What happens when we encounter something scary, whether it be a horror movie or a thunderstorm? We tend to close our eyes. Whatever's in front of us that's frightening us to our core, we retreat into the safety of whatever we see when we close our eyes. We imagine safety. What happens when that idea not only becomes a game mechanic, but also something that completely betrays us?
The answer is something like what pops up in The Blackout Club, the recently-released co-op stealth horror game from developer Question. It's a fantastic premise, one that feels totally unique and one that does something new with the horror genre. Unfortunately, it's a premise that the developers can't seem to run with, as it's a game that ultimately gets bogged down by repetitive gameplay.
You like scary movies?
The Blackout Club threw me for a loop from the start. There's no main menu to speak of whatsoever. It simply throws you into the lobby right from the start. Hitting the Escape key brings up options, along with a notice that the game is not paused. In fact, there's no pause function at all, which starts to become a pain later down the line.
Sensing myself to be totally lost out of the gate, I was quickly directed to the single-player Prologue mission, which sets up the game's premise. Players take control of an average teenager, who quickly begins to notice something amiss. Everything around her house quickly starts to go dark. Then, whenever she closes her eyes, horrifying messages will pop up, heralding doom.
This looks to be an epidemic, as strange phenomena is spreading through the town of Redacre. In particular, parents are sleepwalking in the streets, as if controlled by some supernatural force. The rest of the town's kids start to notice similar things happen and the story sees them all band together in an effort to try and sort out what's happening.
If the rest of the game was like this, a linear co-op adventure, The Blackout Club would be one of the most interesting games of the year. Unfortunately, it's not. It's really not.
Back in the lobby, players are encouraged to craft their character build, starting off with a taser, a grappling hook, and a crossbow with a tranquilizer attached. This is complemented with a minor skill, which offers different stat buffs. All this sounds great on paper, but then the game starts.
Players can join lobbies or host games for up to four players, with everyone thrown into a co-op mission. These mission objectives will vary between putting up posters, following a trail of blood, collecting signs, or some other mundane task. And if you're waiting for something more exciting, you might be waiting a while. These objectives repeat themselves a lot and it doesn't take long to realize what you've gotten yourself into.
This is doubly true when you realize there aren't many different enemy types. You have your Sleepers, who are sleepwalkers with extra-sharp hearing. Then you have your Lucids, who have sharp hearing and sharp eyesight. Both enemy types require intense stealth, though it's easy to screw up and get spotted. It's easy enough to push away an enemy, but it's not so easy to ward off the Shape.
The Shape is easily The Blackout Club's most interesting element. Being overly noisy or being clumsy with your stealth will bring the Shape ever closer to you. You literally can't see it coming, because it's an invisible force that can only be seen if you close your eyes. So in order to dodge the Shape and keep it from possessing you, you must close your eyes. And the Shape is relentless. It can pop up at the worst possible time and it can turn your plans upside-down in a snap. That idea is cool, but it's bogged down by the most repetitive tasks, the same enemy patterns, the same routine, and worst of all, clumsy combat and numerous glitches.
I've run into a number of bugs over the course of my time with The Blackout Club, ranging from animation hitches, stuck spots, and lousy hit detection. With that said, the last thing this game needed in this kind of state was griefers. But that's what Stalkers offer. It's essentially a PvP experience, with other players jumping into other games to try and cause trouble by getting video capture of the main players for the forces of darkness. Stalkers can screw with your progress by speeding up the Shape's appearance. In a better game, this is all a great idea. But when the game is as tedious and broken as this one, the idea of Stalkers is not a welcome one.
Open your eyes
The Blackout Club's neighborhood gradually opens up the more you play it, but the problem is that it's such a dull, mindless experience that getting there doesn't feel worthwhile. There's story in there somewhere, but the actual games feel so mind-numbingly boring that it ultimately feels like wasted potential. And speaking of wasted potential, the Shape is an incredibly cool idea, one that would work so much better in a more polished product.
And maybe that polish will still come. Maybe the glitches will get fixed down the line, maybe the game will get that fresh burst of variety in its missions and enemy types that it needs, maybe it'll get a fresh set of environments. But at this time, The Blackout Club isn't a club worth joining. For now, close your eyes and try to imagine a better game.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. The Blackout Club is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One for $29.99. The game is rated M.
The Blackout Club
- Really cool ideas with the Shape and Stalkers
- Playing with other people leads to some fun moments
- Great story, rich with potential for great lore
- Repetitive mission structure
- Uninspired environments
- Glitchy animation
- UI and menus look basic
- Character creation is laughably limited
- Combat and hit detection are the scariest part of the game
- Totally unplayable solo
- No pause function anywhere, not even in solo play or the Prologue