By adolescence, it’s known that malformed shapes moving about the darkness of a crawlspace are just a trick of the eyes. That self-reassurance doesn’t offer much comfort though when it looks as if a human silhouette is staring back, and suddenly, you wish asking a parent to see if it’s safe was still an option. That’s the sort of fear The Blackout Club accentuates, where the frightening byproduct of an ‘overactive imagination’ is given tangibility. Sometimes, escaping that waking nightmare means prying open our third eye.
If the group-of-kids-investigating-spooky-suburbia premise ala Stranger Things was tossed in with immersive sim elements from Dishonored, the end result would irrevocably be The Blackout Club. Oh, and it’s co-op too. Four players slip back into their tween years and tiptoe about the neighborhood at night, completing various objectives before hightailing it back to the clubhouse. Stealth is the modus operandi here as one misplaced step will alert off the opposition.
The typical armed guards trope associated with stealth games aren’t the hurdle here. Instead, it’s sleepwalking neighbors, teachers, parents, even the mailman, with a malevolent entity acting as their puppeteer. Every authoritative figure has been reduced to a hypnotized lunatic, though not of their own volition, of course. They come in two varieties: Sleeper and Lucid. Sleepers are mom and dad, still in their nightgowns, aimlessly wandering while whispering gibberish about the will of the gods. Only responding to sound or touch, since they’re still wearing sleep masks. Lucids, on the other hand, are still plenty able to see, even brandishing flashlights when suspicious of the club’s presence. Their aura is more unsettling than the Sleepers, maybe it’s the elegant robes they’re wearing, or that their faces are so hard to make out. Take your pick.
Between the two of them, there’s no room for callousness on the club’s part. Sprint across the street? Sleeper will hear your soles traipse across the pavement. Perch idly atop a car? Lucid give away the position with its flashlight. Use a sleep dart to tranquilize the Lucid creeping up on a friend? Well, a sleeper heard them hit the ground, so hide the body before the proverbial alarm sounds. The best strategy is to not react to what’s immediately within line of sight.
Pause, let the heart palpitations inch out of your throat, glance at the surroundings, and only pull the bowgun’s trigger if the coast is clear. If everything goes to hell, grappling them into submission is viable. Be gentle though, remember these are still people. Oh, and don’t get spotted by a camera during any of this(probably should’ve mentioned the cameras sooner).
Getting a leg up on the adults is especially tough when classmates are out to betray you. It’s not just a co-op game, it’s also a PvP affair, and this is where the Stalkers come into play. Stalkers are enemy players that invade games, poised at halting the club’s progress. There’s no indication they’ve joined the game or means to communicate with them either.
So it’s quite startling when a fifth kid suddenly darts out of the brush and into a nearby house. Stalkers can’t cause any physical harm themselves, this isn’t a Dead By Daylight asymmetrical horror situation. Instead, they’re more like prowlers, snapping pictures and hurling firecrackers as a means to draw enemy attention to the club. Being watched is a feeling that pervades the club in the duration of matches until the stalker is caught. They can be easily grappled and pinned, and once they are there’s a collective sigh of relief. The rest of the game will be stalker-free. Though it’s not easy, as a good stalker will always stand behind the adults and metaphorically tattle on you.
There’s a mechanic called sin that’s integral to the whole of The Blackout Club. Every time a Lucid or Sleeper is altered or a Stalker records evidence, an invisible gauge fills up recording which member of the club has been the most mischievous. Whoever collates the most sin will be marked as the ‘most wanted’ player. If the club collectively screws up enough times, then the true nightmare behind The Blackout Club reveals itself.
Intimidating though the Sleepers, Lucids, and Stalkers may be, they’re at the behest of a being known as the Shape. Sprinkled throughout the neighborhood are red doors marked with an eye. They’re innocuous at first glance, but gather enough sin and the Shape bursts through them. This is when the most wanted player should hoof it for the nearest hiding spot, because the Shape will be hot on their trail. Closets are the safest bet in obstructing the Shape’s pursuit, but they’re only a temporary solution. Eventually, he’s going to kick that door in and turn the sought-after player into yet another sleep-deprived drone.
It doesn’t help matters that the Shape is invisible to the naked eye. Close them though, and the eyelid’s fleshy-redness will reveal the beast’s visage. A humanoid silhouette bathed in orange, like a dark corporeal nightmare given physical form. Every Lucid and Sleeper pausing to kneel before him as he strides along. Once the head honcho gets center stage, all the club can do is alter the operation around him. Flashbangs and tripwires will momentarily stun him, but he won’t let up until either the match is complete, or everyone dies.
The Blackout Club shines once all these pieces are moving in tandem. Where your body is keen to sidestep a Sleeper, but there’s the risk of stepping on a Shape door if you do. A Lucid might be in relentless pursuit as you climb a ladder, then the Shape begins descending from the top. Jump off the roof of a house to subdue the Stalker, only to be dragged off by a Sleeper because you lost all health in the fall. You get the idea, teamwork is the only way outta this. Employ tactics over knee-jerk reactions and the club might live through the night.
Parents like to reassure their kids that the boogeyman isn’t actually under the bed, waiting to grab uncovered feet. Though if The Blackout Club is anything to go by, maybe dismissing the notion of monsters not immediately visible is a bad route to take. Maybe, just maybe, darkness is sometimes a veneer for something more sinister.