Close your eyes if you dare
Did you know there’s a National Quiet Radio Zone in the US? It’s a 13,000 square-mile chunk of land that spans parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. The purpose of keeping a heavily-restricted radio frequency-free zone is to conduct astrological and military research without interference. It’s also a place where people with a sensitivity to electromagnetic frequencies (like Better Call Saul‘s Chuck) can go live without exposure to the signals that are a part of everyday life.
This is the setting of The Blackout Club, which is the second title from Question Games. It’s a cooperative horror experience in which four teenagers try to track down their missing friend and unravel the mystery about what the hell’s going on in this sleepy town. All the adults have gone crazy and there’s weird cult-like shit happening underground when the sun goes down.
Missions take place at night, as the group reconvenes to try to find a little more concrete evidence to bolster their case. Talking with co-founder Jordan Thomas (creative director of BioShock 2), he tells us that each kid represents a different style of play/abilities but there’s flexibility within each class. One kid can use drones; another can prank call people as a distraction. Also, it’s technically possible to play the whole game singleplayer but it won’t be easy; The Blackout Club doesn’t scale its difficulty, so playing with a full group is definitely simpler than tackling it alone.
Stealth is the primary focus, as making noise and alerting others is a formula for failure. Adults patrol the neighborhood (above surface and below) in a drone-like haze. It’s not Timmy’s mom and dad consciously contributing to this bizarre sect. It’s a gang of unknowing victims doing this without any agency. Some are regular wandering guards, others are blind but have a hyperaware sense of hearing.
Those people are capable of catching you, but they might not stop you dead in your tracks like The Blackout Club‘s ultimate nemesis. It’s called The Shape, and it’s goddamn terrifying. The Shape can only be seen by closing your eyes. It stays steadfast in its commitment to hunting the kids down. It just keeps hunting until it gets its prey. And because you have to close your eyes to avoid it, you can’t see all the regular enemies.
However, there’s an interesting rule about The Shape. He only pursues the kid who has “sinned” the most. In The Blackout Club, that mostly translates to the kid who has made the most noise. Players can split up and three-quarters of them can stay relatively safe while the fourth tries to stay alive. If someone’s about to get caught, another player could make a bunch of noise and instantly turn The Shape aggro on them. That’s a tactic Thomas tells us playtesters haven’t really adopted yet, but developers anticipate it will become a viable option.
For anyone thinking it won’t be that tough to learn the ins and outs of this little town, The Blackout Club won’t reward mastery through memorization. It’s semi-procedurally generated in that objectives will change, certain windows and doors will be randomly locked or unlocked, items will be in different places, and guards will have different patrol routes. The layout of the streets will stay the same but getting through them will be a whole new ball of wax.
It all seems so easy until it isn’t. Stealth is one of those things that’s sailing along smoothly until you suddenly fuck it up a hundred different ways. And then all plans go out the window. It’s just reacting and hoping you won’t make things worse. Close your eyes and pray The Shape isn’t right on top of you.
The Blackout Club is a game that will create memories. It seems uniquely designed for people to fondly recall the times something incredible happens — like the cavalcade of unfortunate miscues that lead to a ridiculously hilarious failure. Or the panic-inducing epic escape that somehow happened against all odds.
But, more than anything, I just want to know what’s going on. Thomas teased that the underground labyrinth is actually some sort of complex musical instrument that’s unknown to mankind. What does that represent? Why are all the adults affected but the kids aren’t? What does the National Quiet Radio Zone have to do with it all? Which of my cooperative partners is going to suck and get us caught? It definitely won’t be me, I can tell you that much.
The Blackout Club is set to release sometime next year, although this seems like the type of game that will undergo extensive beta testing (and maybe even Early Access) before launch. It’s also scheduled to come to PS4 and Xbox One, but Thomas says that isn’t likely until the PC version is squared away.