The Callisto Protocol takes PUBG Battlegrounds full circle. Well, sort of. The former isn't a 100-person fight-to-the-death battle royale, but it is a horror game that shares the same universe. The latter, of course, began life as a mod for zombie survival shooter DayZ – it itself a mod within the Arma series – which means PUBG has always had horror ties in one form or another, subtle or otherwise.
The Callisto Protocol is also being developed by Striking Distance Studios, headed by Glen Schofield, the co-creator of Dead Space. As a third-person, narrative-heavy survival horror game, born from the twisted imagination of Visceral Games' former general manager, it's hardly a stretch to suggest this game is a Dead Space successor in all but name. And, after teasing us with less than two minutes of horrifying cinematic footage at the Game Awards 2020, it all looks terrifyingly wonderful.
Game The Callisto Protocol
Developer Striking Distance Studios
Platforms PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
It's worth noting, though, that despite sharing a universe with PUBG Battlegrounds, The Callisto Protocol is set 300 years into the future and several million miles away from planet Earth. It's also worth pointing out that Striking Distance Studios is a subsidiary of Krafton (formerly Bluehole), the Korean outfit who also looks after PUBG Studio. Now, you might be thinking: the link between these seemingly incongruous games sounds like a clause written into a publishing deal. And, to be fair, I thought the same when I heard the games were set on the same wider timeline. Schofield himself did, however, dismiss that idea in conversation with GamesRadar+ last year.
"We're helping PUBG Corp right now as a team of writers, working on the lore for PUBG and its universe," explained Schofield. "They have a timeline, and we fit on that timeline now. It's not going to be really deep, but there will be little connections here and there. We'll probably be referencing one another from time to time… It will make more sense once the game comes out!"
More than 12 months on, and we're still making sense of that Game Awards 2020 cinematic reveal trailer, which, at the time of writing, is the only moving pictures we have of The Callisto Protocol to date. We know that the eponymous Callisto is one of Jupiter's moons, and that the game's story is set to unfold within the confines of a high-security prison named Black Iron in the year 2320. Much beyond that is still a bit of a mystery.
In the two-minute teaser trailer, we're shown a microchipped prisoner waking in his cell in the middle of the night. Things are clearly amiss, as weird noises echo from the other side of the bars, and unidentified creatures dart around in the shadows. Lights flicker, both inside the cell and beyond, and a distorted holographic warden breaks up and cuts out before relaying his warning message in full. In the halls, a robotic guard appears to malfunction, and just as the prisoner attempts to alert his cellmate to the situation, he's confronted with an Alien Xenomorph-like beast – heavy-breathing, low-frequency grunting, slabbering chops, and all – who then forcibly inserts its Lovecraftian face-tentacles down the prisoner's throat and through his bloodied eyeballs. Lovely.
After that, the trailer cuts to an overseer who's watching the prisoner's brutal death on a monitor from afar. His screen cuts out, he gets to his feet, walks to a nearby window, and we're shown a spacecraft zipping through the skies of a foreign planet towards a towering monolith structure that's probably the Black Iron prison itself. 'The Callisto Protocol' then fades in as the scene fades to black. Just when we think it's over, we're then shown the mortally wounded prisoner, glassy eyed and slumped against his cell wall. He bursts to life, screams into the camera, and, oh shite, he's a zombie. And, of course, we're then left with a million questions and very few answers.
See no evil
The fact that The Callisto Protocol can excite us quite as much by showing us so little speaks volumes for Schofield and his team. Dead Space is widely considered one of the best action-driven survival horror series of all time, and while I enjoyed the first and third entries, and am equally looking forward to the original's remake later this year, Dead Space 2 is up there with my favourite games across all genres. More than a decade on, and nine years since the last main series entry, the thought of creeping around an abandoned, zombie-monster-ridden prison three centuries into the future, scavenging for weapons and resources and working out what the hell is going on? I mean, this stuff writes itself, right?
And if you need further proof of that, consider the fact that in Dead Space, it's often what you can't see that's most terrifying. How The Callisto Protocol ties in with the wider PUBG universe is irrelevant, because by opting not to show anything else bar one teasing cinematic in over a year, Striking Distance Studios knows exactly what it's doing.
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