If you asked any survival horror game fan what they’re most looking forward to playing in the next few months, I’m sure there’s a sizeable percentage who would put The Callisto Protocol at the top of their list. Having gone hands on with the game, there’s good reason for that, with great visual style, challenging resource-limited combat, and an engaging new setting.
Of course, the elephant in the room with The Callisto Protocol is the tangible similarities to the Dead Space series. That’s certainly by design, stemming from Glen Schofield’s sensibilities as a game designer, which have followed on from his work on Dead Space, and surely an answer to all the calls for a Dead Space revival over the last few years. The water has been muddied, though, by the Dead Space Remake at EA coming out early next year.
Speaking to Mark James, Striking Distance CTO, he replied, “[Dead Space] is a key inspiration and obviously a part of Glen’s history, but I would say, for me personally, I didn’t work on Dead Space. So for me, I love the idea of horror, I’m a fan of Dead Space, and I love the idea of horror engineering and of bringing something like that back in sci-fi horror.”
Further Reading: Hands on with The Callisto Protocol’s gripping survival horror
Speaking about whether it had been a help or a hindrance to have this constant comparison, Mark continued, “Mark – I think, no matter what Glen did next, that Dead Space heritage and that success was always going to follow him. So even if he’d made a Western, people would always compare it to Dead Space.
“That will always be a part of his heritage, so I think we’ve never going to avoid that, but I think we’re showing enough differentiation from Dead Space to show this is a product in itself.”
So let’s dive into those differences. Much like Dead Space, there’s combat with weapons that can blow the limbs off oncoming enemies – and when they take as many hits to take down as they do here, you’ll need to slow them down however you can.
“It’s almost ballet-like at times with the [melee] dodges in there, and when you see someone like our Designer Ben play it, you see the art form there – he’s way more graceful than I am!”
There’s certainly a leaning more toward melee combat with The Callisto Protocol. Armed with a Stun Baton, you always have a fallback when you’re running low on ammo for whatever guns you have, and for the GRP (Grip). Getting stuck in with a close-range fight, you need to master dodging incoming attacks or trying to turn the tables with a block and counter.
The Grip will also be handy here, not only able to grab items in the world, but the enemies as well. From gameplay reveals, it almost looked like an all-conquering Gravity Gun, à la Half-Life 2.
“You won’t be able to continually use the Grip,” Mark told us. “We didn’t want you to think you have this superhuman power that you can use at all times, it’s quite hard to target, and you won’t be able to Grip everything. As soon as you start to use those bars [shown] on the back of your neck, you’ll start to power down and you’ll find that you’re out of bullets, out of power for the Grip, feel really vulnerable and have to start to sneak around and start to use a stealth approach.
“It’s very much that survival horror that worked with Resident Evil – we want you to be resource limited.”
Stealth could become a defining part of The Callisto Protocol – funnily enough, something that’s also being brought into the Resident Evil 4 Remake – helping to swing the odds in your favour before things really kick off.
Mark said, ‘With a large group, like in the wood chipper area [from the Gamescom demo], if you just go in there without stealth, guns blazing, you will die really quickly. So when you’re looking at large groups and varying enemies, you definitely want to try and introduce stealth early to cut down on those groups so you have more chance of success. If you don’t thin out that group, you’re not going to survive.”
A part of your survivability will be how you deal with mutations. This is one of the key elements added compared to Dead Space, with enemies able to suddenly sprout tentacles that, a few seconds later, will sprout and cover the enemy with toughened skin. As some bloody messages on walls advise you, you have just a few seconds to shoot the tentacles and stop the transformation.
“We’ve really started to play into this body horror,” Mark said, “that these things are mutating as you attack them, and that’s something that Dead Space didn’t do – they were actually quite static in the overall attacks – and so we’re trying to look for those differentiations.”
Of course, there’s also just dramatic technical leaps forward. The Callisto Protocol will be a cross-gen release, but it still looks undeniably fantastic on PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’ll sound great too:
“So much of horror is about the audio experience and building up that tension before the actual jump scare. With these new consoles and their dedicated 3D audio hardware, we can do so much more. Things like ambient occlusion, we can actually do reflect (how audio bounces off surfaces) and have room-sized audio, where the same sound in a different-sized room will sound different, and different materials in that room will sound different.
“We’re really making audio a first-class citizen alongside rendering, so you’ll hear this diversity within the audio environments, even with the same audio samples.”
Compared to the early PS3 and 360 era, there’s also been leaps forward in performance capture and storytelling, better enabling them to create a cast of characters. “We have four A-list Hollywood actors in The Callisto Protocol, complete with their own dialogue, their own [character[ backgrounds – it’s a very deep story which we’ve only really started to slightly reveal, and it’s actually quite a deep story that we’re planning to take forward, hopefully into a franchise.”
Well, I guess that answers whether this will be a standalone game or not…
The Callisto Protocol is out on 2nd December 2022 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Mark would suggest you play it with headphones.