Your friend has been taken. They have her, and none of the adults in your small town believes you. Who exactly is "they"? Well, that is for you and your friends to uncover. During the day, the peaceful modern-day town seems like every other; however, at night, people suffer from "blackouts," losing parts of their memory. Joining a club with other kids, you venture out at night gathering evidence, but be warned, nothing is what it seems, and every step you make could be your last. Beware The Shape, a hulking invisible, mysterious humanoid that comes after those with the most sins.
A first-person cooperative horror game, The Blackout Club focuses upon stealth-based gameplay for up to four players online. The prologue, which is only played solo, serves as a brief introduction to the game's concepts and gameplay mechanics. The atmospheric setting, being alone at night, is not only suspenseful and downright frightening. However, the cooperative nature of the main game cuts through that tension, and you'll probably be laughing with your friends more often than feeling a sense of dread. That has always been the crux in having multiple players in horror-based titles. For this reason, the game's opening sequence feels different than what you will experience online. Even though you can opt to play the game alone, the procedural mission structure works best when playing with others.
Once the sun sets, the only ones that you can trust are your fellow teenagers (not all of them, however, more on that later). Adults are not your friend, not even your parents. There are various types of enemies that you'll come across, which are easily recognizable based on their design. During their sleep, adults of the town of Redacre are being forced to serve the dark master. As they are sleeping, they are unable to see; however, they have a heightened sense of hearing. I'm not sure what type of nefarious work they do in their sleep, but for the most part, they mumble creepy phrases and roam around like zombies. Unlike Sleepers, which are unable to see, Lucids possess the gift of sight and appear to be much more conscious of their surroundings. These are the two most common enemies you'll come across, outside of the hovering drone that closely watches sections of the map, alerting others to your presence.
The Shape is an entirely different beast, and if it spawns through one of the ominous red doors in the town, your team is going to be in trouble. Being spotted by the drone, making too much noise, and attempting to take out too many enemies is the quickest way to draw the attention of the invisible creature. You can only see the glowing orange outline of the beast when you close your eyes, producing a reddish hellscape on the backside of your eyelids. Closing your eyes means you won't be able to monitor the locations of any nearby enemies. It becomes a necessity if you want to protect yourself from The Shape. Team members scramble across the map to escape its grasp, but possibly alerting everything nearby, causing more problems than you began with. In theory, you are supposed to be able to avoid capture, but in all of our games where The Shape appeared, not once did we survive.
Once unlocked (and if you are opted-in), you can invade someone's else's mission as a stalker. Similarly, this opens your game up to others, who work against The Blackout Club by altering enemies to your presence. If the stalker gathers enough evidence, this may garner the attention of The Shape. Taking down the stalker will remove them from your game, so it should be your top priority. Stealth once again is the best approach. This added player-enemy element certainly adds a new dynamic to the game experience and is entirely optional.
Redacre is split into different regions, but at the start, you'll only have access to the initial area. There are plenty of houses to explore in each region, including secrets lurking underground, but access to new places is locked until your character reaches a specific level. Missions are procedurally generated, adding new elements to the same part of the map you'll play endlessly before moving on. Objectives are provided one at a time and must be completed before receiving the next tasks. These tasks are randomized, so even though you may be searching in the same part of town dozens of times, your goals and the location of your goals will be unique. This also includes enemy placement, ensuring you are kept on your toes and don't become complacent. There are three main mission types; disrupt, search, and steal, but plenty of variation within each. While sneaking around the town, you may be tasked with snapping photos of evidence, gathering recruitment posters or audio bugs, and scattering them across the town or inside houses. You may even have to get up close to roaming Sleepers or Lucids and steal something from their body.
Before leaving the hidden railway cars in the woods outside of town (serving as your base of operations), you'll select between three primary items; stun gun, grappling hook, or crossbow. You can only use one at a time, and you'll end up dropping your current one if you attempt at picking another one. The stun gun, which has become my favorite, is a rechargeable battery-powered weapon, great when you are trapped close to enemies. Zapped enemies will temporarily become incapacitated, giving your team a chance to escape the vicinity safely. Just don't get caught while it is still recharging. If your playstyle focuses on traversal, the grappling hook is a great way to reach inaccessible areas, such as poorly constructed treehouses that lack any stairs. In a pinch, you may throw it towards enemies to stun them, but between my three-player team, it was the least utilized item. The makeshift crossbow became an instant favorite by Marcus, as you can safely tranquilize enemies at a safe (and hopefully unseen) distance. Unlike the stun gun, which recharges, you must locate additional ammunition for the crossbow.
The Blackout Club has a handful of single-use items that you'll come across during a mission, and lose them once the mission ends. These are found in randomly placed supply crates; however, each player can only carry a limited amount per item. Lockpicks to quietly open locked doors come in handy, along with bandages that can take care of minor wounds, and energy bars that replenish your stamina. Others help you distract or escape from wandering enemies. Noisemakers make a heck of a lot of noise, luring any nearby Sleepers, but my personal favorite is the versatile foam grenade. From disabling security cameras to providing a quieter surface to walk across, it can almost do it all, including briefly stunning enemies.
The Blackout Club is at its best when coordinating efforts to complete objectives with friends using voice chat, and everyone focuses on an established plan. Although the missions are procedurally generated, the game is lacking in true substance, and enough reason to keep you and your friends invested in the game. Purchasing customization options for your character is just not enough, especially in a first-person game. Allow there is added variation to each of the mission types; there simply needs to be more to accomplish in the game. The voice-over work and sound design, however, is quite strong, and opting into the enhanced horror is downright amazing. The added optional dynamic of a player working against you is intriguing, but only time will tell if it becomes embraced by the community.Note: The Blackout Club was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.