I know a lot of people who played Left 4 Dead - but not a whole lot of people who found Left 4 Dead a particularly scary game in the same way that they might find a single-player horror experience like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast. These days, there are plenty of multiplayer horror titles out there - but most tend to deal more with the aesthetics and trappings of the genre than the actual thrill that comes with being terrified.
It’s into this cramped niche that Questions’ latest project, The Blackout Club, fits. And despite being haunted by all sorts of early access bugginess, the multiplayer stealth game seems to be well on its way towards achieving a more balanced blend of communal frights.
Seeing Is Believing
Loosely-inspired by pulpy teenage horror fare like Stranger Things, The Blackout Club is a stealth-driven co-op horror experience that offers drop-in, drop-out multiplayer for up to four players.
Load into the game and you’ll be dropped into an abandoned rail-car that’s been repurposed to act as the HQ for The Blackout Club: a group of teenagers who team up and sneak out at night to investigating the sinister conspiracy gripping their local town.
Strange things are afoot. The adults in the town have all started sleepwalking and there’s a strange creature (that can only be seen when you close your eyes) on the loose. You play as a member of this ad-hoc organization, spurred to action after a close friend disappears investigating the source of the blackouts.
Though the narrative hook above does set The Blackout Club up as a multiplayer experience, I’d love to see more single-player content added later down the line. The tutorial sequence that sets up the story and teaches you the game’s controls and mechanics was surprisingly solid. More please.
Doing Me A Frighten
Though the comparisons to Left 4 Dead are easy to make, there’s also an echo of immersive sims like System Shock, Thief and Prey to be found in The Blackout Club.
Each mission sees you and up to three other players loaded into a wide-open map of the rural neighborhood where the story is set and the details are procedurally-generated. Every time you play the enemy patrols, loot, objectives and obstacles will all change. I wouldn’t say that each mission feels like a truly different experience. You’re always going to be sneaking around and the broad-strokes layout of the town itself never really changes. Still, it does aid replayability to some degree.
Between missions, you’re able to customize your character's appearance and item loadout. There’s a grappling hook, sleep darts and canisters of foam you can use to soften a rough landing. Between this varied arsenal and the ever-changing nature of the map, The Blackout Club offers a fair bit of freedom and replayability. You can approach things however you want, really.
Of course, you’ll probably want to keep things quiet. Enemies can be brought down by violent means, but the risk always outweighs the gain. Make no mistake, The Blackout Club heavily-emphasises stealthy play more than anything else.
In fact, be detected too often and you’ll unleash the game’s most deadly adversary: The Shape. The Shape can only be seen when your character closes their eyes. This mechanic is also used to reveal secrets in the environment - but when it comes to The Shape, it’s deployed to frightening effect. Truly, it's one of the most memorably terrifying encounters I've seen in a horror game in quite some time.
What's more, it's a really good example of how The Blackout Club uses its mechanics to not only create tension but also create a gameplay loop that's interesting until the last second. When your health bar runs out, you don't just die - you get knocked down and dragged towards one of the level's ominous red doors by your attacker. While this is happening, you're still able to be saved - either by allies or by yourself if you grab a nearby weapon. It's not over till it's over, and I found that kept me coming back for more.
It should also be noted that, due to the game being in early access, The Blackout Club is in pretty rough shape. It’s totally playable but we still encountered a fair few graphical bugs and glitches - especially when playing multiplayer. Still, it’s clear that developer Question are onto something here.
The Blackout Club is far from ready for prime-time but the experience is promising enough that I can’t wait to drag more friends towards it once it gets there.
The Blackout Club is available now on PC.