It was probably the stand-out reveal of this month’s Game Awards show; a first look at the kind of survival sci-fi horror so many of us have been pining for, from the same people that brought us video game’s defining sci-fi horror Dead Space. The Callisto Protocol, due in 2022 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X and PC, is the debut of Striking Distance Studios, formed by Glen Schofield and other veterans of EA Redwood Shores/Visceral Games – a project, fascinatingly, tied into the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds universe, seeing as it also comes courtesy of the PUBG Corporation.
“Well, I’m not sure how much I can even say about it,” Schofield tells us in the aftermath of the reveal. “But you know, there is a lore, and there is a big storyline that’s being written now. I’ve been wanting to do another sci-fi horror game. I mean, you know, I love doing sci fi and I love doing horror. I wanted to go back to exactly what I wanted to do. So I presented an idea to them – then we try and retrofit this storyline that they’ve been working on.”
The story’s set in a distant future on Callisto, Jupiter’s second largest moon, and equal in size to a planet like Mercury – “It’s a good size moon!” says Glen – and is confirmed to be third person and single player. Beyond that? There’s not much more information on offer, partly through a desire from Striking Distance to keep its cards close to its chest, and partly because as a project it’s still early days. What we can glean, though, is the direction Glen and his team – some 25 of which hail back to the Dead Space days – will be taking The Callisto Protocol, and indeed the survival horror genre.
“It’s been around 12 years [since Dead Space]” says Glen. “There’s a big gap. What I’m looking forward to now is, it’s the next generation. This is an opportunity to be the scariest game on the next generation of hardware. And what can you really explore in terms of reality? How can we make this look spectacular? Yeah. And sound spectacular. And you know, the new haptics on the controller – what can we do [with them] to help scare the player?. Let’s be bold and try it.”
The idea of a game like Dead Space, with its light and dark and gorgeous sci-fi setting, being realised with the likes of ray-tracing, 3D audio and all the other tricks possible on the new generation of hardware is an enticing one. The Callisto Protocol is going to be helped along in that regard by Unreal Engine – and on Unreal Engine 5, in all likelihood. How exactly it ties into the PUBG universe remains to be seen, but I’m pleased that it doesn’t seem to really matter all too much – instead, this is just the perfect excuse for the team behind one of the most beloved horror games to go back to what they’re so good at.
I’m quite happy when people reference it,” Glen says when I ask him if he’ll ever tire of the constant Dead Space comparisons. “We knew, when I was presenting this, that we were going to get references to it – you can’t help it. So embrace it! Dead Space turned out to be a really good game, and I’m proud of it. And I want to make something as good as if not better than it.”