Title: The Blackout Club
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Co-op Horror
After playing a few titles from the co-op horror genre, I felt that a lot of the games went for a “gore first, then story second” approach, as trends tend to do. These other games feel the excessive need to pit players against each other and provide the feeling of hunting or outwitting each other. While the initial thrill can pique some interest, there are no questions, nothing that asks players to stick around and dig into the world that surrounds the chaos.
I feel that developer Question is filling that empty space with their newest title, The Blackout Club. What that empty space ends up turning into is a world that seems to be run-of-the-mill but then becomes deeper, both in terms of story and game world as players go deeper into tunnels and find there is much more to the game.
The Blackout Club starts out with a group of teenagers that gather together after learning that they have all been experiencing a series of blackouts that are more than just mere sleepwalking incidents. Empty memories and covered in mud, the teens realize there is something much bigger going on. Right when the groups’ best friend vanishes, they investigate and find a much larger world underneath the town full of beings that are controlling the adults. So, it’s up to The Blackout Club to find their friend and reveal the underworld as the horrifying mind-controlling hive that it is.
The premise is interesting for the gameplay because it inherently asks players to figure out a mystery of just what the adults and the enigmatic beings are up to. What’s especially great is how the player is introduced to that world. Opening scenes have the player do seeming familiar stealth mechanics that can be found in horror titles such as couching, hiding and avoiding detection. Yet as the player continues, those beings prove to be more complicated to deal with in terms of simple avoidance.
In the game’s world, up to four players go out into the neighborhood to complete missions that allow the teens to record evidence of strange activities and find clues that could help figure out where their friend is. Missions are varied from taking pictures of forced entries to infiltrating the underworld the dark beings occupy. As players search the town for their objectives, the mind-controlled adults, called Sleepers are patrolling the neighborhood and will try to capture anyone that interfered. While they can not see the players sneaking around, they can hear your footsteps and the objects that you’re interacting with. Additionally, Lucids are enemies that have sight and can spot club members that are out of the shadows. Not only is it advised to say clear from Lucids, but the challenge is also bumped up with their ability to call The Shape when you cause too much of a nuisance.
The Shape in an invisible being that can only be is seen when the player closes their eyes have and see the flame-like entity rushing toward them. As I mentioned, The Shape appears when it is either called or when one of the four players have committed too many ‘sins’ during the mission and The Shape enters the area from one of the many red doors to capture said player. When captured, a player enters a trance that has them walking aimlessly on the map. While they can be revived, players that are captured three times by the Shape will die and cannot be revived for the rest of the mission.
Finally, another enemy to watch out for is The Stalker, a playable character that can travel through the same red doors that The Shape can use and record “sins” that players commit and report them to The Shape. To stop the meddling Stalker, players can capture them to kick them out of the map though that can be easier said than done. The Stalker cannot be stopped by the same dark beings The Blackout Club has to deal with, making capture a challenge when the Stalker chooses to run through a crowd of them.
All these layers create a decent amount of challenge as missions can be located in areas that become more populated by enemies than other sections of the map. Unfortunately, there were times that I felt was the only challenge to the missions. While not all missions are alike during the story, basically, the missions consist of pressing a button to complete them. This works for a multiplayer game that needs to translate information to four players, as well as not frustrate those players while they’re being chased. However, I was hoping that the developer would also find a way to include more interactions as they already integrated a strong design and story for the game’s core.
Missions can get pretty difficult, but luckily, there are plenty of items, known as ‘Hero Items’, that can help players get out of trouble as they allow players to create windows of opportunities to escape. There are three Hero Items that players can choose from that act as their main ability.
The Crossbow has very high stopping power as it can KO an enemy, though it only has one shot and replenishing it can be a chore. The Stun Gun has the ability to momentarily stop a being from chasing you and could recharge over time. While the Grappling Hook can fire a climbable rope to reach high places and can be infinitely used as long as you retrieve the hook.
Along with the Hero Items, players can pair them with more abilities from the Deck, The Blackout Club’s perk system that can be upgraded with level up points. The abilities can range from a controllable drone and takedowns to hacking and temporary invulnerability.
I find the mix and match nature to player abilities fit nicely with The Blackout Club’s design due to missions feeling like a puzzle that involves many ways to duck and weave enemies to accomplish that those missions. As Hero Items feel like they cater to player choice of being stealthy or aggressive, the same notion is applied to the Deck as they cater to playstyles by making takedown tackles easier or hacking from afar, furthering player choice.
The biggest flaw I can find with The Blackout Club is that its story is set aside in its prologue and intermissions between nights. For a game that’s full of lore, I find the optional story bits that fill in the necessary context disappointing. Especially during my first few hours with the game, I felt that the game was a mindless walk to an objective that required a single button input.
It wasn’t until I started exploring the tunnels and didn’t mind making my co-op partners wait while I listened to memory logs that I found the game’s appeal. After that, oversights like the heavy-handed shared health and stamina bar or the sudden crowds of enemies making it hard to run away could be overlooked if you care more about the world-building.
Rather than chasing online players for some sort of obligatory horror-related purpose, The Blackout Club actually has a story worth caring about. Sure, the full-on action approach provides to those that love being the killer, but the game has a good mystery that a player and three other friends can solve together.
The Blackout Club is a riveting co-op thrill ride that isn’t really like any other horror game out there, making The Blackout Club a unique club worth joining.
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