Horror games aren’t exactly known as the best fit for terrifying co-op play. Tension and scares are often diluted in rushed multiplayer experiences resembling hide-and-seek bouts, leaving no room for thrills and chills. The Blackout Club doesn’t entirely succeed at minimizing the objective rush, but scores high marks in atmosphere and fun. It gets a slap on the wrist and a written warning for being a tad repetitive though.
The Blackout Club starts with an unexpectedly creepy prologue considering it’s only playable in solo and heavily story-driven. I wasn’t expecting a chill down my spine just a few minutes in. The premise is intriguing, the mechanics are clever and Bells, your temporary avatar, is going through some bizarre events that set the mood for what’s to come.
Stranger Things in a Small Town
It’s hard to avoid mentioning Stranger Things, the Goonies and Scooby-Doo as some of the biggest pop culture inspirations for the game. The Blackout Club is set in the small town of Redacre where mysterious disappearances are unnerving the inquisitive teenagers. Every night when the town is asleep, the locals end up roaming around, then waking up with a few bruises and no recollection of anything whatsoever. It’s not a simple case of sleepwalking, as these Blackouts may be the source of a terrible dark secret.
Since no adult seems to believe the teenagers’ claims that something evil is lurking, they decide to take matters into their own hands. The prologue reveals that there is a complex and inexplicable underground system with a lot of strange happenings, which will be a crucial part of the investigation. Soon after Bells’ disappearance, a group of teens form a club to get to the bottom of things, figuratively and literally speaking. These missions often take you to the deepest caves where nightmarish creatures lurk in the dark.
The Blackout Club is a co-op game with up to four players taking on procedurally generated missions in a small town and its underground system. A group of four players will provide the optimal experience, but a couple of well-organized friends should be enough to enjoy what the game has to offer. In fact, I risk saying that you can even play it solo, if you like stealth-focused gameplay, but you would be missing on a fun collective experience.
Fun is a word that aptly describes The Blackout Club. While it may seem at odds with horror and occasional palpable tension, I’ve been through some laugh out loud moments with this game. From the cheesy flannel shirts to the amazingly awkward and untimely gestures – “sure, let’s just kneel and pray, that should save us from the demons” –, there is so much potential for goofiness that you’re bound to end up being possessed because you were laughing your butts off. Not everything is down to wild imagination either; there are some nice touches that I wasn’t expecting to see. Try flashing your cellphone’s flashlight right in the face of one of your friends and he’ll tell you to stop doing it. It’s a small example of attention to detail that goes a long way to build the atmosphere and a sense of a cohesive world.
While the maps aren’t procedurally generated (you unlock new areas at set experience levels ), the missions are. This means you’ll be tasked with quite a few different objectives and random places to explore. Challenge diversity is interesting enough. Each mission may have you doing several tasks in order to escape and win the night. Along with these are bonus tasks with recording evidence being the most common activity.
A mission may ask your group to investigate a break-in, pick up some posters from trashcans and place them, find a missing person and his cellphone, repair a drone, steal cryptograms and much more. It’s not due to lack of mission variety that you’ll grow tired of The Blackout Club, but more of a case of exploring the same areas and repeatedly going through the same motions. It gets tiresome and regular breaks are advised so that the potential of the game doesn’t go to waste. Even if you unlock new areas that add some much-needed fresh locations to the proceedings, the gameplay ends up resorting to the same tricks. Despite the crafty execution, it’s just not enough to keep you going for hours without it all becoming a bit dull.
The Blackout Club is best enjoyed in short gameplay bursts, especially considering that a single mission may take close to an hour. A careful, restrained approach is vital, since the bestiary does include a few blind persons with great hearing, but there is one greater evil that you won’t escape easily.
Close Your Eyes and See
Your main enemies are the Sleepers, the adult residents of the small town. They have no memory of their actions during the night, where they drag children to the Shape. The Sleepers are unable to see, but they have a great sense of hearing and are alert to every noise that you make. The Lucids can see and are fully aware of what is going on, searching the surroundings with the help of their flashlights.
When you are caught, there is a short window of time to escape by using a special item. If you don’t have one in your inventory, you may be lucky enough to grab one from the trash piles or trash bags while you’re being dragged. If you fail to escape, you’ll be taken to the Shape.
The Shape is a mysterious invisible entity that seems to act as the instigator of the events in Redacre. When the kids commit enough sins (being seen or caught doing some sort of mission objective), the Shape comes through the red doors that are spread across the town after the player who has committed the most sins. While you can make an educated guess on the Shape’s location based on the red lines showing on the edges of the screen, the only way to effectively see it is by closing your eyes and glancing at the blurred shadow. The downside is that you can’t see anything else with your eyes closed, so you’re running blind.
This mechanic is somewhat divisive. While clever in theory, it’s overly punishing considering the predatory predisposition of the Shape. Unless you are close to finishing the mission, this entity is a dead-on sign that all your efforts are about to go to waste. You can’t escape the Shape; when you are caught by the throat, you lose your mind and wander aimlessly through the town and underground complex, occasionally running from your friends who are desperately trying to help you regain full consciousness. As soon as the Shape shows up, tension ramps up and so does frustration. Is it your fault for committing too many sins? Perhaps, but considering the meager amount of experience points earned for your actions, failing a mission because one of your friends was caught (every player must escape) quickly becomes frustrating.
