The Callisto Protocol took centre stage at this year’s Summer Game Fest. During a cinematic short we saw gore. A lot of blood. The twisted wreckage of an ill-fated space station. A lone ranger, fumbling around on a dark and desolate planet. We heard screams. Heavy breathing. Otherworldly groans. We saw monsters, mindless zombie-like creatures shambling around in the shadows before aggressively pursuing the protagonist in a series of grotesque encounters. Glen Schofield, co-founder of developer Striking Distance Studios and the mastermind of Dead Space once upon a time, took to the stage and introduced a segment of raw gameplay footage. There, it was more of the same. Malfunctioning electronics. Dead bodies. Severed limbs. Deranged bad guys. Futuristic firearms.
And then, at the trailer’s end, a gravity gun-like contraption named ‘Grip’ that hurled enemies into an active fan, before the hero themselves was crushed to death in the folds of a metal rotor. Unfurling at breakneck speed, it was all a delicious and delirious blur of action horror mania. It was Dead Space by way of Alien Isolation, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil, and… Half-Life 2?
Get a Grip
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Half-Life 2 is hardly synonymous with horror (Ravenholm aside), but its late game Nova Prospekt prison level definitely harnessed the same dysfunctional, neo-futuristic vibes as The Callisto Protocol’s nightmarish setting. It too was comprised of sterile, interminable corridors in a state of heavy disrepair, and boasted a similar number of pitfalls and baddies out for the protagonist’s blood. Still, it wasn’t the location that reminded me of Gordon Freeman’s misadventures in City 17 some 18 years ago the most – it was the Grip, The Callisto Protocol’s physics-defying weapon that appeared to mirror Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun.
For those unaware, Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun – or, to give it its full name, the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator – is a weapon protagonist Gordan Freeman picks up early doors in the game’s story mode. Its primary use is to move and/or lift heavy materials when human strength fails, but it can equally be used to grab and throw objects as weapons, not least exploding barrels and toilet pans. Anyone familiar with Half-Life 2 knows that the Gravity Gun is not only a valuable tool in Freeman’s arsenal, but is also considered one of his signature weapons alongside his iconic red crowbar. Once the player reaches Nova Prospekt, however, the trademark weapon is given an upgrade, becoming the ‘Dark Energy Field Manipulator’, aka the Super Gravity Gun. And that’s where its use gets really interesting.
Suddenly, the gun’s blast function can be used to vaporise enemies on the spot, and, should you wish to prolong their agony, you can pull them in, telekinesis style, and fire them into the air or across the room. At that point, I’d never seen ragdoll physics like those articulated by the Source and Havok physics engines in 2004, and there was something truly wonderful about bouncing limp bodies off walls, and watching their limbs flop around like a drunk’s head at last orders. For me, it really was a defining moment for video game weapons because, while I always had my prefered tools for getting the job done – Lara Croft’s desert eagle in Tomb Raider 3, the Knights of the Round materia in Final Fantasy 7, Snake’s Nikita missile launcher in Metal Gear Solid, to name but a few – this was the first time I’d fallen in love with a game weapon proper.
Many games have given the Gravity Gun their own spin over the years, but none have hit the mark in the same way Gordon Freeman’s pioneering force-flipping cannon did almost 20 years ago. In fact, besides Garry’s Mod – which, also powered by the Source engine, ports the gun directly from HL2 – I’d argue that none have come close. A more combat-focused take featured in Doom 3’s Resurrection of Evil DLC, but it was nowhere near as fun to operate (which is probably why it was cut from the base game, which launched before Half-Life 2). Crysis had a modded nanosuit that let players throw objects and enemies skyward, but the physics weren’t as natural or credible as HL2. Arkane has implemented telekinesis in a variety of ways in its games, but none have matched the weightiness of the Super Gravity Gun’s power and punch. BioShock had something similar in Plasmid form, but this felt like more of a gimmick in practice – more often used as a means of grabbing otherwise unreachable items through tight spaces.
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Dead Space, the game conceived by The Callisto Protocol’s Glen Schofield, had the Kinesis Module – and it’s as close to Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun as anything I’ve experienced. Grip, as it features in Callisto, is clearly an evolution of Kinesis, and a continuation of its evolving guises throughout the Dead Space series to date. Mostly used as an object-mover/item grabber in the original game, Dead Space 2’s take on the Kinesis Module let players hurl sharp objects at enemies. With the introduction of impalement physics, firing a shard of metal at a hostile Necromorph, and nailing the bastard to a wall was indeed incredible fun – but as soon you discovered the Javelin Gun, which delivered the same results with less faffing about, utilising gravity in your attacks felt too time-consuming and a wee bit redundant.
Which is why I was delighted to see Grip seemingly go full Half-Life 2 Dark Energy Field Manipulator during its Summer Game Fest segment. Better still, there appears to be so much scope in variety when it comes to this style of offence. In The Callisto Protocol’s gameplay trailer, we saw the protagonist blow off the leg of an advancing Necromorph-like baddie, before using Grip to haul its crippled body up off the floor, and hurling its torso into the industrial fan that the player had activated moments earlier. In conversation with GamesRadar+’s Austin Wood, Glen Schofield affirmed that the Grip system works like a gravity gun, letting you pull in or launch enemies as long as you have energy to burn. In motion, it all looked horrifyingly gorgeous, and gave me the same twisted thrill I first felt way back in Nova Prospekt all those years ago.
The wait between now and The Callisto Protocol’s December 2 launch already feels long enough. But after seeing the Grip in all its body-tossing glory, I feel like I’ve been waiting for something like this for the best part of 20 years.
I played all of the best horror games and am now writing this footer from behind the sofa.