The Callisto Protocol is an intimate and unsettling take on survival horror

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Don’t be fooled by the over-the-shoulder perspective. It’s not just another dead space.

Looking at The Callisto Protocolit’s hard not to think about the dead space series. From former Visceral Games developers who have now formed Striking Distance Studios, the upcoming survival horror game shares many similarities to EA’s beloved space horror shooter series (which also appears to be ready for a renewal in 2023).

The creative director of The Callisto Protocol (and co-creator of dead space), Glen Schofield, says he wants his new game to be the next step in the genre rather than just retread familiar ground. “I know people call [The Callisto Protocol] spiritual successor of dead spacebut honestly, I don’t want to say it’s that way,” he told Ars during a recent preview event. “I want it to be a standalone game, and once you get into history and experience, there are some key differences at work, which I’m really proud of.”

And after finally playing an early part of the game and talking with Schofield about its development, it became clear that there is more going on with The Callisto Protocol and its brand of sci-fi horror that appears at first sight.

A new identity

Curiously, The Callisto Protocol was originally planned as a horror spin-off set in the influential Battle Royale gaming universe PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. This connection was removed as development continued, according to Schofield, allowing The Callisto Protocol shape their own identity. The game now focuses on a more cinematic, story-driven survival horror experience that mixes elements of Naughty Dog’s The last of us with John Carpenter The thing.

In the distant future, players take on the role of Jacob Lee (played by Transformers Josh Duhamel), a prisoner imprisoned in a high-tech prison on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. After a mysterious incident leads to chaos on the moon, turning most of the survivors into mutated monsters called “biophages”, Jacob escapes while piecing together what happened in Black Iron’s prison.

The Callisto Protocol is undoubtedly strongly influenced by dead space– and that’s not a bad thing. Both games share a straightforward and obvious sci-fi inspiration and aesthetic, set in eerie and unsettling haunted house-like locations. As with other horror and survival games, you learn the ins and outs of the Black Iron Prison as you scavenge resources, solve puzzles, and battle gruesome enemies with a ranged weapon set and close together.

Are you scared of the dark?
Enlarge / Are you scared of the dark?

In line with the survival horror experience, The Callisto Protocol emphasizes a sense of helplessness and tension with the ordeal of the protagonist Jacob. Jacob, who is clearly overwhelmed by exploring the prison, already seems like a more defined character than dead spaceis Isaac Clarke. But even as the game expands to a more cinematic scope, walking the halls remains intimate and harrowing.

During my short demo, there was a constant sense of dread inherent in exploring the game’s dark environments. Going through the obvious aftermath of certain grisly events feels like something is lurking around the corner. Establishing that kind of feeling is what good survival horror is, and The Callisto ProtocolThe beautifully gruesome environment delivers that sort of feeling decidedly.

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