The Blackout Club evokes the idea of podcast-lore with its creepy atmosphere and story. It's a game to play with friends... with the lights on.
When it comes to nightmares, age is universal. The older you get, the less real the monster under your bed becomes, but that doesn't mean the thoughts don't persist. There are plenty of haunting ideas in the recesses of any adult's mind that come out to play at night. Dreams about the most innocent things can become twisted, terrifying flights of the subconscious. Family becomes foe, the neighbors you thought you knew transform into shadows of a cultish evil.
Hopefully your dreams aren't that intense, because that's exactly the story in The Blackout Club, a new horror game on PC and console. This cooperative online multiplayer experience combines jump scares and slow burn atmospherics to frightening ends. The story follows a group of kids who, after the disappearance of their friend, begin to investigate the strange occurrences in their town. Some of these tweens (and teens) are sleepwalking, and waking up in random areas of town; others... are never coming back. It's a simple, yet effective tale, that serves as a Creepy Pasta-like backdrop to the co op gameplay.
The Blackout Club starts with a short, 20-minute or so tutorial, introducing the player to the basic concept of the game while also serving as its prologue. You play as a girl who decides to break the rules of her 'grounding' and go outside, when she is confronted by a shadow that stalks her only when she closes her eyes. This sets up a central gameplay mechanic: players have to close their ideas to reveal clues (i.e. paths, words) in the world. Everything around you goes dark, but these hints are highlighted in a murky red. Using this to navigate levels is oddly satisfying, and really sets up for some good scares.
In the tutorial, players continue to discover how each online match (the primary means of play) will essentially play out. Working as a team, the kids have to use their phones to record information regarding a fast conspiracy involving all the adults in their town. As you soon discover, at night everything changes. Some adults become sleepers, blind servants of some sadistic cult; others are still awake, more sinister and powerful. The key to survival is avoiding them and getting as much intel as you can.
But they aren't the only thing hunting you: a silhouette known as The Shape stalks players. And it can only be seen when they close their eyes. Whether you're navigating a neighborhood street or the vast underground tunnels where the cult ritualizes, this thing will follow. Luckily, you have means to fight back.
In addition to just recording (a simple button press on the phone with limitless battery the player always has equipped), players have a Stranger Things enviable arsenal. There are crossbows with sleep darts, foam cans that you can spray to create a safe, quiet landing from high above, grappling hooks, and plenty of booby traps. You'll need them all, along with energy bars and bandages to stay healthy, if you want to win some XP with your friends.
Experience isn't vital in The Blackout Club, but it does add to the fun. Players can use their victories to customize their player's avatar with new hairstyles and outfits and purchase new skills. These skills range from boosts in Health and Stamina to perks like starting matches with a bandage (normally found in-game). It takes a while to climb the ladder, but it's definitely worth it and gives you an edge over the competition.
Teamwork is truly the name of the game here, and communication is a necessity. Whether you are playing with rando's or your best friends, you'll need to share enemy positions, traps, and escape routes. It all adds to the atmosphere of survival horror; you'll quickly be screaming across voice chat. The Blackout Club can even use your screams (or shouts) right back at you if you give the game permission. Anything you say on your mic can be recorded and added to the soundscape of the cult's evil murmurings.
The base gameplay may seem limited: each level plays out relatively the same, even if the objectives and environments vary slightly, but more is unlocked at level 5. There, you can join games as a stalker, a kid who pretends to be "one of the gang" but is actually reporting to the adults. Your goal is to film the kids breaking the rules and lead the cult to them. This is a really fun mix-up that adds plenty of replay-ability to what might otherwise be a 5-10 hour multiplayer experience.
The Blackout Club is a a cooperative horror game that feels fresh and exciting, even if it's only for a few hours. The world building, easy to pick-up gameplay, and progression system are top-level for a game that only puts you back 20 bucks. If you've got some friends willing to take the journey with you, then buckle up and head to nightmarish suburbia.
The Blackout Club is available on July 30th on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital PS4 copy for purposes of this review.