When The Callisto Protocol was shown during Geoff Keighley’s Summer Games Fest event last week, the kneejerk reaction among fans and observers was that it looked a lot like Dead Space — same style and a similar UI, even more gore. But one action game may loom even larger than Visceral’s genre classic: God of War 2018.
Released a full decade after Dead Space, it’s proven highly influential in the way that it split the difference between open world adventures and more linear action-adventure games. The Callisto Protocol is among the action games that appear to be following its lead, with optional paths and exploration that sound very similar to PlayStation’s seminal action game. With apologies to the Dead Space fans who are still traumatiezd by the series’ most infamous scenes, it suggests that there may be more to Striking Distance Studios’ new project than meets the eye..
‘There’s going to be a lot more replayability’
Speaking with IGN at Summer Games Fest 2022, Callisto Protocol director Glen Schofield talks about what he terms “beta paths” — optional routes that in some ways function similarly to sidequests in role-playing games.
“We added beta paths for exploration. We added a lot. And you don’t have to do them if you don’t want, but there is a lot of hidden stuff in the game,” Schofield says. “You learn more about the story, you learn more about the characters. Like, each character has a story which you can take off for them. So I think there’s going to be a lot more replayability for this game than for Dead Space.”
Like God of War 2018, it seems that The Callisto Protocol will generally follow a linear story path, but that there will be plenty of optional content for curious players who want more. Schofield says he doesn’t expect players to find all of the beta paths on their playthrough, meaning they will have plenty of additional content and story beats to encounter should they choose to play through The Callisto Protocol again.
The Callisto Protocol may end up being more straightforward than God of War. Sony’s game featured hidden paths leading to unique loot; secret bosses such as Valkyries, and a simple quest system. In Callisto Protocol, you’re more likely to happen upon a door that leads you down an unexpected path toward optional content. It may be less complex, but Schofield hints that there will be a lot of these paths.
Either way, it’s a departure from the more linear and straightforward design of the original Dead Space, which took heavy cues from Event Horizon and Resident Evil 4 (Schofield says he alternately pitched Dead Space as “Resident Evil 4 in Space” and “Resident Evil 4 Where You Can Walk While Shooting.”) It speaks to the overall evolution of action games, which are now expected to be meaty, open-ended adventures that justify their price tags.
To that end, Schofield says that Callisto Protocol won’t be using guiding lines this time, though he says it was “great” for Dead Space. He hopes this decision will sharpen Callisto Protocol’s horror by disorienting players.
“I want you to get a little bit like, ‘Where am I?’ Because it’s not really not too complicated to get through, but I do want you to go, ‘Oh shoot, I was here!’…I don’t think people are going to get real lost, because we’re trying to be smart about it, but I think the evolution of this game is that we’re not going to tell you exactly where to go. We’re going to give you hints, and stuff like that.”
The Callisto Protocol Gameplay Summer Game Fest 2022
Venturing across a dead planet
The Callisto Protocol has been in development since early 2020— shortly after the founding of Striking Distance Studios. Its team includes multiple Dead Space veterans, including former Dead Space executive producer Steve Papoutsis, the originator of Dead Space 2’s squick-worthy eye scene, who Schofield describes as one of his “right hand people.”
Schofield has always seemed especially fond of Dead Space, which drove the meteoric rise of the since-closed Visceral Games. When Striking Distance first announced The Callisto Protocol, many assumed that Schofield would essentially be remaking Dead Space — an assumption reinforced by the recent Summer Games Fest demo, which superficially looked like a straightforward return to the Ishimura.
In the demo, Jacob battles zombies (or “biophage”), explores claustrophobic corridors, and dies in some truly gruesome ways. So far, so Dead Space. But Schofield says that when The Callisto Protocol escapes those corridors, the differences will start to be apparent.
“[T]he environments, they’re all different. You’ve got to think about how you’re going to get through,” Schofield says. “Outside, there’s an area where you’re like, “I don’t know which way to go. It’s a snowstorm. It’s… you got to find your way, get a little lost, that sort of thing. And that’s part of being a little scared. It’s a different type of scared, right?”
He continues, “I think that the different environments allow for different types of scares, but they allow for different ways for the enemies to come across you, and different types of combat for you as well. We tried to mess you up as much as possible and just make each area unique.”
The picture that starts to form is of a horror game that clearly has Dead Space’s DNA, but otherwise takes its cues from far more modern games. When Dead Space was released in 2008, Resident Evil 4 was only three years old. Third-person action-adventure games still felt comparatively new. Like the Necromorphs in the original games, third-person shooters have evolved appreciably since then, and with its more open-ended design, The Callisto Protocol is evolving with it.
“I think you’re going to get in there and you’re going to play the game, maybe think Dead Space, but when you’re done, it’s a different story, different characters, different universe, different way we tell the story, we go really deep on story. The combat is different, enemies are different,” Schofield finishes.
“I can’t see people going, ‘Oh, that’s Dead Space 4.’ I just can’t.”
We’ll be able to see for ourselves soon enough, when The Callisto Protocol launches on December 2 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC. You can check out the rest of our Summer of Gaming 2022 coverage here, including all of the announcements from the weekend’s Xbox + Bethesda showcase.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.