An unnamed convict staggers through a lunar prison that’s been sundered by some sort of galactic catastrophe. The steely corridors are shrouded in darkness, save for the neon glow of computer terminals. Every step is tentative, because pulsating monstrosities – other prisoners, mutated into abominable forms – threaten to emerge from every crevice.
Few versions of hell loom larger in the imagination than the haunted, derelict space station. You’re alone in the dark, far from home, and stalked by whatever horrors have leaked in from the cosmic void. Steve Papoutsis has been obsessed with this bleak fantasy for years: he worked as a producer on the vaunted Dead Space series, which condemned gamers to their own forsaken Nostromo. The Callisto Protocol, which arrives on consoles and PC later this year, is pitched as a spiritual successor to that franchise. Papoutsis is at the helm once again, and wants to show us just how terrifying the final frontier can be.
“The challenge with things like supernatural horror is that there just aren’t clear rules for how things work,” says Papoutsis. “We like scenarios that are a little more relatable and visceral for players. When you’re talking about sci-fi weapons and monsters, there are some basic ground rules that players can count on. That way we can focus more on the thrill-ride and keeping players on their toes.”
The guns in The Callisto Protocol are heavy, unwieldy, and chronically low on ammunition, forcing players to rely on some eccentric methods to score a kill. See that massive fan blade whirring in the corner? Shove an assailant in and brace for the viscera. Papoutsis is especially proud of those wince-worthy moments: “Callisto is an incredibly dangerous place, and the environmental kills are a great chance to reinforce this idea with players,” he says. “Environmental hazards help keep the action fresh over time, as players are constantly looking for things to use to their advantage. Every encounter in every setting is a new challenge. Since this is a survival horror game, players will always be scraping to get by, and environmental hazards are also great options when players find themselves in particularly sticky situations.”
I can only hope the deeper we delve into The Callisto Protocol, the more unsettling it will grow. One of the things I remember most fondly about Dead Space is the way it told its story; how we slowly uncovered what went so wrong on that accursed starship. Papoutsis stays mum on the plot, saying only that a “mysterious outbreak” has infected our poor fellow inmates, but he does say that the enemies we’ll find are all former earthlings overwhelmed by something outside our understanding. “The creatures are humans that have been transformed, so we wanted them to all have that shred of humanity left in them,” he says. “That makes them even more terrifying.”
• The Callisto Protocol is out on 2 December on PC, PlayStation 4/5 and Xbox.