The Blackout Club Early Access Impressions: Close Your Eyes and Hope
Nothing is more certain to draw gripes and groans out of seasoned gamers than a tutorial level, so when you come across one which isn’t just tolerable, but truly terrifying and engrossing, it’s the sign of great things.
Unfortunately, the early access version of The Blackout Club doesn’t quite live up to the expectations its opening act sets. On the other hand, while the game’s current state is no doubt flawed, much of the games biggest issues have been openly admitted and addressed by developers, meaning it’s likely they will be worked on before the final version hits the market.
If the limited version available so far is any indication, expect The Blackout Club to deliver when the last tweaks are made.
Nope. Nope, nope, nope
The prologue tutorial is truly a spectacular effort. It’s hard to oversell how effectively it sets the mood. The game quickly establishes that strange things are afoot with the adults in town, and it has fallen on the kids to get to the bottom of it. I won't say too much about what happens in the tutorial, as it's best to experience it yourself with as clean of a slate as possible.
Going through the process of learning about your character’s basic actions doesn’t feel like a chore, because the implementation keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Every new action comes with its own garnish of the games unique brand of terror.
Close Your Eyes and Look For Me
More specifically, that terror is The Shape, the game’s big bad, who can only be seen when you close your eyes. It’s a simple game mechanic, but a diabolical one.
Closing your eyes is only made more eerie by the game’s rather unappealing representation of the inside of your own eyelids. Unfortunately, as excellently as it is implemented in the prologue, it falls flat in the game.
Most often, the only time you’ll close your eyes to see The Shape is when it’s attacking one of your friends. When you’re the one in the crosshairs, running away as fast as you can almost always feels like the preferable option once The Shape is at all close. There's simply no time to waste closing your eyes, then turning around to see if you're still being chased, because if the answer is yes you just gave up so much ground.
This loss of tension is a common issue so far with the multi-player main story mode. While the prologue plays as a moody, creepy horror game, the main game feels more like an action game with stealth mechanics. Hopefully as development continues they will find a way to bring that tension over into the rest of the game.
The kids in The Blackout Club are all highly adept at vaulting themselves great distances and climbing fences and rooftops. Unfortunately, their efforts are often hindered by some clunky controls.
More than one of our nearly-successful missions came undone when a player couldn’t manage to successfully mount one of the game’s awkward ladders while in the midst of a hasty retreat, leading to an untimely introduction to The Shape, either directly or by way of one of The Shape's adult servants dragging their victim to the feared red doors.
Future Expansions Will Do Wonders for Replayability
One of the biggest draw backs to The Blackout Club in its current state is an issue sure to be rectified through further development. The developers have already made it clear that the current map will be extended significantly when all is said and done, and that will provide a huge boost to the game.
As is understandable given a plot which revolves around a group of school kids exploring their own neighborhood, your missions all take place in the same map. While enemies and perks are procedurally generated to create variety, there’s only so many times you can head out into the same homes and the same caves before it feels a bit too samey.
This is compounded by the current release lacking variety of missions. While there are ostensibly differences between the small sampling of possible tasks assigned on a given night, at the end of the day they all play out in a similar routine: find the target item or person, interact with it, and get the heck out of Dodge. Although there is plenty of tension to be mined from sneaking around, I look forward to tweaks to the formula for some missions in later releases to keep gameplay fresh.
The World Needs More Co-Op Stealth Games
The surface level view of The Blackout Club is of a mash-up of multiple beloved properties -- the team-based horror of Left 4 Dead; the mood of Stranger Things; and the aesthetic of Bioshock, which comes by way of developer Question's prior experience with the series.
Those don’t tell the whole tale, however, as the heavy focus on stealth adds a powerful element of its own. Sneaking around as a team is, quite simply, fun, and led to some hilarious and satisfying moments. During one particularly tense mission, a teammate held down one of the “lucid” enemies, while I attempted to set up a trap if he followed, only to accidentally knock the baddie out cold immediately.
If this were a game where defeated foes could simply be killed and forgotten, we’d have never had that moment. The tension of sneaking also led to several great surprises, like a teammate playing scout on a rooftop only to find themselves nabbed by The Shape themselves.
Get Me Out of Here
If you’re considering picking up the game in early access, and at a discounted rate it’s certainly worth considering if this sounds like your type of game, be prepared for glitches.
In addition to the above-mentioned issues with controls, we also experienced some clipping issues. In one particularly funny moment of I fell victim to instant karma. While trying to steal the grappling hook my buddy had used to get our team into an upstairs window, I suddenly found myself stuck on the ledge, unable to enter or exit. After a couple of minutes of hopping, crouching, leaning and more, I had succeeded in getting embedded firmly within the walls.
I was so removed from the game during this ordeal that even when my teammate led an entire procession of enemies out the window in hopes they would wrench me off toward a door, I watched as they barrelled right past me out the window after him.
None of this should be a surprise with Early Access, but if you’re dropping down the money now and expecting a flawless experience, you’re in for disappointment.
A Strong Start, With Room to Improve
The Blackout Club is not a flawless effort -- yet. Although it struggles with some of the expected bumps and bruises which come with Early Access, and the developers haven’t yet figured out how to bring the magic of the prologue into the main game, there’s still a lot to like here.
The game isn’t a must-buy quite yet if you're on the fence, but if it sounds like your type of game, you could do a lot worse than to get in on the Early Access rate and try it out now while you wait for the full edition to arrive in 2019.
[Note: Writer was granted a copy of the game from the publisher.]