by Joel France
reviewed on PC
Something strange in the neighbourhood…
The co-op survival horror game The Blackout Club, newly transitioned to full release after 9 months in early access, sees you joining a rag-tag bunch of teens to investigate the decidedly odd goings-on in the local area. The adults of this town are up to - perish the thought - shenanigans, including sleepwalking around the streets, playing dress-up in last season’s cult apparel, and spending far too much time in the network of tunnels hidden beneath the sleepy suburb.
Not Another Teen Conspiracy
The setup is pretty straightforward - you’ve set up a base of operations just outside the influence of the townsfolk, and it’s time to fight back... except, being smaller and weaker than the crazed inhabitants (known as Sleepers), there’s not much you can provide in terms of an out-and-out offensive. Whilst you can brave missions decked with crossbows and stun-guns, none of these offer a permanent solution - the best you’re able to buy is time to escape. The key to The Blackout Club’s intended longevity is the procedural nature of its mission system. Whilst the map stays the same, the victory conditions will change for each attempt. This can range from putting up posters around town to get the word out about your cause, taking out brainwashing devices to limit the spread of the happenings, or even stealing back incriminating evidence from a previous botched mission. There are also bonuses to be earned in the form of XP boosts for collecting additional evidence, mostly by filming a roughed up bedroom here or an ominous blood spatter there. This evidence is supposed to help the club to get the word out about the situation at hand, though who their media connections are (outside of, presumably, the school paper) is not readily apparent.
Down, but not out
In any zany teen adventure, there’s bound to be slip-ups. Make too much noise and get caught one too many times and you’ll be overwhelmed, and a Sleeper will start dragging you somewhere you really don’t want to go. Where in most games this kind of failure would lead to either being completely helpless or wildly firing your backup pistol until your teammate comes to rescue you, in The Blackout Club you’re left desperately flailing around to find your own escape. As you’re dragged past discarded piles of rubbish you’re able to lunge for an implement that will allow you to get the jump on your captor and make good your escape. It’s a nice touch that allows a bit more control of your destiny, even after you’ve made a mistake. However, getting captured by the stumbling Sleepers is not the only thing you need to worry about...
In the blink of an eye
The Blackout Club’s most innovative concept is your character’s ability to close their eyes at will. With your eyes shut, you can no longer see the outside world (normal), but you are able to make out hazy figures, cryptic messages, and glowing footprints (not normal). This ability is sadly not used to the degree I was expecting, but it’s a vital tool when avoiding this game’s most unsettling threat: the Shape. During a mission, the Shape will begin hunting you based on specific criteria. This enemy is completely invisible and can always find you - the only way you can attempt to stay one step ahead is by closing your eyes, at which point you’ll see a hazy yellow outline of a figure relentlessly pursuing you through the bloodshot haze. In the prologue, where you’re introduced to these mechanics, the sight of the Shape is genuinely terrifying - though when it catches you during a mission, all it does is take control away from your character until a teammate can come along and shake your head clear.
Low stakes all round
Ultimately, The Blackout Club is let down by the mismatch between its multiplayer and its atmosphere. The Shape, so ominous in the prologue but so frustrating in the main gameplay, is indicative of this. The prologue of the game, which tells a scripted tale of a girl getting captured by the Sleepers, serves to instill a fantastic sense of horror and foreboding. However, this is not maintained once you enter the multiplayer environment with gestures and costumes to equip, a developer update ticker feed, and endless procedural missions with next to no penalty for losing. The multiplayer focus makes it difficult to form an emotional attachment, detracting from what could have been a uniquely unnerving experience. In the current state this game is worth trying if you’ve got a few friends on board, but I’d love to see a more thorough exploration of the mechanics in a well-crafted, single-player story.
Atmosphere, engaging fail states.
Slow progression, inconsistent tone.