The Blackout Club is a multiplayer horror game from studio Question, imaginative developers of The Magic Circle. The Blackout Club is a Lovecraftian ARG disguised as a stealth/fps co-op horror game. If that description befuddles you, stay with me: this game is so, so much more than it seems.
In The Blackout Club, you play as one of the titular club members living in the town of Redacre, a Rockwellian community located within the National Radio Quiet Zone, a real life area in Virginia where communications signals are heavily restricted. As such, the people of Redacre only have the means to communicate with other people within the town, as internet and long distance calling are blocked. So, when kids begin waking up in strange places covered in blood and dirt, and all the adults spend their nights building a vast network of tunnels under the town for the benefit of a God called SPEAK-AS-ONE, getting the word out about what's happening there becomes rather difficult. A group of brave tweens band together to collect evidence of Redacre's dark secrets: this is the Blackout Club.
Let's Get The "Game" Stuff Out Of The Way
The central gameplay loop of The Blackout Club involves 1-4 players going on 15-20 minute stealth mission in the town of Redacre before returning to a hub zone called the Boxcar to level up, chose upgrades, change cosmetics, and queue for the next randomly generated mission. Each mission involves a series of objectives, such as taking pictures of evidence, finding lost items, or rescuing a club member from the tunnels beneath the town. The kids have a variety of tools at their disposal to help them evade being captured by "Sleepers": the shambling, blind, zombie-like parents that have been possessed by dark forces and put to work on the subterranean caverns beneath the town.
The Sleepers can be subdued by sneak attacks and weapons, distracted with noise-making items, or avoided using grappling hooks and sound-suppressing foam. There is a decent amount of tools and consumables that allow each player to express themselves creatively through their play style, as well as four unique classes with abilities that can be upgraded over time. As they make their way through Redacre completing objectives, players need to be careful not to commit too many sins, or actions that draw attention to themselves like violence and loud noises. If they do, they will be set upon by The Shape, an invisible monster that can only be detected by closing your eyes. The Shape will pursue the players tirelessly until they are caught and turned into a Sleeper.
This loop is fun. The missions have good variety, there are a ton of ways to complete each objective, and palling around Redacre, messing with Sleepers with your buddies is a good time. Progression is pretty slow and there isn't a ton to unlock, but the late game abilities are really useful. More importantly leveling up grants you greater access to areas in Redacre and the tunnels beneath it. It's a solid game with good replayability, but that isn't what makes this game so special. There's a much richer experience going on for those that seek it out; it's an experience that no game has ever attempted before and one that I think more people need to know about. The developers are expanding the lore of The Blackout Club by talking directly to players individually, in character, in game.
Ok, Let Me Explain...
Like many games with strong storytelling and mysteries to uncover, The Blackout Club has a small-but-dedicated community surrounding it that ravenously consumes the content, searches every inch of the game for clues, and compares notes on Reddit and Discord servers to try to piece together exactly what's going on under the town of Redacre. What makes The Blackout Club and it's community so unique, then, starts with the Enhanced Horror System.
When you first launch the game you'll be presented with the option to enable the Enhanced Horror System. Think of it not as an enhanced horror system though, but rather as an enhanced narrative system, because opting into the voice recording creates the potential that the game will contact you, and only you, with a message from one of the Gods. If you're really lucky, you may even find yourself in a God Encounter, which is an opportunity to speak directly with these Gods in real-time, and they will answer you, yes, YOU. I'll explain further.
In the world of The Blackout Club, there are known to be at least eight Gods each with their own individual background, personality, and goals. Players can use special items to pray to these Gods by leaving them voice messages to ask questions about their motives, histories, or anything else about the lore of the game. These questions get answered in Public Dreams, recorded voice messages that can be heard at the end of each mission, or rarely, Private Dreams, which can be heard by you and only you. Additionally, players can sacrifice their character to the god of their choice in order to earn favor (and a spot on the leader board).
What's more, the Gods may even communicate directly with you through voice and text while you're playing. These are not pre-recorded: these are interactions happening between a player and the developers in real-time, and they aren't repeated again to anyone else.
What this has created is a community that is constantly sharing information to try to build a picture of this meta-drama between the Gods. It also compels players to role play within the game, because just talking about the Gods out loud can influence how they interact with you. As one player told me, "It's dangerous to invoke the Gods, there are some you don't want to speak the name of out loud, they may give you attention you definitely do NOT want."
What's Beneath The Surface
This goes so much deeper than I have time for in this review and is expanding all the time. A small example: one player told me there is a new God on the scene, a nameless - and therefore powerless - God. This God has been sending players private dreams begging for help finding its voice, and the community has been diligently turning over every stone in Redacre looking for the next piece of the puzzle.
It's emergent storytelling to a degree that's never been done before, and it should be getting a lot more attention for how ambitious it is. There are a lot of things developing in the world of The Blackout Club, and if you're the type to fall into lore-holes and get wrapped up in mysteries, this is absolutely where you should be right now. The community was incredibly welcoming and is eager for new club members to come and be part of the story. There is a lot happening underneath Redacre, a lot happening underneath the surface of this game, and a lot more to it than I could cover here. What's beneath the surface? Join The Blackout Club and find out for yourself.
4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A review copy of The Blackout Club was used by TheGamer for this review. The Blackout Club is available now Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.