Callisto Agreement Often compared to Dead Space – it makes sense, really. A lot of developers are the same, a lot of the core ideas are the same, and they even look the same, really. But this new adventure from young developer Striking Distance is more terrifying than 2008’s Dead Space. Now, 14 years have passed and technology has come a long way.
Amazing Distance really cares about horror. The staff has been relentlessly researching the psychology of fear and chalking up the tenets of human fear to how we deal with atmosphere, tension, brutality, helplessness, and humanity. Modifying each of these five lines individually, Striking Distance reckons it’s one of the scariest games ever made — no matter your personal tolerance for horror.
Why are developers so confident? A lot of it comes down to its technology. The studio’s CTO, Mark James, told me in an interview that even a few years ago, the new generation of games could do things that were impossible. While “50% of the fear comes from the audio,” James assures me that a good portion of the Callisto protocol’s fear comes from its, frankly, sadistic AI.
“We have great AI,” he told me. “Our AI sometimes makes decisions not to attack you. Instead, it jumps into a vent in front of you — make sure you see it happen — so you now know there’s an enemy out there, it’s just Wait for the next time it can pop out of another vent and attack you.”
Previously, James had told me that the entire game had a “complete ventilation system” for its creatures to get in and out. You might go back into the hallway and see a disused ventilation grill on the ground…then you’ll see a hole in the ceiling. You have an uneasy feeling that there is something here, but you don’t know what. Or, in fact, where it is now.
“It’s the ‘open door’ of the horror trope, right?” James grinned. “‘I didn’t open that door…what opened that door?’ It makes you question that you’re not al one. It’s a very simple environment change that makes the player question what’s going on — it’s very powerful. ”
I told James it reminded me of the AI director in the Left 4 Dead game and how it deliberately avoids placing enemies in your path to piss you off, then goes the extra mile to send you a wave of the worst possible undead. He smiled and nodded, and continued:
“The first time this happened, when we made you think ‘why didn’t that guy attack me, why did it run away?’ – that’s when we got you. Because, as gamers, we assume that on-screen Everything is going to attack us. The first time doesn’t happen and we leave you really unsure. So we can use the audio engine to give you some clues as to where this thing is around you. You might hear it over there Speeding by, or you might hear a distant crash 20 feet away. Or we could even put it in another room. AI is looking for the best time. Whatever makes you worse [laughter]. “
But what if you die in the level and come back here to face the same enemy again? Will it do the same thing – jump into the X vent, show up in the Y room, attack you with behavior Z? You wish the Callisto protocol made it so easy.
“The AI is always looking for the best way to attack. Sometimes that’s when they’re trying to get close to you. Sometimes they’re reacting to the way they play to use you better. For example, you’ve been using long-range ballistics— The enemy will get out of your sight, possibly into a vent, and find another way to approach you.”
So, if you keep GRIPing (think Half-Life’s Gravity Gun, but a little weaker) and bring enemies to you and hit them with your stun gun, they’ll be wise. They will stop and fight back. Or they’ll make themselves a bigger threat in close quarters, so you don’t want them near you.
“If you use the same type of attack repeatedly, the enemy will intelligently change their behavior. It’s all about this ever-changing virus – it’s mutating and evolving the humans in prisons to become better adversaries . Easier to kill your opponent!”
AI that hides enemies from you isn’t the end of your constant need to weigh threat versus survivability, either. This virus, which hides in an enemy’s body, sometimes manifests as a physical burst; tentacles pierced through the chest or dismembered arm, ready to attack you. If you miss these tentacle shots, or the stealth timer counts down and you don’t handle them effectively, they become more aggressive.
“If you shoot at them and miss the area you need to hit … you’re reducing the timer more, you’re making them more aggressive,” James said with a laugh. “So you better make sure one shot is good. Otherwise, they’ll mutate faster – which makes them stronger, makes them faster, makes them harder to kill. You can kill them with one shot. Stuff will take you four now.”
In the world of survival horror, ammo “tightly limited” isn’t ideal, is it? James told us that while the whole “shoot their limbs!” system in Dead Space is great, Striking Distance wants to take it a step further in The Callisto Protocol – giving you more ways to react, more shooting areas if your Gambling doesn’t pay off and you suffer more consequences.
“We still have an amazing gore system in our game, like Dead Space, so you can cut off limbs in combat, but there’s a risk reward for doing that. If you make it more aggressive and make it mutate , it will just… grow that limb! So at that point, picking that option in the first place is just a waste of ammo.”
From what I’ve seen and heard about Callisto Protocol so far, I believe it will deliver on its promise and deliver as a true next-gen horror game. I’m afraid to play it – that can only be a good thing. correct?
Callisto Protocol is coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on December 2.