The Callisto Protocol builds on the organic scares of Alien Isolation

The Callisto Protocol will take a leaf out of Alien Isolation’s horror playbook, and use  intelligent mutant monsters to deliver non-scripted scares.

Speaking to TechRadar Gaming at Gamescom 2022, chief technical officer Mark James says The Callisto Protocol will feature a “variable environment” that will change independently of the player. He describes the game as a “simulated world” that’s constantly running, but will be gradually altered through the behavior of its enemies.

“If I have an enemy that walked through the world ahead of me, I can show what that enemy did to the world,” says James. “I can put attacks in the world – like if they killed something here, I can show the remains of that kill.”

The idea is that the game’s enemies will wander the corridors of the Black Iron prison alongside the player. As they do, they’ll interact with the environment around them and leave clues of their presence for players to discover later. It’s supposed to be suggestive, indicating to the player that something’s lurking in the vicinity – waiting to pounce. 

“[If an] an enemy is behind you, he can work out a route to you through the vent system,” says James. “If he goes behind you, he’s entered a vent, which means he’s knocked that vent plate off. The first time I walked through that corridor there wasn’t a vent plate on the floor, but now there is, so I know something’s used that corridor. It’s really creepy the first time you see it. “

SSD: Sincerely Scary Direction

(Image credit: Striking Distance Studios)

James reckons this variable environment will underpin The Callisto Protocol’s horror atmosphere. Just as the xenomorph in Alien Isolation kept you on your toes by scurrying about in response to your actions, it’s hoped the enemies in this game, too, will make it feel dynamic.

“One of [the things we wanted to achieve] was to make every step feel different,” says James. “As you walk through the corridors, you feel like ‘I’ve never been here before’. Even though it was a corridor in the same habitat, in the same area. We want the place to feel alive – it’s moving and changing, even when you’re not there.”

That level of organic change might not have been possible before now. James reckons the SSDs of the PS5, the Xbox Series X|S, and modern gaming PCs have been vital to constructing the game’s changing world. Their high speeds mean objects can be loaded quickly, and enemy behavior modeled on the fly.

“On the old consoles, [games could] only change things through player interaction,” says James. “So these kinds of variable aspects are really something that wasn’t possible with a hard drive, but [now] we can load these things in really quickly and apply this extra detail that we couldn’t do with just having a static load.

“Everybody concentrated on the SSD’s ability to create large environments. Well, our game’s not about these huge open worlds, it’s about creepy corridor environments. But it means I can change the corridor every time I walk through it.“

(Image credit: Striking Distance Studios)

Just how that corridor will change, though, will depend on what pustulating mutant is chasing you. Rushers will tend to hide on the ceiling, cloaking themselves until you’re close enough to snatch. Grunts, meanwhile, will use vents a lot more frequently, letting you clock them from a distance (or run away before they can find you).

“The larger ones will be more bullish and attack you head-on,” says James. “Another guy with a big mouth will spit at you and won’t try to hide. He’s the ranged weapon guy. He’ll just try and knock you down.”

James also delved into The Callisto Protocol’s lifelike visuals, in which even the eyeballs are ray-traced. The game is set to release on Friday, December 2, 2022. It’ll be coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC. 

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