Callisto Protocol It is constantly compared to Dead Space – which really makes sense. A lot of the developers are the same, a lot of the core ideas are the same, and they even look very similar, really. But this new project from young developer Striking Distance does more to its horror than Dead Space could possibly go back in 2008; We’re now 14 years later, and technology has come a long way.
Striking Distance cares a lot about horror. The staff has been a ruthless study of the psychology of fear, summarizing principles of human awe for how we respond to atmosphere, stress, brutality, helplessness, and humanity. By taking each of these five threads and fiddling with them individually, Striking Distance thinks it made one of the scariest games ever — no matter your personal tolerance for horror.
Why is the developer so confident? Much of it is due to its technology. Mark James, the studio’s chief technical officer, told me in an interview that new generation games can do things that weren’t possible, even a few years ago. While “50% of the horror is in the sound,” James assures me that a large part of Callisto’s protocol dread comes from frankly sadistic AI.
“We have amazing artificial intelligence,” he told me. “Our AI sometimes makes the decision not to attack you. Instead, it will jump into a vent in front of you – making sure to see it happen – so now you know there’s an enemy out there, and it’s just waiting for the next time it can come out of another vent and attack you. “.
Previously, James told me that the entire game had a “complete vent system” for its creatures to get in and out of. You might go back into a corridor and see a neglected ventilation grill on the floor…then you see a hole in the ceiling. You’re left with that nagging feeling that something was here, but you don’t know what. Or, in fact, where she is now.
It’s the ‘open door’ of horror metaphors, isn’t it? James smiles. “I didn’t open that door… what opened that door?” It makes you doubt that you are not alone. It’s a very small change in the environment that makes the player wonder what is going on – and that is very powerful.”
James tells that this reminds me of the AI director from the Left 4 Dead games, and how he’ll intentionally avoid putting enemies in your way to mess with you before double down on sending a wave of the worst undead hordes at you. He smiles and nods and continues:
“The first time that happens, when we make you think ‘Why didn’t this guy attack me, why did he run away?'” – That’s when we got you. Because, as gamers, we assume everything on the screen is going to attack us. The first time it doesn’t, we make you really unsure. So we can use the sound engine to give you little clues about where that thing is around you. You might hear it go off there, or you might hear it far away, 20 feet away. Or maybe we put it in another room. The AI is looking for the best time. Whatever is going to make it worse for you [laughter]. “
But what if you die later in the level and come back here and encounter the same enemy again? Will he behave the same way – jump into the X hole, appear in the room Y, and attack you with the Z behavior? You wish the Callisto Protocol would make it that easy.
“Artificial intelligence always finds the best way to attack. Sometimes they try to get close to you. Sometimes they interact with the way they play to take better advantage of you. Suppose, for example, that you keep using long-range projectiles – the enemy will move out of your field of view, Maybe into a vent, and find another way to get to you.”
So, if you keep using GRIP (think Half-Life gravity rifle, but a little weaker) and bring enemies towards you to hit them with your amazing club, they’d be wise to do so. They will prevent and counter. Or they will make themselves more threatening at close range, so you don’t want them anywhere near you.
“If you use the same type of attack repeatedly, the enemy will intelligently change their behavior. It all correlates with this changing virus – it mutates and evolves the humans who have been in prison to be better opponents. Opponents that can kill you more easily!”
The AI that hides enemies from you isn’t the end of the way you constantly need to balance threat versus survival either. This virus hiding inside your enemies sometimes manifests itself as a physical eruption; Where tentacles rip through chests or chopped up arms, poised to attack you. If you miss your shot of these sensors, or count down an invisible timer and don’t deal with them effectively, they get more aggressive.
James laughs. “So you better make sure one shot is good. Otherwise, they’ll turn faster—that makes them more powerful, makes them faster, and makes them harder to kill. What you could have killed in one shot will now take you four.”
In a world of survival horror, where ammo is “too limited” that’s not ideal, is it? James tells us that while everyone else is “shooting on their limbs!” The system in Dead Space was great, Striking Distance wanted to go one step further in Callisto’s protocol – giving you more ways to react, more areas to shoot, and you suffer more consequences if your gamble doesn’t pay off.
“We still have this amazing blood system in our game, like Dead Space system, so you can cut off a limb as you fight, but there is a risk reward scenario in doing that. If you make it more aggressive and let it change, it will… that limb grows again! So! Going for that option in the first place is just a waste of ammunition, at that point.”
From what I’ve seen and heard about the Callisto Protocol so far, I’m convinced that it will deliver on its promises and deliver as a true new generation horror game. I’m afraid to play it – and that can only be a good thing. right?
Callisto Protocol On PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on December 2.