‘The Blackout Club’ makes me want back out of this club.
So when I was a little kid, I used to sneak around the house in the early morning scared out of my little mind, every midnight piss or snack run was a frankly terrifying experience; I had (And, to be real, still have) a horribly overactive imagination, so being alone in the dark would be a gauntlet run of faces seen in furniture, winds sounding like howling monsters, and trees looking like men stood in the garden.
When I’m with another person, I never have these frightening thoughts. They don’t even cross my mind.
Tangent over, this week I dipped my toes into ‘The Blackout Club’, a co-op horror stealth thingy by Question Games. Now, I assumed after a few hours of playtime that this team was a cabal of first-time developers fresh out of university putting out their debut title.
That’s not the case. Apparently, ‘The Blackout Club’ draws from a group of people who worked on – among other things – Dishonored, Bioshock 2 and Infinite, and even South Park: the Stick of Truth.
I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I expected a bit more, lads… But let’s back up before I sound too harsh, because I’ve got a few good things to say about this game after all. The Blackout Club is named after a group of teenagers who are trying to solve a mystery plaguing their town – In the night, people seem to sleepwalk out into the forest, seemingly possessed. The Blackout Club meet at night to gather evidence of the goings-on so they can escape the town and come back with help.
That’s a strong premise for a co-op game; a group of four lone rebels against a town gone mad, with mystery and intrigue at every turn. There’s just one problem, though – Just like when I was a child, having someone with you prevents all attempts at horror.
This game is scary, sure. At least, it is during the single-player prologue mission, where you play a named character with an actual plot, tension, and atmosphere building. Complete this short tutorial, however, and you’re immediately dumped into a lobby with one or more strangers. In my case, they were a bunch of shitposters who liked making jokes about Fallout – And when you have some guy screaming “It just WORKS” down the mic, it’s hard to build any palpable tension. And when there’s no tension, there is zero fear. Kinda a crap outcome for a horror game that you lads should frankly have seen coming.
The gameplay, I’m sorry to say, is almost completely stock. A suite of generic stealth mechanics form the core of the your time with the game, complemented with an overcomplicated combat system – You don’t directly attack enemies so much as you have a small window to press a button and fight back when you’re attacked. In the Queen’s English, we call that “The Combat is all QTEs”. Not the best sign. And those mechanics that are present simply break one another half the time – Most enemies can be defeated by simply all running away, and any monster whose weakness is Adidas is no threat to me, frankly. Me and the shitposters had fun with a small group of monsters once by all standing on a small wall and watching the AI stumble in circles around the garden as if the enemy had had too much to drink at the pub and had locked itself out of the house. When you’ve got four players all laughing at your horror game, it may be time to reevaluate things.
That’s not to say it isn’t engaging. While the levels are procedurally generated, I still ended up having fun sneaking around the maps looking for clues, and did feel some palpable suspense when a blind enemy walked into the room. Not in a way that made me scared, mind, but I was on edge nonetheless. There was one exception to this rule – A mighty beast of a boss monster known only as ‘The Shape’.
The Shape is only visible when you close your eyes, which you do by holding down a button and watching in amazement as your vision turns into bolognese sauce. The Shape manifests as a bright orange silhouette of a big scary man, which doesn’t sounds scary, but believe you me – Between the slightly janky and unnatural animation or the threatening and otherworldly sound design, it’s the only thing in the game that comes close.
That is, of course, unless you count the visuals you’re shown when you wipe the sauce off of your face and look around the town. This game isn’t pretty – It’s not aiming for AAA polish and is instead going for a sort of “rushed coursework” aesthetic. Rooms are simply blank rectangles, human characters have a strange plastic look to them gives them an air of an evil mannequin, and even the UI reminds me of something I made in my ‘Introduction to Programming’ module back at university. You may be thinking that graphics aren’t important – And you’d be right! Aesthetics, however, are quite important indeed, especially when you’re trying to scare me, and sadly, the lack of effort in developing any distinct art style makes the game feel even more lacking in character than it already was from the initial design stage.
I realise that in being so critical, I’m in a minority. Judging by Steam, many people really like the game’s story and co-op focus. “Lots of story text to read” was one thing I read – Which I find frankly idiotic, I’m afraid. If the main selling point of your game is the story, but the gameplay doesn’t do much to carry that story, then what you should have made is a book. Of course, this game wouldn’t work as a book because a book would require an actual protagonist, whereas ‘The Blackout Club’ simply handwaves that whole business and sets you up with your own “custom” protagonist (And I put those quote marks there because the customisation is hilariously token) with no voice or personality. Given that the game has some token RPG elements with 4 skill trees, and there are between 1 and 4 players in each lobby, a wiser storyteller would have assigned each skill tree to a different character – Someone small and nerdy as the tech tree, and someone brash and athletic as the combat tree, etc. And, as is well documented, most things are fun when you do it co-op. I genuinely enjoyed a practical exam once, simply because it was a team effort.
But nay. Sadly, this game is a few good ideas wrapped up in what can only be a distinct lack of effort, given the pedigree on display from the developers. Ugly aesthetics that could have been easily avoided with a little bit of thought about the art style, generic and forgettable game mechanics, and a fundamentally flawed premise all come together to form a product that lacks in any bite. If you’re desperate for co-op horror action, I’d recommend Dead by Daylight instead. That way, you can enjoy a far better game that lets you play as the monster and slice up your mates as a bit of catharsis. As is, steer clear of ‘The Blackout Club’, as the scariest part will be checking your bank account the next day, and the most fun will be the email from Valve telling you your refund was approved.
It’s sad, and I don’t mean to be contrarian, but for lack of creative passion and low technical quality, I rate The Blackout Club 4/10. At least I met some fun guys while playing it.