The Blackout Club has a PvP mode called The Stalker. In theory it is an asymmetrical PvP mode, unless you are playing solo for some reason. The way it works is a single player, The Stalker, is dropped in an ongoing game, where he aims to record the club kids and report to the Shape. In theory this sounds fascinating, but the high difficulty is bound to become ludicrous with the addition of a player-controlled foe.
The club’s abandoned train is equipped with all sorts of tools, from stun guns to grappling hooks and a crossbow. You also have several items to use, including bandages, energy bars, foam grenades, lockpicks and noisemakers, to name a few. Being a co-op stealth game at heart, The Blackout Club is mostly about moving around unnoticed, using items to distract the adult residents (the noisemaker is great to divert the Sleepers’ attention by the way). You can spend points in major and minor powers from the deck, enhancing your character’s abilities such as improved takedowns or stamina.
The way the game handles health and stamina is quite clever. Instead of using one bar for each stat, The Blackout Club resorts to a single bar where one aspect mirrors the other. You start with full health and stamina, but as soon as you are wounded and your health decreases, so does your stamina. For example, when you have 50% health, your stamina level sits at 50% as well. If you replenish your health (using a bandage or energy bar), both stats will eventually be back at 100%.
The Blackout Club is essentially a PvE co-op stealth grinder with a few innovative mechanics. Playing with a few friends is mandatory to fully enjoy the game and there is nothing preventing each player to go wherever they want to.
This is a game that requires patience and steady fingers. Rushing through the town will often bring the Shape into play, thwarting your efforts. The procedurally generated objectives add to the longevity of the game, but I’m not the biggest fan of the underground maze and I’m convinced that not many players will be. Movement isn’t always intuitive and while it can never be called parkour or anything remotely close, character movement feels sluggish at times, especially when climbing and going through a window.
The experience gets inevitably repetitive and slightly frustrating, but this can be said of most multiplayer games. The developers have tried to add some variety with the gadgets and items, but there is only so much that they can do with the core mechanics.
Ultimately, The Blackout Club can be a lot of fun if you respect a couple of guidelines: coordinate your actions with your friends and don’t play for many hours at a time.
The Blackout Club’s concept is ingenious, from its significant lore to the way that it adapts tried-and-tested stealth mechanics to an original horror setting. It’s a stealth game for sure, but it’s obvious a lot of care went into making it stand out from the crowd. This is a great alternative to Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th: The Game, with the Stalker PvP mode providing asymmetrical competitive thrills.
There is an enhanced horror mode that uses your microphone and voice recordings to improve the experience, adding conversations with the daimons. This isn’t mandatory, but it further helps with immersion including rituals and mysterious daimons that add another sinister and frightening layer to a game.
Learning Curve: 6/10
It takes some time to get acquainted with The Blackout Club’s twists. Learning how to subdue your enemies by pinning them, or how to deal with the Shape are things that will demand some attention. The prologue is incredibly moody and a terrific introduction to the lore, but it doesn’t tell you much about the co-op mechanics. It’s not terribly demanding, but it’s a matter of learning the ropes by your own means.
Graphics / Sound: 7/10
Graphically, The Blackout Club feels like a game of two halves. The first one is the accomplished setting that has great lighting and shadow effects, and a neighborhood that feels convincing and brooding. The enemy models aren’t tremendously detailed but are good enough for the job. The fact that they don’t have a “face” (it’s usually covered up or disguised by a heat wave effect) surely helps.
The other half, concerning the player characters, is depressingly bad. They look zombified, puzzlingly numb and expressionless, as if they were Sleepers themselves. Unless there is an inexplicable endgame twist in the works, this is just bad art and the game’s otherwise exciting mood takes a serious hit in this department.
Thankfully, the sound effects are outstanding and greatly contribute to the ominous atmosphere. The ambient sounds and screeching noises create a palpable tension that is hard to ignore, without ever needing to resort to a music track. Between moments of deafening silence and maddening noise, The Blackout Club excels in this regard.
Value for Money: 7/10
Your money is well spent on The Blackout Club, if you can endure its repetitive nature. If you can get a few friends to jump in for the ride, it could entertain you for a long time. It needs more content to keep players interested in the long run, but that is already promised.
The Blackout Club strives for originality while working with a familiar template. It’s Stranger Things meets Scooby-Doo which come together nicely, along with a few added ideas that make it different. Not everything works as expected and content is a bit slim overall, but it truly shines when you’re playing with a full party. If you like the uniqueness of the concept and the gloomy theme, you’ll find equal doses of horror and fun in the mysterious town of Redacre.
• A familiar concept drenched in unique notions
• Stranger Things, Scooby-Doo and Goonies vibes
• Accomplished horror atmosphere
• Procedurally generated mission objectives
• Creepy audio
• Extremely fun in co-op…
• Repetitiveness eventually sinks in
• Crude player character models
• The Shape is hugely punishing