15 Feb 2019

The Blackout Club Preview

Welcome to American suburbia. On the surface, an idyllic neighbourhood arranged with white picket fences and comfy family homes. Under the surface, a complex network of tunnels and an unseen terror. This is The Blackout Club, a co-operative horror taking vibes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stranger Things. A monstrous entity has begun haunting the residents of a small town, turning many of the adults into mindless sleepwalkers that patrol the streets at night. It becomes the duty of four teenagers to investigate these strange goings-on and overcome the powerful forces while also rescuing their friend.

A typical session of The Blackout Club is played between one and four people. Each mission will have you perform a series of tasks that are procedurally-generated, meaning objectives, item layouts and enemy movement is different between each session. This ensures that whether this is your first time or your hundredth playing a level, the game will never feel repetitive. In my first match, I joined a team of three where we had to collect a bunch of picket signs from the underground lair and plant them in residential gardens. Avoiding enemies on street level is easy enough.  They tend to keep to themselves, patrolling the homes and roads but ultimately never really bothering you unless you draw attention to yourself. The bigger challenge comes once you enter the underground, where much harder foes lie.
The most common enemy to keep an eye on are the Sleepers; sleepwalking adults who are blind but can pick up on subtle audio cues, forcing you to stay still and quiet when one is present. Underground, there are the more threatening Lucids. These fellas behave similarly, but can see in the dark, making each encounter with them a lot more dangerous. The fight or flight response kicks in, as the weapons at your disposal will do a good job of stunning them, but as they cannot be killed it is ultimately a good idea to put as much distance between you and them.

The most dangerous enemy is The Shape, who is ironically shapeless and invisible. If you're caught by an enemy, The Shape will be summoned to turn you into a Sleeper. This makes him incredibly menacing as he has the potential to wipe out entire teams. Upon being warned that he is close, players can close their eyes (of their in-game avatars, I would not recommend doing this in real life) and see his outline. And unlike Sleepers and Lucids, he cannot be stunned or easily evaded. Your best hope is that he'll target someone else before he grabs you.

Among the small roster of weapons to use are a stun gun to temporarily zap sleepers and render them immobile for a moment as well as shock grenades that yield a similar effect. These can be found in random loot spots throughout the map. They're not too scarce and are best kept unused until dealing with Lucids later on in the game. Accompanying this is an abilities system for players to grow and expand as they level up. This can include being able to knock down enemies or using your phone to spoof a phone call that can trick them. The number of skills available is small, with only four in total, but it feels about right when a team majors in one skill tree each.
The amount of possible mission generations is currently small but is going to be expanded upon over the course of the Early Access development stage, as the store page on Steam explains: "We plan to add more mission content to the procedural mission system before final launch. This would include things like new objectives and challenges which players must accomplish to win that night's investigation. There will also be new story and narrative updates over time which are added during Early Access along with client updates. Some of this mission content will be determined by feedback from the community."

This also applies to the size of the space itself. In its current state, The Blackout Club's map is small, covering a single street, a few houses and the underground caves. Although there will only be this one map in the final release, there are plans to increase the size of it by at least triple-fold. From the store page: "The full version will have a larger map with more regions. Missions take place in one large map with consistent locations (such as the location of a house and it's layout), but many things about it change each mission and over time. The current playable area is about 1/3 of our eventual planned size (but we don't want to be too specific about the map because unlocking new areas of the map is part of the story/gameplay)."
There is still a lot of room for improvement in The Blackout Club. It's rough, it's buggy and all of the mechanics aren't quite in their proper place yet, but on the surface there is an excellent concept that has great potential to be refined into a decent co-op experience. Time will tell just how well this game can slide in aside other decent four-player games such as Left 4 Dead and Payday 2.

Disclosure: The Blackout Club was supplied by Evolve PR.

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