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Review: The Blackout Club Features Some Unique Ideas, but Struggles to Find the Fun

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

I love cooperative games. They’re probably some of my favorite games to play. The feeling of getting a team of your friends together to face overwhelming odds and possibly come out on top is something that I treasure when it happens. Ever since Left 4 Dead I’ve craved that small group, large enemy swarm-type action. When I found out there was a game coming out that had the same cooperative-type premise, but with an emphasis on stealth, I was incredibly intrigued. We even tried out the game pre-release earlier this year.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

The Blackout Club puts you in the shoes of an investigative teenager. Something is happening to the adults in town. When night falls, they awaken as sleepwalkers, serving a cult that literally lives in the underbelly of the town. Your sleepy suburban town has a dark, supernatural secret living underneath it, and it’s the job of the Blackout Club to expose the truth. Night after night these brave kids infiltrate houses, and avoid sleepwalking adults and cultists to thwart the evil, and save their town.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

These nightly sorties are ideally done in groups of four, but you can have private matches that reduce that number. Each night you go out, there is a different set of objectives to complete that are randomly assigned to your team. These can include taking pictures of evidence, or freeing a captured member of the Blackout Club. Stealth is important, and often the key to victory. Making too much noise will get the attention of the various cultists and sleepwalkers around. And if you set off too many traps, and make too much noise, you’ll get the attention of the ominous enemy called The Shape.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

The Shape is probably one of the most interesting parts of The Blackout Club. If you eschew stealth for speed, you will definitely get the attention of this red blob. The thing is: it’s completely invisible unless you close your eyes. The only way to see this enemy, is to blind yourself to other enemies. It’s a neat mechanic: some of the most fun I had in The Blackout Club was frantically looking around with my eyes closed, hoping to get a glimpse of the Shape so I could make my way in the opposite direction.

It’s not just the Shape that’s out to get you though. The adults are all under the influence of the supernatural machinations. They will set traps to stop you, and to get the shape’s attention.Most of the adults you can run into are easy to avoid if you move carefully and quietly. If they grab you, you can shake them off, or use certain items to subdue them or shake them off more easily. Some enemies are blind, so they can only sense you through sound—something enhanced by the game’s ability to use your microphone sounds against you. That’s right. The game will even listen to players’ actual voices using their computer’s microphone in its “enhanced horror mode,” and if you’re speaking too loud to your friends, they can hear you. While the sleepwalkers are blind, the cultists can see you just fine.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

You don’t kill anyone in Blackout Club. First off, that sleepwalker you kill could be someone’s parent, and second, you’re just a kid. That would be pretty dark. Second, you’re not really equipped for fatal attacks. You can get a stun gun that temporarily stuns enemies as a gadget, you can pick up darts that allow you to knock out cultists and sleepwalkers (you can shoot this dart out of the crossbow, too) and you can pounce on adults to pin them down, but there just isn’t a way to murder them.

A club wouldn’t be complete without a clubhouse, and The Blackout Club has the most appropriate one. Your home base is literally out of an abandoned boxcar in the woods. This base allows you to upgrade your character’s abilities, choose which gadget they want to take on missions, select mission, customize your character, etc.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

Each player can have their own set of gadgets, and abilities that they can mix and match in a system that replaces player classes. You choose a gadget—like the crossbow, taser, grappling hook, etc.—and a set of power cards—like the ability to ignore pain, or subdue adults more easily. There aren’t any combinations that are overtly synergistic that we found, so most of the time I was playing around with builds for maximum usefulness and mobility. I ended up using the grappling hook for most of my time—it allows you to climb to areas you might not otherwise easily get to. I found it better to RUN than to try to SUBDUE enemies, though there is room for both.

You can unlock new areas of the town to do missions in. Instead of being independent areas, these maps connect to previous areas you’ve seen.  stuff to find on the map. More sections unlock the longer you play. This is a mistake. Not only do the missions often take place in areas you’ve already played through dozens of times, any new areas are behind a grind. A grind, ironically, that wouldn’t be so bad with new locations and things to do.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

Underneath the town is a labyrinthine set of tunnels full of traps and cultists. You’ll have to venture into these tunnels quite often to retrieve an object, free a club member, or any number of different combinations. I absolutely love the underground tunnel concept, and it takes the David Lynch-esque idea of every suburb having a seedy underbelly to a literal conclusion.

The missions you are assigned are randomized, you never know what you’re going to get when you get into the map. That’s not a bad thing, but some mission types and combinations can be easier than others. The can make Blackout Club feel uneven. Unfortunately, you don’t know what all of the objectives will be when you start up, because you’re assigned more as the mission progresses. So you don’t know if you’re stepping into a big, tedious pile of shit until you’re sometimes halfway through a mission.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

One of the more interesting mechanics in The Blackout Club is a sort of Dark Souls-type invasion mechanic. Well, it’s more like something out of Watch Dogs, because the player in your game–who plays an older team known as “The Stalker” isn’t trying to kill you so much as mess with you to thwart your efforts. They have their own customizable skills, and their objective is to get the cultists and sleepwalkers to notice you.

My biggest gripe with The Blackout Club is that it just never found the fun. My group lost interest in it after a few sessions, which was disappointing—but I understand why. It feels grind-y. Even with the promise of more cosmetics, and extra parts of the map being uncovered, the progression feels uneven, and tedious.

Screenshot: The Blackout Club

Now, it’s possible to play The Blackout Club wither fewer than four, or even solo. I’d argue that playing with fewer than four is sometimes easier—less chances of getting discovered, and gear doesn’t get spread out so thin since items to complete objectives can only be used by those holding them.

The Blackout Club is a unique, atmospheric horror themed game. That’s important in a market where you often know what you’re going to get when you pick up a game of any given genre. But doesn’t The Blackout Club manage to find the fun? For us it was a mixed bag. The premise is great, and figuring out the game was fun—but the grind to even unlock different parts of the map was too much for us. I really wanted to like The Blackout Club and add it to our rotation of co-op games, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The Blackout Club is available now on Steam.

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