing players to get in a few quick shots with a gun. At least, that’s the idea. In practice, the reticle system is inconsistent, at times lingering on an enemy and other times disappearing in a flash, offering no time to actually shoot. This combo simply doesn’t feel powerful, even when the extra shots actually connect.
There’s also no quick way to see how much ammo your weapon has before shooting – there’s no HUD in this game, so no persistent ammo or loadout indicators – and swapping among weapons is enraging. Pressing left on the D-pad transitions between two guns only, so even if you have five weapons in your inventory, you won’t find them no matter how many times you spam the swap button. Pressing right pulls up a mini gun menu with your full arsenal, but this is difficult to parse. Small handguns can only be swapped for small handguns, and large for large, though there’s no clear distinction between the two types in the pop-up menu. It’s difficult to manage this system in moments of quiet, and nearly impossible in the middle of combat. Too often I found myself smashing the left button, uselessly swapping between two guns with zero ammo and frustrated that I couldn’t access my additional weapons.
In the middle of fights with multiple enemies, the reticle and ammo guessing game is often lethal, and it’s an exceedingly annoying way to die.
Maybe this is all by design. Maybe by making the gun system annoying as hell, developers thought it would drive players to rely on melee moves. But then why make shooting a core part of the melee experience, and why offer so many damn guns, each with a unique ammo type? An unreliable lock-on system actively discourages close-quarters fighting, there are ammo drops all over the place, and there’s nothing to indicate when a basic melee attack is actually the most powerful move in your arsenal. Not to mention, dodging is dodgy as hell. This turns some boss and horde battles into frustrating, drawn-out sequences with dozens of death screens, until you randomly use a basic melee attack at the right moment and the fight starts progressing at speed.
In the end, it feels like the game provides resources it doesn’t actually want you to use, and then punishes you for using them. Melee combat isn’t smooth or powerful enough to emerge as the obvious solution in any situation. Striking Distance may have been clear that Callisto is a melee experience, but the game itself does not.
The main ideas here could have worked, if only there were a hint of on-screen feedback. Callisto doesn’t have a HUD – just like Dead Space – and it eschews common video game features like glowing weak points (at least until the literal last fight) and persistent on-screen text. This is ostensibly with the goal of creating an immersive experience, but instead the lack of information pulled me out of the flow more than anything else. My tip is to max out the GRP glove and focus on environmental kills – and when in doubt, try a basic melee attack.