By Brian Wells
Normally, when I think of a cooperative game I can play with a friend who lives in another state, all that comes to mind are looter-shooters like Destiny and Borderlands.
And then I learned about The Blackout Club from a friend.
The Blackout Club is a first-person game released in 2019 by Question Games for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game is centered around a group of teenage friends who are investigating strange happenings in their town. They notice that at night, everyone in the town gets out of bed and sleepwalks, waking up in the morning with absolutely no recollection of what happened the night before.
After waking up during some of these blackouts, and finding themselves covered in blood or deep in the woods, some of the teenagers decide to form The Blackout Club to figure out what the hell is going on. And of course, their parents and local police are no help. But after one of their friends disappears, they learn that not only are these sleepwalking incidents strange, but also deadly.
The game takes place in the fictional town of Redacre, Virginia. You and your friends sneak throughout the neighborhood at night, dodging sleepwalking adults — called Sleepers — and other monsters to gather evidence to expose the strange happenings in your town.
The first thing that stands out is overall atmosphere of the game. This is what I was most impressed with, and I don’t think I can adequately put into words just how great it is. The neighborhoods feel like they could be any typical white-picket-fence community anywhere in the U.s., but there’s also a lingering feeling of eeriness and tension. Streetlights illuminate the road that runs through the center of the neighborhood, while porch lights and kitchen lights spill through windows to light the way through backyards.
To add to the atmosphere, The Blackout Club has very few sound effects or background music. Occasionally you’ll get an audio cue from your character or another player saying to hide, and your footsteps make different sounds based on the surface you’re walking across.
The enemies also do a great job of drawing you into the atmosphere. The Sleepers wander throughout the neighborhood like zombies, mumbling phrases that can lead you to believe you’ve been found out, or that they’re suspicious of you or even the strange force captivating them.
Some Sleepers look like robots donning special hazmat suits or uniforms, while others look like normal parents in their silk pajamas.
The Lucids are a bit more alert and coherent. They carry flashlights, and as soon as they see you they give chase, shouting phrases to convince you to join them. It’s possible to take them down and buy yourself a few seconds, but it requires a bit more patience and tactfulness to get around them without being caught.
There’s also The Shape, an enemy that will come for you, completely unrelenting, if you commit too many sinful acts, such as breaking into a house or taking down an enemy. The Shape is invisible, and can only be seen when your character closes their eyes — an in-game action performed by the player.
The developers have also created what they call the “Enhanced Horror System,” which other sites have dubbed as the scariest part of the game. This allows the game to actually talk to you, either through text or a voice, by performing certain rituals that actually require you — the you holding the controller, not the you in the game — to speak into your microphone.
It’s entirely possible for the game to respond to you, revealing a secret or giving you an item.
But beyond that, The Blackout Club doesn’t have much going for it.
The overall gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from an FPS. But unlike every other looter-shooter, the game relies primarily on stealth, giving you very few options to actually fight and defend yourself if you get into a pinch. Of course, it’s sometimes possible to outrun your foes, if you know where you’re trying to go.
As you complete missions, you level up and gain access to more tools. You can also equip your character with special items like a drone, which can be used to record evidence or lure enemies away from a distance, a grappling hook or a taser. But actually leveling up can feel like a total grind, as it doesn’t come quickly.
The missions in the game are all procedurally-generated, meaning they can — and do — repeat, and you aren’t necessarily working to advance a storyline. This can lead to a lot of repetition and redundancy, and in my experience, burnout. Granted, as you get stronger, you can unlock new areas and new objectives, but they’re only fun for a mission or two before they start repeating.
Lastly — and this is probably the biggest drawback for me — is the story. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a deep and interesting story, but it’s hard to actually gather anything from the game that will tell you about what’s going on. There are in-game clips you can unlock, and conversations, but it’s easy to miss things, which leaves you with a lot of plot holes.
I’ve Googled the story and learned quite a bit about it, which helps me to want to learn more about what’s going on in — and below — Redacre. But unfortunately, as of the time of this review being posted, the developers haven’t created any kind of end-game.
But with all of that said, I’ve logged quite a few hours on this game. The creepy, tense atmosphere of the game is enough to keep me coming back and dealing with gameplay that doesn’t feel unique and a story that’s hard to follow.