Do you want to join the Blackout Club? Think carefully. The situation in Redacre is insane. Teenagers are blacking out and waking up in strange places, some of them covered in blood. The adults are worthless–perhaps even untrustworthy. To make matters even weirder, the kids are hearing Voices. Who or what they are is unclear, and their motivations are equally enigmatic. One thing’s for sure: whatever’s going on in Redacre traces back to the Voices.
You, the player, are presented with a very similar question. Do you wish to play the Blackout Club? Developed and published by Question, it’s a first-person online multiplayer game with an emphasis on stealth, teamwork, and decisive use of resources. At its worst, the game can be frustrating and even tedious. However, at its best, the Blackout Club is borderline transcendent.
Welcome to the Club
The gameplay opens with a prologue. It’s an effective opening that sets up the conflict, tearing through Redacre while teaching you the basics of play. The prologue is also pretty creepy, to its credit, and it encapsulates my opinion of the visuals. There is clear artistic vision at work, from the trippy environments in the Maze to the use of lighting to create mood and ambiance. However, the budget for a game like this is not unlimited. Character models are simplistic, and it’s clear that complex animations and customization options are beyond the scope of the game at present. Still, the audio-visuals pair well to create a tense, even scary opening.
The prologue gives you the basics. You learn how to use items like the foam grenade to break falls, or how closing your eyes reveals a path to your objective. After you complete it, you encounter the central gameplay loop. You undertake missions with multiple objectives across the suburbs of Redacre, doing anything from putting up TBC posters to rescuing a kidnapped friend from the depths of the Maze. Opposing you are Sleepers and Lucids, creepy, muttering adults twisted to the purposes of some unknowable being. And of course, there’s the Shape. No one’s quite sure what it is, but there’s a straightforward protocol if you encounter it: run.
The Blackout Club employs something called the Enhanced Horror System. This system is almost coyly presented, but it’s the thing that makes this game stand out among other multiplayer titles. I don’t wish to spoil precisely why. Instead, I’ll say that the microphone provides the most interesting gameplay in the Blackout Club by far. Furthermore, there are straightforward reasons to play with the microphone.
As my co-op partner (a veteran of countless online titles) put it, the community of the Blackout Club is remarkably friendly. Toxicity is rare, and when you get stuck in a jam, the first instinct of most players is to help you. What’s more, the people who have been playing since Early Access hold a treasure trove of knowledge about the lore. You wind up discovering the story much as your character — a new kid in the club — would. You learn about the Voices through rumors and gossip, through people’s anecdotes and experiences. The way a group of young, disorganized people would disseminate information is simulated by the community itself.
Chasing the Curve
War is often described as “boredom punctuated with extreme terror.” One might say something similar about progression in the Blackout Club. The first few missions you play feel very easy — I remember breezing past them with almost no problems whatsoever. Then, suddenly, everything turns to chaos. Numerous mechanics are dumped at your feet, and the spike in difficulty is considerable. The missions I played during this period were confusing and often overwhelming. Eventually, I achieved a baseline level of competency. That’s when the boredom set in.
While the first few hours of this game are novel and exciting, subsequent hours start to drag. Leveling up and unlocks drop off, and your sense of discovery begins to wane. This decline is frustrating, but it is by no means a fatal problem. Post-launch, I would like to see the overwhelming explosion of mechanics dispersed across the too-easy opening and the dry periods of progression. That would help transform the sequence of progress from a series of alternating spikes and plateaus to a more gradual, satisfying curve upwards.
High Ground View
We’ve rated Blackout on three distinct ways players can experience the game.
Singleplayer and Stalker Mode (7/10)
As mentioned above, the prologue is well done. However, it is brief, and legitimate solo options are virtually nonexistent. Trying to play missions solo is almost prohibitively difficult. Without the support network a team provides, the fiddly controls and quirks of the environment are severely exacerbated. When fractions of seconds determine success, one of two things should generally be true: your game is structurally airtight, or there’s a cushion to prevent frustration. In straight singleplayer, neither one of those is the case.
