There’s no shortage of amazing games to look forward to for fans of the survival horror genre, but even in that blessedly crowded group, there are a few upcoming titles that manage to stand out simply on the back of how damn good they look. One of them is The Callisto Protocol, made by a team at Striking Distance Studios that’s very familiar with horror, with leadership that helped create Dead Space back in the day. Recent days and weeks have seen a cavalcade of new details and gameplay footage being shared for The Callisto Protocol, and we’ve learned quite a bit about the sci-fi survival horror title in the process. Here, we’re going to go over a few of those details, with a focus on its combat and other gameplay elements.
Given the pedigree of the people involved with The Callisto Protocol’s development, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when they call it a horror game, they really mean it. That means you can expect an emphasis on horror in its tone and atmosphere and on survival in its gameplay and mechanics. Where the latter is concerned, that means things such as ammo conservation and management are going to key. Meanwhile, in terms of atmosphere and tone, design director Ben Walker seems quite excited about the game’s pacing and tension. Speaking in a recent interview with Game Informer, he said, “Knowing that something’s out there, being scared of it, and not knowing exactly when it’s gonna come. And it’s kind of the way the atmosphere all comes together. You’ll hear some things in the noise- is that really coming for me? When’s it gonna happen? It’s a little bit of that unknown, and just hitting that nice rhythm and then breaking that rhythm in just the right spots to really get people. You know, make them nervous and stop walking forward, or really startle them when they weren’t expecting it.”
If you’ve watched any of The Callisto Protocol’s trailers or gameplay demonstrations so far, you will have noticed that the game is placing quite a bit of emphasis on its gore. In fact, the so-called gore system of the game is something that Striking Distance Studios was working on for a couple of years– it’s that central to the game. “We spent a couple years on what we call the gore system,” game director and studio boss Glen Schofield said in a recent interview with IGN. “Rendering engineers, a couple of artists, they just spent time tearing each and every enemy apart. There were times we were like, ‘tear another hole in him, they might do this.’ So you may never see the same torn apart guy twice. That was part of it, too. We wanted each and every person to have a different horrific experience.”
As fans of 2019’s Resident Evil 2 will tell you, gore can elevate a horror game in some truly remarkable ways, and from what we’ve seen of The Callisto Protocol so far, it definitely seems like it’s headed in that direction.
Combat in The Callisto Protocol promises to be quite interesting. According to its developers, the game’s combat is going to be an almost equal mix of ranged and melee mechanics. Specifically where melee is concerned, you’ll only be using a single weapon throughout the game- the stun baton. That said, The Callisto Protocol is looking to offer some depth and variation with combos and what have you, and that, mixed with ranged weapons and being able to dodge enemy attacks will create a rhythm in combat of sorts, according to the aforementioned Ben Walker. “The overall tone of our combat is kind of a struggle,” he said in the previously mentioned Game Informer interview. “You’re doing whatever you can do to get by and get through. And since almost half of our combat is melee, that means you have to be smart about how you use your bullets. To that end, we’ve added our melee combos, that, when they finish, they push the enemy away. So that gives you a chance to lock on really quick and get a nice, clean shot on an enemy.”
Another quite intriguing element of the combat in The Callisto Protocol is the GRP, a special weapon that you’ll have access to in addition to your regular guns. The GRP is a gun that you can use to essentially manipulate gravity, which in essence means it’ll allow you to pull enemies towards you and send them shooting back in whatever direction you choose. The application of the GRP has the potential to bring a great deal of variety and dynamism to the table, especially if we end up using it for puzzles and exploration as well. Meanwhile, it’s been confirmed that the weapon will run on a cooldown of sorts, so there won’t be much scope for overusing it.
How enemies behave and how capable they are is crucial in enemy game, but it’s doubly so in a horror title, where the threat they pose to you has to be front and center at all times. Thankfully, it seems like Striking Distance Studios is well aware of that fact. While the developer hasn’t gone into too much detail about this particular aspect of the game, it has indicated that there will be a few different kinds of enemies to fight throughout the experience. What’s particularly interesting, however, is that enemies don’t sound like pushovers in the slightest. Speaking with Game Informer, for instance, Walker explained that if you attempt to flee from enemies, they’ll relentlessly pursue after you and might even follow you across different rooms and enter through vents and ducts and what have you. There’s some serious potential for horrifying encounters there, if enemy AI can be properly pulled off.
Given The Callisto Protocol’s association with Dead Space, there are a lot of things that it’s going to have in common with its spiritual predecessor- and we’re not just talking about the sci-fi setting. Dismemberment was a key component of Dead Space to the extent that it was a proper gameplay mechanic, and it seems like it’ll be just as crucial in The Callisto Protocol. Dismembering an enemy’s arms, for instance, will mean they’re no longer able to attack you, while shooting off their legs will send them sprawling to the ground, allowing you to move on for a melee finisher or stomp, thus saving you precious bullets. Similarly, your melee attacks could also end up resulting in your enemies losing a few limbs here and there.
What can we expect from The Callisto Protocol where progression is concerned? This is not going to be a massive, sprawling game, and it’s obviously not an RPG, so don’t go in expecting overly complex and layered progression trees or what have you- but it sounds like there’s still going to be more than enough stuff to keep players occupied. The developers have confirmed that there will indeed be skill trees for players to invest in, while Walker also revealed that the skill trees for the stun baton and the GRP will be larger than others, since those are weapons that you’re going to be using throughout the entirety of the experience. More details on progression are scant for now, but hopefully we’ll get more details on that front in the coming weeks and months.
The Callisto Protocol is looking like a promising game no matter which platform you choose to play it on, but it seems like PS5 players will get some extra bells and whistles. Take the DualSense, for instance- Striking Distance Studios seems to be going all-out with the implementation of its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in the game, with Walker telling Game Informer, “It’s a lot of the guns, the resistance, the trigger breaks, the resets, that sort of stuff is what we’re working on right now. Since we do have melee, we also want to get the bones snapping, feeling that in the controller. So when you actually make that connection, you’ll kind of get that little crack feel in the controller.”