It's a common concept in the horror genre to have people be tormented by a creature they can't see or anticipate - the Paranormal Activity series springs immediately to mind. Likewise, another tool often used throughout the world of horror is seeing unprepared teenagers tackle terrifying monsters or killers who would be more than a challenge for a group of trained, armed adults - Stranger Things being a great example of this. We know how these situations usually work out for the victims, however, the real question is what would change should the two styles be combined. Developer Question has brought us the answer to that particular question with its latest title, The Blackout Club, which bridges the gap between horror, stealth and multiplayer.
After unusual situations cause the adults of the small town of Redacre to change into sensorially handicapped beings, a group of teenagers who each suffers from peculiar instances of memory loss, lasting for both long and short periods of time, step up to find some answers. The Blackout Club is the name of this group of teens who first joined together after one of their own was snatched by a creature who is seemingly otherworldly. A horror title supported by a hefty lump of stealth mechanics, The Blackout Club is an online-only game (aside from the 30-minute solo prologue at the beginning) that uses procedurally generated missions to make each play-through feel as unique as possible.
Played entirely in the first-person, The Blackout Club features a relatively simple control scheme and HUD, all revolving around the stealth mechanics it utilises. The display features two points of interest, the health/stamina hybrid bar and the discovery detector. The health/stamina bar shows how much health and stamina you have available, which decreases as you take damage, whereas the discovery detector shows if enemies are aware of you and how much noise you are making. For console players, the sticks control movement and the camera, with sprinting toggled via R3. As well as this, you can crouch, interact with objects, and jump/mantle. You can take down unsuspecting enemies with the trigger, provided you are behind them. Furthermore, you can also use this control to pin said enemies, making them unable to move. Finally, one of the more unique and important mechanics in The Blackout Club is simply closing your eyes with a press of a button. This allows players to see things that are hidden, such as footprints, hints on where to go, and even see ominous messages, which only adds to the horror elements within.
The importance of closing your eyes during missions is not just about tracking footprints or revealing hints, it's also the best survival mechanic players can use. This feature is the only way to track the most fearsome enemy type, The Shape, the very same otherworldly creature we referenced earlier. The being, which exists in the form of a man, travels throughout the world by using creepy red doors with eye symbols painted on them. Unlike other enemies, he will only be summoned once you've caused too much of a ruckus, meaning it is possible to never encounter him, especially if you are particularly talented in the art of stealth. As for the additional enemy types, The Blackout Club has a few, centred around normal humans with handicapped senses. Sleepers, for example, can't see but hear extremely well, Lucids, on the other hand, can see you just fine, provided you are in a light source, which could even be their own phone light should you provoke them into searching. These examples of the different types of enemies require players to adapt on the fly, depending on who or what they encounter.
Players will also have an assortment of tools at their disposal, which can be swapped with L1/LT and used with R1/RT. These tools bring a level of diversity to each character in your online party and range from a handy grappling hook to help you scale steep surfaces, all the way to bandages to heal up wounds and bring a level of survivability to each mission. Whilst players will be able to go into each mission with one of these items, more can be randomly looted from chests within each map. Similar to tools, players can use their in-game mobile phone to record evidence or act as a flashlight in the darker areas of each mission, although this can be risky as it will make you easier to be detected, especially for Lucids.
To further explain how each character is slightly unique, they can be levelled up with the experience gained from missions, unlocking perks, new areas of the maps, game modes and enemies along the way. The perks give players abilities that are either major or minor depending on how effective they are. Only one major perk can be equipped as they provide the most impact, such as the ability to fight back against enemies. Minor perks, on the other hand, can be equipped up to four times and are more personal, such as granting 10% more stamina or the ability to start each mission with a bandage or another consumable. Experience can also be used to purchase cosmetics from the store, which simply provide an appearance change or give the ability to use emotes, should that sort of feature take your fancy.
Since The Blackout Club is entirely online, you might be curious if you can play it solo at all. Before beginning a mission, you will be asked to either create a private or public lobby or even join an already active one. Therefore, you can play solo should you like, but finding people to play with is never difficult considering the matchmaking systems in place, however, due to how levelling unlocks new playable areas and enemies, joining a higher-level friend, or vice-versa, may prove detrimental to your overall experience. Since this is an online horror title, Question wants everyone to feel equally terrified, at least to the best degree they can offer. To do this, they have implemented a feature that tracks your breathing and responses through your microphone, which will then be reflected on your in-game character. Whilst this does elevate the multiplayer experience, it may feel a little intrusive to some, therefore it can be turned on and off in the settings.
As well as traditional co-op story missions, The Blackout Club offers an alternative style called Stalker Mode. This only unlocks after players reach Level 5 and allows other players to invade missions and record evidence of The Blackout Club, reporting information back to in-game enemies. These people can use the ominous red doors to traverse the map and have no direct objective to complete, instead, they are all about sabotaging players, making for a more diverse online experience, similar in its essence to how Friday The 13th: The Game works.
Last of all, to wrap everything up is a look at the art and sound design that The Blackout Club has to offer. The art style is an animated-realistic hybrid that captures the reality of each character whilst still preserving their cartoonish, ridiculous situation. With this being said, there are occasional times when filmed footage of actors is shown, which directly opposes the art direction but doesn't exactly destroy it. Truthfully, it brings a bit more realism to the title, which doesn't hurt it since it seems so abstract at times. As for the sound design, Question has worked to make the soundtrack feel eerie but not terrifying, making the game much more enjoyable as players don't feel unsafe but more determined when playing.
In summary, The Blackout Club is a unique take on the horror-stealth genre as it allows players to group up and experience fear as a team. However, with the way the mission structure is set with no defined storyline and instead procedurally generated quests, it can feel a little monotonous at times, especially when you have to repeat similar objectives in different levels. All in all, the title itself is polished in terms of the mechanics it offers, but it's the art and sound design where it truly excels.
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