Nowadays, you don’t really see independent studios coming out with co-op games very often, but there have been numerous cases of PvP games that were released by indie studios that, despite bringing refreshing and cool ideas to the table, still fail to establish a solid player base and live on for more than a few months. With that said, I guess that’s one way you can see what The Blackout Studio is trying to achieve here. The game is still in Early Access, but it has a solid, albeit somewhat low, player base, which only goes to show that there is potential here and that people crave for an experience like this.
The Blackout Club is a first-person co-op game that revolves around a small town where something sinister is going on. The game puts players on the shoes of one of the kids that belong to the Blackout Club, a group of teenagers that have decided to do something about the ominous cult that has been taking control of the townsfolk during the night and dragging the kids into the middle of the nearby woods. Since none of the grown-ups believe when the kids tell them that everyone is being controlled during the night and there are dark forces at place right beneath their very town, the group of teenagers find themselves in the need to collect evidence so that they can expose what is really going on.
The game is pretty much entirely focused on delivering a compelling co-op experience as of right now, but the game does offer a 20 to 30 minute long prologue that introduces players to the world and the story, but it also serves as a fairly decent tutorial that will teach you pretty much every that you need to know before you jump into a co-op session.
The biggest gameplay aspect of The Blackout Club is stealth, or at least that’s what the game might look like at first glance. As of right now, there is only one big open area, which features a topside section of the residential part of town, as well as underground tunnels and sections where the cult operates. In the current build, this is where all the missions will take place. Mission objectives are randomly picked each time you play, as well as loot placement and enemies, as the game tries to provide a different experience each time you play, but after a few hours with the game, the initial magic, and fun that I was experiencing started to wear off.
The whole gameplay relies on the existence of three different enemy types, the invisible Shape, the Sleepers, and the Lucids. If you are detected by these last two, they’ll drag you towards the Shape, which will make it so that you no longer have control of your character until another player comes in and rescue you. However, you’ll still be wandering around the level aimlessly, and if you spot someone else, you’ll start calling out for other cult members to come and take them as well. As the name suggests, Lucids are completely awake and aware of their surroundings, so you need to use the darkness of the night and shadows to avoid getting seen. On the other hand, the Sleepers are experiencing some sort of sleepwalking in which they only react to sound. This duality creates a striking distinction between these two enemies, as one can only hear you move around, while the other is actively looking out for you.
Given the fact that level layout doesn’t change, once you learn your way around the different areas of the map, the game gets considerably easier. Most of the time, you’ll be climbing on top of railings and rooftops, hiding inside houses as you wait for enemies to pass by, lockpicking doors, recording evidence with your smartphone which is scattered across the map, incapacitating enemies, laying down traps, and obviously gathering whatever item or doing what the current objective orders you to do. All this is done while keeping an eye on the rather handy noise and visibility indicators, which show you when an enemy has become aware of your presence or when the Shape itself is chasing you.
The game makes things a bit more interesting with another stealth related mechanic, which is the ability to receive directional guidelines and see the Shape when you close your eyes. On top of that, the game also features a progression system which grants you new items to customize your character as you level up, as well as points which you can use to either buy Minor or Major powers. Minor powers are essentially passive upgrades, like starting each mission with a bandage or a lockpick. On the other hand, Major powers are active abilities that can provide you with huge advantages. You can have a flying drone that lets you scout the area for potential dangers, or you can even call Sleepers in order to distract them, which lets you slip by unnoticed.
I have to admit that, while the Prologue got me really excited about the world of The Blackout Club, my very first mission caused the exact opposite reaction. I was still trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing when the only other player in the session with me had already completed half the objectives. Don’t get me wrong, the game highly encourages cooperation between players, as it supports voice chat, but I guess not everyone is inclined to play along with strangers. Still, for the most part, multiplayer has been a lot of fun, as players try to come up with a strategy to get rid of a specific enemy or help someone get out of harm’s way and reach safety.
Nonetheless, I honestly don’t think that the random nature of missions does the game any favors. A more streamlined series of levels, like some sort of campaign, would probably be more enjoyable to play through and make me appreciate the narrative, but these are just my thoughts. I wholeheartedly respect and still enjoy what the developers have going on here.
In terms of visual design, the game is stunning, thanks to great use of volumetric lighting and a color palette that really helps in terms of gameplay. On my end, the game runs smoothly on my almost 5 year old system, so it should run decent on even low spec systems by today’s standards. However, I was sad to find out that the game doesn’t let you customize your keybinds, and while I appreciate the FOV slider, it’s kind of hard to figure out the right setting for me when there’s no exact value presented here.
I wouldn’t be lying if I were to say that The Blackout Club is one of the most intriguing and compelling co-op experiences that I have ever played in recent years. Still, it still feels pretty barebones right now, having only the foundations of what could become an excellent game to play. Obviously, the game is still in Early Access, so it still has quite a way to go, and given the low player base, you might want to wait for the full release before you get it, or make sure you have a group of people to play with before taking the plunge.
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