Stalker Mode, on the other hand, is an interesting beast. The basic premise is that you’re a teenager in cahoots with CHORUS (the organization which serves as a front for all the creepy cult activity). Your mission is to record the Sins of the Blackout Club without getting caught. You get to play tattletale in a bit of asymmetric multiplayer. This element is an excellent way to break up the monotony. It encourages a patient playstyle as you observe TBC from the safety of your network of Red Doors. It asks you to weigh the risks of exposing oneself against the benefits of catching those troublemakers on camera. However, Stalker Mode cannot be accessed anytime.
You require Stalker Dossiers, most commonly found by catching Stalkers in your own games. This requirement works as both a limitation and an incentive; opportunities to play as the Stalker are precious, and it’s good to have a compelling reason to chase down the Stalkers plaguing TBC. However, a problem I frequently encountered was a lack of available missions to invade. It creates a double gateway to this mode, which can result in some pretty rough experiences. It’s never fun to wait for hours to acquire a Stalker Dossier, then wait some more for a mission to become available, only to make a silly mistake and get yourself caught. Suddenly, no more Stalker Mode for you. In short, it would be nice to see these matchmaking woes get sorted out.
Online Multiplayer Sans Microphone (7/10)
The Blackout Club is a good game. Competently made, tense, frantic, and atmospheric. The game also facilitates remarkable amounts of cooperation even when you aren’t coordinating directly over the mic. The UI, abilities like tagging, and the chat all help to convey important information to players. Not to mention, you can still be a fly on the wall for lore discussions and the like. However, this puts TBC in good company with plenty of multiplayer games. Without the microphone, this game is good but slightly unremarkable. The basic multiplayer experience is satisfying without offering anything groundbreaking.
Online Multiplayer with Enhanced Horror (9/10)
If the Blackout Club takes off in the online gaming space, this is where conversations will focus. Play with your friends, make some new ones, maybe pray to an eldritch god or two. The microphone, while suppressing some of the tension, elevates the excitement, teamwork, and camaraderie of the game. Indeed, playing with a group of friends would be a blast. But I’d also recommend playing with one or two friends, and then leaving other slots open to meet people. It’ll help you learn about the mechanics, the Voices, and you might even figure out what the hell’s going on around Redacre.
Some more specific advice: seek out the bonus evidence on missions. Getting most of the bonus evidence on a mission is the most reliable way to acquire Lights of Rebellion, an absolute must if you wish to commune with the Voices. For the love of God, don’t trust the bastards, but their help and insight are practically indispensable when you’re a bunch of teenagers facing off with an evil cult. Talk to some club members. Discern which Voices respond to a particular behavior, and work from there. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the Blackout Club.
- Price: $29.99 USD
- Release Date: July 29, 2019
- Developer: Question
- Publisher: Question
- Genre: Action, Indie, Simulation
- System Requirements:
- OS: Windows 7 SP1 with Platform Update for Windows 7
- Processor: Intel i5-2550K, 3.4 GHz
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: GeForce GTX 670 | Radeon HD 7950
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 15 GB available space
The Blackout Club is an amazing, surprising, delightful experience for those willing to engage with the community and the Enhanced Horror System. Even more so for those who can convince some friends to pick up the title. That said, do not make the mistake of thinking the game is bad without these features — it’s not. But TBC is most remarkable for integrating community, gameplay, and narrative in a fresh, original way.
The Blackout Club Review Verdict
Game title: The Blackout Club
Game description: A first-person co-op (1-4 players) horror game where players must work together with their fellow club members to investigate the cause of blackouts besetting their town.
Singleplayer and Stalker Mode - 7/10
Online Multiplayer Sans Microphone - 7/10
Online Multiplayer with Enhanced Horror - 9/10
If you don’t play games to get involved with communities, or lore makes you yawn, or you just hate talking on the microphone (greetings, fellow introverts), then you might want to join another club. As for the rest of you, check this one out. If you’re lucky, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
- The Enhanced Horror System
- Tense, energetic missions
- A community defined by teamwork, lore discussions, and camaraderie
- Progression is very uneven
- Structural issues — environmental quirks, finicky controls, matchmaking problems
- Rough character models, anemic customization options