This Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake pulls apart the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, she mourns the severing of the link between upcoming horror The Callisto Protocol and PUBG‘s peculiar universe.
Few things have surprised me more in games than the news that upcoming sci-fi horror The Callisto Protocol was going to be set in the PUBG universe, mainly – despite playing it for many, many years – I have no idea what on earth the PUBG universe is supposed to be.
That’s not to say that statement didn’t intrigue the hell out of me, though. As I’ve touched on before, PUBG’s original Erangel map, ostensibly a former Russian military testing facility that’s since been abandoned for hitherto undisclosed reasons, has always fascinated me.
I know that to some of us – hell, maybe most of us – it’s just the background to a narrative-light battle royale and serves no purpose other than window-dressing. Shooters – good shooters, anyway – need cover. Places to hide. Somewhere to duck into while you heal up or reload. And an abandoned Russian town serves just as good a place for that as any other, I guess.
For me, though, the world’s smashed-down doorways, boarded-up windows, and
litter-strewn hallways have always told their own story… even if that story was a complete figment of my imagination. Where are the people who once lived in these homes? Why are these buildings empty, but vehicles sit still in garages? What the hell happened to have seemingly wiped out an entire population?
There’s a huge senior school, big enough to sport its own swimming pool (cool trivia: its design is seemingly based upon a real-life abandoned pool in the town of Pripyat, which was evacuated following the Chernobyl disaster). There are massive tower blocks that would’ve housed thousands of people. A military base. A hospital, a mansion: a bloody prison. There’s even a sprawling complex of underground bunkers, for fuck’s sake. Who built this stuff? For whom? And why?!
Four years after its initial early access launch, PUBG released a fabulous 17-minute mockumentary that retroactively injected the world with the lore I so craved. The 2021 video series manufactured key characters and events that packed flesh onto the bones of the game’s skeletal narrative and included details of the very first battleground match. A nine-day fight in 1994, it took place on Erangel, a small island that had been decimated in 1965 when the civilian population was wiped out by a conflict with Soviet forces. The single survivor – eleven-year-old Sergei Kalimnick – went on to be the twisted architect of the battlegrounds.
It’s awesome, right? No, it doesn’t answer everything and some parts don’t quite satisfy me – I never had the sense that the homes I rummage through were abandoned in the 60s, for instance – but it was a start. It was something.
So when The Callisto Protocol – a Dead Space-esque sci-fi horror created by the co-creator of the original Dead Space (I’m detecting a theme here) – said it was going to link the entirely new game to the PUBG franchise, I was stunned and delighted in equal measure. And when it was later reported that the link between the two games had been severed because “the connection would have taken away” from The Callisto Protocol‘s “own story and world”, I was – well, am – inexplicably crushed.
Initially, the games were going to be connected via a 400-year timespan and no, I have no clue how Glen Schofield et al were ever going to shoehorn a Dead Space-esque sci-fi horror romp into the PUBG universe but holy shit, did I want to see how they tried.
The mockumentary sold us an origin story to the battleground matches themselves, names of the key people involved in their underground organisation, and how the fight clubs themselves spread out across the world. There could be more, though; there should be more. Now, we’ll have to make do with “nods” to PUBG in Callisto which is… well, it’s better than nothing, I guess, but barely.
Will it stop me from playing The Callisto Protocol? Ha, as if. It has space and guns and aliens and, if it’s even half as terrifying as the original Dead Space was, it may just give me a heart attack. But even mid-scream, I’ll still be listening closely for a mention of Sergei Kalimnick…