If You’re Gonna Put Audio Logs In A Game Like The Callisto Protocol, You Gotta Let Me Move Around While I Listen

The Callisto Protocol continues the grand video game tradition of emptying a huge space of all its people, populating it with their corpses, and asking players to piece together what happened.

This is a ritual that has recurred frequently in games since the emergence of the immersive sim in the '90s. Games like System Shock dropped players in a vacant spooky environment and dribbled trails of breadcrumbs through their dimly lit corridors. And, if you're going to do this kind of dead-body-and-abandoned-building style environmental storytelling today, the audio log is a key ingredient.

Games have handled audio diaries in various ways over the years. BioShock made the audio recorders a popular retail item in Rapture then scattered them throughout the world. Gone Home applied the "mysterious abandoned building" trope to a family home, and tasked the player character with uncovering the secrets of her sister's love life. In Fullbright's follow-up, Tacoma, the studio built an entire game around discovering recordings, but added a visual component so you could watch as wireframe versions of the characters reenacted the key events.

The bottom line is, if you're telling a story with audio logs, games have advanced far beyond the implementation in The Callisto Protocol. As protagonist Jacob Lee makes his way through Black Iron Prison after a mysterious cataclysmic event, he finds audio logs left behind by the prison's employees. Sometimes those recordings are sitting on a table or counter. Other times, Jacob has to get them by sticking a shiv into the corpse's neck and prying out their ID core.

The Callisto Protocol's story isn't all that interesting in general, and the same goes for the audio logs. This is as straightforward as sci-fi horror stories get and every detail you uncover through the audio logs is something you've likely seen before somewhere else in the genre. They're not especially engaging, but that wouldn't be a big problem if the game allowed you to continue exploring as you listened.

But, to add insult to injury, The Callisto Protocol doesn't let you do anything else while you're listening to them. If you close out of the tab to start walking around, the audio log will quit playing.You can rotate Jacob's head back and forth, and watch as the inventory HUD, which curves like a widescreen PC monitor, moves with him. But, that's only interesting for about five seconds. Then, for the rest of the time, you're rooted in place, listening to some boring audio diaries.

This would still be a problem even if the audio logs were gripping radio plays. At their best, audio logs help you feel like you're part of the game's world. The audio quality and the style of the voice performances in BioShock reinforced the sense that you had washed up in a midcentury dystopia. The best experiences I've had with audio logs have been in dark creepy environments, where the audio enhances the mood that the rest of the game is establishing. When most of your field of view is occupied by your HUD, there isn't much mood to enhance.

In Insomniac's Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, audio logs are implemented as podcasts that routinely play as Peter or Miles swing around New York. You can pay as much or as little attention to them as you want, but they serve to build out the world around you. Thinking of audio logs as podcasts brings home the biggest problem with The Callisto Protocol's approach. Podcasts are incredibly popular. We are listening to the IRL equivalent of an audio log consistently as we commute to work, do the dishes, cook dinner, or clean up around the house. They coexist with our routine. They should in games, too.

Source: Read Full Article