Imagine you are at home, alone, with only the sound of your smartphone or TV to keep you company. Outside, it’s growing dark, causing the setting sun to cast an eerie red glow through the windows. The end result is a house half bathed in shadow, while the other half is bathed in a blood-red glow.
As a game, it’s a refreshing change to some of the more in-your-face horror-fests where blood flows like a case of smashed merlot
The sound and shapes of movement from outside are distorted and disturbing, and when you close your eyes, mysterious messages appear, as though written in blood. And it’s at that moment that you realise you are not alone. Something, or someone, else is there. A presence far from benevolent and life-giving. It’s a domineering presence, and all consuming. It regards you as nothing more than prey – and a means to continue its oppressive and violent existence in the universe. At least, that’s how it feels.
This isn’t an attempt to recreate some bizarre twist on a scene from Home Alone, or a familiar one from Stranger Things. No. This is The Blackout Club, a stealth-based, first-person cooperative multiplayer horror game set in a suburban backdrop, where the timeless scenes of a quiet American life aren’t quite what they seem. The adults are oblivious, but more importantly, they are also under its influence. Mind slaves. They can’t be reasoned with. But you might be able to save them.
The game revolves around you and a bunch of teenagers who collectively call themselves The Blackout Club, who team up to investigate and uncover the mysterious events that are consuming the town. The adults have succumbed to what are called ‘blackouts’, hence the name, roaming the streets at night in a zombie-like fugue. Keeping them at arms-length is important here. This isn’t Call of Duty, and you aren’t armed to the teeth. Your skills and equipment are aimed at diversions, distractions and incapacitations only. Your main aim is to uncover evidence of the event and reveal it to the world in the hope that something is done to stop it.
Gameplay-wise, The Blackout Club slowly introduces you to the story-line and setting via a skilfully lit prologue, allowing you to get used to the controls and the tone of the game, which is almost always ramped up to eerie and downright creepy. And that’s the main strength here. The visuals are simplistic but effective. Shadows hide parts of rooms and outdoor environments, forcing you to question whether or not something is lurking, waiting for you, or if it’s just a shadow.
It’s probably sounds like I’m overselling it with the lighting, but it’s both beautiful and disturbing. Light cascades into rooms via broad shafts that enter at angles and bleach the walls within, contrasting with the ambient light. TV’s blink and flash, and table lamps stand guard, as though providing you with your only honest source of light, but also ready to wink out at a moments’ notice. Or at least that’s how it all comes across. I’m not talking about the graphical fidelity of the new Battlefield games here. The visuals are simple, but effective.
The controls are relatively straightforward, and the gameplay follows suit here. There’s nothing complicated but remember that most of your weapons are limited in use, and even the more offensive ones are intended to be used as a last resort, and usually have limited ammunition, such as the crossbow. But most of your other equipment are non-lethal, like noisemakers and tasers, with some bonus abilities to boot. Though don’t expect to rock up like Eleven from Stranger Things here, they aren’t those kinds of abilities. Think of them as bonuses to your current capabilities, such as being a little bit stronger.
At the end of the day, it’s about being stealthy and gathering evidence to expose a dark and foreboding presence. That presence, more commonly referred to as The Shape, also has you in mind. If caught by anyone under the influence of The Shape, or The Shape itself you immediately succumb to its power. Once under, you are free to view the world in 3rd person as your body stumbles across the gardens and roads of your neighbourhood. If that happens then your only hope is to be released by a team mate and continue to help gather clues.
Despite the simplistic and inviting visuals, the graphics do sometimes come across as a little too simplistic, especially outside of the prologue. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The eerie atmosphere is The Blackout Club’s greatest strength here, and it has it in spades.
As previously mentioned, this is a multiplayer game, where your online friends help out, or you can utilise random strangers to mix things up a little. The good thing here is that the vast majority of online players are heavily invested in the game. They’re not about to lark around or attempt a few betrayals and team killings present in the more heavily populated environments of Rainbow Six: Siege or Battlefield V. This is a game apparently free of trolls.
As a game, it’s a refreshing change to some of the more in-your-face horror-fests where blood flows like a case of smashed merlot. It’s a gripping and spooky experience that places stealth above shooting with a Stranger Things vibe. Buy it. You won’t regret it.
Oh, and did I mention the tunnels under the town? Shhhhh… It’ll hear you.