Back in the golden age of horror, the days of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the thought of cooperative play wasn’t even a thing; let alone the thought of cooperative horror. Even when gaming became a largely online focused pastime, horror remained a strictly single-player experience and it wasn’t until the likes of Left 4 Dead arrived back in 2008 that we ever believed horror could even function in a cooperative online experience. But it did, and it exceeded all expectations. Since that point we have seen the likes of Dead by Daylight, Friday the 13th, Deceit and all other manner of titles jump into the horror genre to really encourage a few group scares. Getting horror right isn’t easy, and when you have a market that already has numerous standout titles, you need to do something a little different, something extraordinary – and with the new co-op horror title having found its way onto Xbox One, I roped in some trusty pals before heading in as one of The Blackout Club.
The Blackout Club is a first-person, four player co-op horror adventure focused on stealth. Players take up the role of a group of local teenagers within a small but modern country town out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a blackout zone; no phone signal, no radio signal, nothing!
After a series of blackouts are had by each of the teens and they find themselves awaking out in the forest, in the middle of the night, far from home, with no knowledge of how they got there, or why they are there in the first place, they decide to band together as The Blackout Club. Talking to parents about their issues however is a no-go; they just laugh at them, pretending it’s nothing. Despite the muddy foot-prints on the floor that point to the contrary, they are going to solve this, and through teamwork they are going to find out just what is happening and why the adults of the town are acting quite so peculiar.
When first booting up The Blackout Club, before you even get into the excitement of it all, there is an optional extra available. It’s easy to miss, and should you not know what it is, chances are you’d probably just skip right past it without a second thought. My recommendation is to pay attention. Pay attention to this text and the accompanied option and you may well enhance your experience exponentially, as it brings into play the Enhanced Horror System – one of the most unique features to ever grace a horror game.
Should you agree to this system, then all you need to do is ensure you spend your time in game chat rather than that of an Xbox Party or third-party application such as Discord, as then the magic can begin. See, from there on out, the game begins to listen in and even record your voice through your microphone. Then when you are least expecting it, you’ll find one of eight gods/daemons communicating with you, be it through messages when you close your eyes, or through verbal communication. It’s a bit like a Cortana of sorts to put it simply, but when it starts to repeat things it couldn’t possibly know, then you know to pay attention.
The gods play a more important part than just conversing with players however, and by the way of making offerings and self-sacrifices, players can influence how a god behaves towards them, which may give a helping hand, or make the nightmare even harder.
But what is the actual game all about I hear you ask?
The gameplay in The Blackout Club takes place throughout missions, and each of these is chosen from within an abandoned train cart – the player’s home hub. Here you get to choose the next mission, but it is also where you will upgrade your character’s abilities and powers, customise your appearance with new items unlocked during gameplay, choose your Hero Item that will be helping you throughout the game – from the available Stun Gun, Climbing Hook and Crossbow – and make offerings and sacrifices to the gods.
Most of these things are only really any good once you’ve got a few missions under your belt and levelled up a little, and so the first port of call is selecting a mission region and jumping in. However the missions don’t seem to have a linear objective path to them as such.
There are various different things you could be asked to do and early missions revolve around either collecting a mobile phone, placing fence posts in gardens around the neighbourhood, or even taking photos of various pieces of evidence that are littered around; even saving people is a task that can be bestowed onto The Blackout Club and to do these things you’ll need to sneak around the streets and through your neighbours houses whilst avoiding the sleeping inhabitants who are sleep walking around you. Make a noise though and they’ll be hot on your heels, waiting to knock you down and give you over to The Shape – an invisible entity that comes into play once you’ve done things that would probably deserve an ASBO in real-life; taking down your neighbours, or kicking in doors to gain access to a locked home.
The Shape is a deadly entity that arrives from red doors throughout the map and can only be seen through a heat image when closing your eyes. You can of course hide from it, but he isn’t dull minded and unless you pick somewhere that even a sniffer dog wouldn’t find you, chances are he’ll be on your tail in seconds, ready to choke you out before taking control of your character’s mind until another player comes to revive you. Things get more interesting when you take into account the fact that a fifth player can take control of The Shape and hunt you down personally.
Each mission starts from street level, however it’s not long before players are lead into an underground network of tunnels; littered with terrifying enemies. Whilst getting down is easy, getting back out of the very places you’ve spent your unknown blackouts can be rather troublesome, especially when you’ve already alerted The Shape a few times and find yourself running into enemies who are quick to take you down.
Despite being designed for cooperative play, and being much more enjoyable with others by your side, The Blackout Club can work for the solo player too. Of course, you’ll have no one to revive you should things head south, and you’ll quickly find the difficulty ramping up as you are forced to do everything yourself rather than sharing the objectives, but with simplistic objectives that usually revolve around ‘fetch quests’ type objectives, it’s nothing that would be impossible to the solo player. It gets easier too when you start upgrading your character with things like stamina boosts, or helpful starting items such as a lockpick to get through doors you’d otherwise be kicking in.
Away from the gameplay and visually The Blackout Club is a pretty stunning experience. The look isn’t photorealistic, but the design really sets the tone for an American town in the middle of nowhere perfectly, whilst the ensuing horror is enhanced further by the stunning enemy design.
My gameplay experience with The Blackout Club has been an interesting one but there is one major issue that has appeared. Something which is a little concerning. See, the need to be connected to the game’s servers made itself clear on numerous occasions after it failed to connect to the PlayFab servers, leaving any efforts lost after a match finishes, leaving me unable to join any games that I wasn’t invited to. This may not affect everyone, but it is a little concerning to know that a connection to servers is required even to play solo. Thankfully when it’s issue free, the gameplay experience is certainly an interesting one.
Should you like your games to have that little spice of excitement whilst bringing a true thrill to proceedings, then The Blackout Club on Xbox One could be the game you’re looking for. It does cooperative play well and with a creepy X-Files vibe to things, the tone is certainly there for a jump scare or two. If you want a new co-op experience that won’t break the bank, The Blackout Club is just about deserving of a download.