It’s always the way that you wait ages for a bus to turn up, three arrive all at once. It happens in public transport, in blockbuster movies and even games that people happen upon the same or similar ideas. For The Callisto Protocol, that idea was probably something like “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat to have a new Dead Space-style action horror game?” The universal response from long-suffering fans being that yes, this would be pretty neat. Enter, The Callisto Protocol.
Expanding on the gameplay shown during the Gamescom Opening Night Live stream, we got a deeper look at the game’s take on the action horror genre and how it’s pushing to be more than just a loving homage to a modern horror classic.
One of the key new changes revealed during Gamescom was the mutation system for enemies, making your life tougher if you fail to take out enemies quickly enough – no mean feat when they often require you to deal them plenty of damage. Keep an eye out for tentacles sprouting from damaged enemies, even if you’ve managed to lop of their head, because unless you deal damage to that specific area, they’ll bulk up in a bloody transformation that makes them significantly more difficult to deal with. “Shoot the tentacles” someone sagely wrote on the wall in their own blood just to hammer the point home.
Beyond that, the combat in The Callisto Protocol just looks outright fun. There’s a great blend of different abilities and weapons that build up within Jacob’s arsenal that will lead to some pleasing variety in the kinds of encounters you face. The ‘wood chipper’ area in the Gamescom reveal demonstrates this ably, with quite a few enemies present in an arena that features a barmy space wood chipper in the middle of the room.
You can start off the encounter with stealth, sneaking up behind the alien foes to deal fatal takedowns and thin out the herd. Once spotted though, you will need to switch to guns to keep them at arms length, sinking round after round into them to take them down, and potentially resorting to close quarters dodging and counter strikes with the Stun Baton. Right in the mix with all of this is the Grip, an energy beam that lets you grab enemies and pull them to you, either to follow up with a close up finisher, fling them into the wood chipper, or use them as a meat shield against incoming attacks.
Many enemies are fairly humanoid, if mutated alien forms, but in another scenario, with Jacob triggering some kind of Purge Cycle to drain a chemical-filled tank and open up the path ahead, you have to face off against a rather tricky foe. Four-legged flesh spiders (which is the best way I can describe them) clamber around the walls and ceilings, leaping to attack you before scuttling away and then camouflage themselves within the surroundings. You’ll need to keep a close watch on them, or brace yourself for a traditional QTE grappling animation to escape their grasp.
Striking Distance is quite clearly indebted to the previous work of co-founder Glen Schofield on Dead Space, with certain design elements quite liberally lifted from that game and transposed into this. It’s easy to be a tad dismissive of this, but it’s also fair to say that creators often find themselves leaning toward particular ideas and styles. Just look at the films of Wes Anderson, for example, with such utterly distinctive cinematography, no matter the story that he’s trying to tell. You could make a similar comparison here.
So yes, you have an eidetic HUD that blends into the game world and objects, as opposed to being artificially overlaid on top of it – Jacob’s health status is displayed on the back of his neck, weapons have clear ammo count readouts, and more. Perhaps my favourite touch is that you see his inventory represented on his back, with the Stun Baton strapped over his shoulder, the pistol tucked into the back of his waistband, and so on. It’s indicative of the kinds of decisions you might have to make when choosing to upgrade and equip weapons.
Those decisions will be made at the Forge, a fancy futuristic 3D printer that lets you spend Callisto Credits on buying a variety of upgrades for the weapons you’ve found so far. Each weapon has a particular upgrade tree, often with multiple branches, and so the Stun Baton could be enhanced with a riot control mod or enhanced blocking, the pistol with stability upgrades.
And then there’s the classic set pieces, Jacob’s trek through a sewage pipe seeing him caught up in what i can only assume is a poop tsunami, flushing him down a hazard filled tunnel, trying to avoid erratically placed structural pillars and inexplicable turbines. As you saw in the gameplay trailer, it’s one of those turbine blades that gets him, pinning him and then ripping him in half.
Whether you’re simply looking for that Dead Space-like spiritual successor or an action horror game that you take on its own merits, The Callisto Protocol looks set to satisfy your desires with a blend of familiar ideas, new additions and a whole new grim sci-fi world to dive into.