There was a moment when playing Question’s The Blackout Club, while a terrifying monster sprinted after me and as I propelled myself over a fence and hit the ground, with the pulsating soundtrack vibrating throughout my headphones where I realized I was in love with this game.
Playing the game and talking to the developers it is immediately clear that the Blackout Club pulls from a host of 80’s and 90’s coming of age stories. The team explicitly mentioned The Goonies and Stand by Me as titles that inspired them which when mixed with the studios background of working on the Bioshock series helps to begin to convey what sort of title to expect. As someone who loves all of these things I was definitely not let down.
A haunting, atmospheric game that suddenly and unnervingly manages to crawl under your skin and leave you unsettled, with quick and rapid glances behind your shoulder, The Blackout Club is special in the way it drops you in its world of teenage angst, horror, and nightmares. Adults refuse to believe you even as the evidence stacks up, a feeling of powerlessness, of being ignored, and of something not quite being right constantly build up until suddenly and with lighting quick speed one of your group vanishes and the investigation into her disappearance truly kickstarts events.
Using a phone camera to record the troubling details in your small town where no cell reception can be received, the game takes on an almost Outlast vibe. Just like that game, you can’t kill the terrifying creatures all around you and fighting, while possible, is just a delaying tactic and an incredibly risky one at that.
You and your small tight-knit group go on a series of excursions every night searching and desperately looking for your lost friend. The catch being that you forget everything that happens once you wake, just fragments of what happened before linger in your mind. Trails of dirt and knocked over furniture litter the spaces and serve as the only clues of what happened the previous night. What are the adults doing, where do you go each night? What is happening in this town?
The demo I played was one filled with these kinds of questions and considering the background of the personnel behind the game, a twisty turny narrative, one rife with plot twists, shocking moments, and a final act swerve away from all expectations seem very likely to occur.
Yet, it’s the mood that The Blackout Club gives off that most captivates me. It is truly unvering at moments, there always seems to be a shadowy figure hanging just off-screen. Taken with the fact that you play as kids it all built up to a distinct feeling of powerlessness throughout my time with the game. The Blackout Club manages to tap into those unique teen feelings of finally having grown up somewhat and wanting greater freedom while also largely still being dismissed by adults and those in positions of power. Who hasn’t tried to tell their parents or teachers something only to be brushed aside or told they are imagining things.
The game’s Bioshock inspired vibes shine through strongest in the minute-to-minute gameplay and the ominous, ever threatening, atmosphere that go along with it. Creeping along the various neighborhood streets, hallways, and rooms of the small town you find yourself in it isn’t hard to see shades of Rapture from the Bioshock series shine through.
Always cloaked by the dark of the night and on the lookout for the terrifying Shape, who’s invisible to the eye, only able to be spotted via sound, and by closing your eyes to see the faint outline of the monster. The Shape is a creature of such terrifying dimensions largely because you can’t see it. Of course I can’t speak to the whole game but it seems fair to assume you will never actually see what it really looks like. Certainly in the demo I played now you couldn’t and it’s this fear of the unknown, of not really knowing who or what you’re going up against that makes it such an unnerving and troubling creature. It is the fear of the unknown that most haunts us. Our mind working wonders to craft the most hideous, trauma filled, and haunting creature it can.
Outside of the Shape though other terrors of the night seek to hinder and halt your journey and it was here that a particular joy of playing the Blackout Club arose. Utilizing the tools and gadgets at your disposal to figure out how to circumvent the given monster became a delight, at least for the character class I was playing as. Using a noise gadget to draw the attention of a blind foe away from me and in the opposite direction became a delight to achieve. Slipping past enemies, and capturing the grim evidence laying around on your phone camera a brilliantly haunting homage to Outlast and other similar stories.
From the terror, humor, and haunting atmosphere of the world and characters, to the frantic, unnerving, and creative gameplay mechanics the Blackout Club seems to be a joyful new addition in the family of young adult coming of age stories. Mixing and pulling from a wide array of former such stories while also adding its own uniquely haunting twist to it, the game seems poised to be a hard surefire spooky tale one complete with a cooperative focused story and a tale of childhood intrigue and mystery.