Developed and published by Question Studio, The Blackout Club is a stealth-horror first-person shooter with an emphasis on cooperative play. As a group of teenagers, you must complete various quests together while dodging the insane adults and an otherworldly figure on the prowl. It can be tense and thrilling at times, though it’s difficult to overlook the janky, grindy feel of this title.
The prologue is a chilling experience, and will guide you through all the important mechanics of the game. Teens have been blacking out abruptly, and the world around them keeps changing each time they wake up. All of the adults keep denying it, so it’s up to the titular Blackout Club to figure out what the hell is going on, all the while avoiding the sleepwalking parents and crazed cultists patrolling the town of Redarce. Things like diary extracts, TV recordings and even dreams will shed a bit of light on this gripping mystery.
Praise goes to the lighting and sound design in this one. The streets and homes of these mysterious American suburbs is bathed in darkness (not enough to make the flashlight necessary, mind you), with some areas bathed in light or overarching shadows. Sharp, contextual audio cues and a minimalist soundtrack makes the atmosphere all the more unsettling. The graphics are decent, with exception to its ugly character models and janky animations. Performing simple actions might have your character clip and wiggle around a bit, while walking too close to objects makes whatever you’ve got in your hands disappear from sight until you move back.
Each mission has you – and up to three additional players – complete numerous oddjobs, like recording evidence, stealing intel, sabotaging enemy equipment, and so on. You’ll be experiencing deja vu soon enough, as they’ll keep cropping up with minor variations. Large portions of the map can be explored and broken into, including the ‘mazes’ (underground buildings and rooms accessible via secret passageways inside houses and backyards). Reaching higher levels allows you to explore more of the map and also introduces new objectives, but it’ll take a fair bit of grinding. Bonus XP is dished out to survivors in multiplayer games (beating missions solo gives you a miniscule reward each time) and to those who complete the bonus objectives (which tend to require little more than recording specific items with your phone). It still doesn’t change the fact that it still feels like a bit of a slog.
With each level-up, you earn skill points. These can be spent on upgradable major abilities that allow you to use gadgets or perform powerful attacks. Minor abilities offer small perks like additional inventory items and more stamina. Candy is also earned from beating missions, which are used to buy cosmetics, taunts and one-time purchases in the vendors found in the underground areas. It’ll take more than a handful of games if you ever want to purchase the dabbing perk.
The stealth mechanics are quite polished in this one. The adults are reactive to either sight or sound (sometimes both), so you can’t always expect to win by trampling through each zone like a hoard of rabid buffalo. Tools like stun guns and flashbang grenades will help you fight back when you’re in a pickle. Otherwise, if you take too much damage and run out of stamina, they’ll pacify you. There may be an opportunity for you to grab a conveniently-placed item from a bin, but your best bet is to rely on your buds to come to the rescue. There are a few additional gimmicks you can toggle for a slightly trickier experience. In-game chat, for instance, will alert nearby enemies.
The biggest threat you’ll come across is The Shape, an invisible figure that can only be seen when you close your eyes. This supernatural deity will prey on any adolescent who’s done many naughty things, like tussling with enemies, disabling traps, kicking down doors, etc. Its aim is to grab targeted players in order to brainwash them, forcing you to tattle on your allies to attract enemy attention against your will. Only your allies can save you when it happens. The Shape won’t cameo in every game, though when he goes, getting chased by this sucker in between everything else can be a pants-pooping experience.
An additional game mode allows you to control a rogue teen called The Stalker, who has the ability to invade other people’s games in order to record them committing sins. However, if they pin you down, you’ll be kicked from the server. It’s not as enjoyable since you’re totally defenseless and can only access this mode when you have passes available (think of them as once-per-turn entrance tokens that you’re sometimes given after matches), and there’s no additional XP to earn. Still, it’s a nice change of pace to play as the bad guys, even if waiting for evidence to record can feel like a lengthy wait. Choosing between which door to spawn from is a challenge in itself, no thanks to a jittery spectating camera.
Those interested in swiping up The Blackout Club might want to wait it out until a few more patches are released, unless wonky animations, a grindy leveling system and graphical glitches aren’t the kind of issues that’ll put you off completely. To its merits, it has a gripping plot, plenty of gadgets and perks, a vast environment to explore, and some brilliant sound design. As relentless as the enemies are, The Shape is easily the scariest thing you’ll come across in it. Games will either be a simple cakewalk or a spine-tingling trek, but playing solo just nowhere near as fun, forgiving or rewarding as co-op mode. However, there’s still some spooky fun to be had in this fairly repetitiveness and janky title, so don’t let it scare you off from joining the club entirely.
Game code supplied by developers.