I’m not sure what’s scarier: an elemental, invisible man pursuing me through dreamy nighttime suburbia, or having legendary game designer Jordan Thomas perched over my shoulder watching his creation, the elemental invisible man, chase me through dreamy nighttime suburbia. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Thomas and I are teaming up in The Blackout Club, an upcoming cooperative horror game from Question Games. Up to four players (it’s just us two this time) enter a spooky neighborhood with a random set of goals. You play a team of kids who discover a secret society in the midst of a conspiracy to brainwash and control everyone in town. You explore the town at night in search of the truth and the means to disrupt whatever evil is at work. In plain videogame terms: you sneak around and complete objectives while avoiding enemies strewn about the map. This time we’re tasked with collecting evidence of a possible break-in at a house down the street in order to prove to the brainwashed adults that something weird is going on.
If it doesn’t sound too unique quite yet, that’s because we’ve yet to meet The Shape, the invisible monster you definitely don’t want to meet.
Like the best horror movie monsters, The Shape has clear rules of operation. It won’t even bother you if you’re not a bumbling fool, but chances are you will be, because many elements of The Blackout Club’s neighborhood are randomized. The neighborhood itself is laid out the same every match, but certain windows will or won’t be open, entire areas will be cordoned off (or not), your objectives will change, and enemy placements and routes are anyone’s guess. Chances are you’ll get spotted by a drone or surprised by a Sleeper: blind human enemies attracted to sound.
Get spotted one too many times by patrolling enemies and your accumulated ‘sin’ will summon The Shape, but it will only pursue to biggest sinner to start, ignoring everyone else completely.
The slow, steady monster from It Follows is a close parallel. The Shape will casually stroll from the biggest sinner to the next, slowly making its way through all four players. It’s a striking design choice that heightens the horror of accidentally summoning The Shape in the first place, focusing the action on one player at a time while tethering the well-being of every player to its presence. Like the pacing of a teen slasher movie, the enigmatic threat toys with one kid at a time. Knowing you’re next is almost worse than actively being chased.
First, you’ll hear it coming. Then you might see red in your periphery. Here’s the best bit: closing your eyes (by pressing Z) and blocking out the rest of the world—which is likely full of wandering Sleepers, drones, and other unknown horrors—is the only way to track the damn thing. All you can see is a wash of deep scarlet red noise and the brighter red silhouette of The Shape’s current position within the level.
The Shape will probably catch you like it eventually caught Thomas during our play session. And when it does, it turns you into another Sleeper before moving down the chain and chasing the next player. Do be like Jordan Thomas and make excellent levels in Thief: Deadly Shadows, but don’t be like Jordan Thomas and bump into so many Sleepers an unstoppable invisible man shows up to restore order.
Suddenly, our investigation turns into a terrible game of cat and mouse, but only for Thomas. He takes off, leaving me alone in a house of meandering Sleepers with nothing but a phone camera light to guide me.
I could close my eyes to spot The Shape for him, but I’m too worried about that last bit of evidence. I find it in the garage, take a picture, and book it out of there. Our next objective is to descend into ‘the maze below town’ to collect yet more evidence of even weirder things.
Thomas loses The Shape for a minute, so we take the chance to dash across the neighborhood and into a narrow tunnel hidden in a garage marked by the UI. Pipes and computers and strange machinery line expansive cavern walls. Sleepers and camera drones are everywhere. I’m fine, but Thomas’s time is up. He’s caught by The Shape after it emerges from a red door, its only other method of transit besides an unnervingly steady walk. Before he’s taken, Thomas at manages to find what we came down here for: a key he nabbed off a wandering Sleeper. I pick it up and run, my only remaining goal to get back to the surface and escape. With Thomas out, The Shape has me in its sights.
I’m scrambling up a towering ladder in the underground complex, completely lost as I attempt to shake The Shape. My vision begins to go black as I hear its warbled whispers move closer. With no options left, I reach a perch overlooking a massive room and leap down to another platform far below, taking damage and a hit to my max stamina.
I don’t hear it anymore, so close my eyes to blot out the rest of the world and look back up from where I’d just jumped. Standing there is the red silhouette of something vaguely human. It doesn’t immediately change direction as I’d expect a simple AI would. Rather, it stands still and stares (or at least that’s what I imagine it does) for a few seconds. It feels straight out of a horror movie, an intentional quirk that Thomas tells me is meant to make it feel erratic, confident, and less predictable than your usual videogame monster. I open my eyes and turn on my phone light, scrambling up the tunnel that led me to the industrial maze below the neighborhood. I think I hear Thomas laughing.
The Blackout Club isn’t just another Left 4 Dead-like, or an attempt to do Dead by Daylight in the suburbs. It is a legitimately terrifying cooperative game where the horror emerges from clever systems and enemies designed to ratchet up the tension using the same clear, unrelenting logic of the best movie monsters. The rules may be clear and present, but they’re easy to break and The Shape isn’t capable of mercy.