Review copy provided courtesy of Question Games
The Blackout Club is a co-op horror game from Question Games that manages to do something incredibly rare: Scare the crap out of players without jump scares.
The Blackout Club showed me what I already knew about myself in that if I ever found myself in a horror-type situation, I would simply stand there and wait to die because the anticipation of something unknown coming up behind me is too great and I’m afraid to do anything but stand with my back in a corner and watch and wait. To die. Yes, I’m that person.
A very cool component of The Blackout Club is the Enhanced Horror System, which allows the game to respond to you. If you enable it, the game will listen to your mic and allows for player interaction in a way I’ve never seen any other game do (I won’t spoil it, you can Google it if you’re curious). However, there’s one major downfall to this system. Because it relies on a player’s mic and is a means by which you communicate with other players and characters through audio, it’s inaccessible to Deaf players. This is based on my experience with the system and I sent a note to the devs asking if they can confirm this and will update accordingly if it turns out I’m wrong.
This system aside and after a very rough start in which I thought my console was broken, Question Games has done a fantastic job making a horror game that is largely accessible for Deaf/hoh players.
Before we get into what’s great though, I’ll tell you about my experience upon launching the game for the first time, so you don’t have the same WTF moment.
When launching the game for the first time, you aren’t presented with any sort of option menu in which you can toggle subtitles. The game just starts and that’s that. So I launched and saw this:
Ok, cool, I know where I’m at and what era we’re in.
Then I saw this, for long enough to make me worry I’d broken something or the game was broken:
I was patient though and finally, the game launched into the prologue. Once in the prologue, I was given the option of turning on subtitles, so I had the thought that maybe there was a voiceover during that long black screen, so I rebooted the game and lo and behold, there was a major piece of the game I’d missed.
This is why you ALWAYS give players the option to turn subtitles on before any sort of cutscene or gameplay begins. To avoid situations like this.
A quick note about these subtitles too:
Nobody wants to read a paragraph of text as subtitles. There should never be more than 2-3 lines (preferably 2) of text on screen at one time. At worst, players won’t be able to finish reading it before the next text appears. At best, people might feel like they’re reading a book and lose interest because nobody is playing a game for the novel reading experience.
On the plus side, the subtitles are nice and large and I didn’t run into any instances in which lack of contrast caused a problem when reading them.
They also remembered to include visual cues for audible things like your phone ringing, which many games forget to do (Hello, The long Dark, you should do this).
The very cool thing about this game is how all of it (except for that really cool Enhanced Horror System) is presented visually and in such a novel way. Everything I would call an accessibility feature is simply a feature, part of how everyone plays the game, and that’s a very welcome change from having to visit 15 different options menus to search for a dozen different settings. Aside from toggling on subtitles, the game simply is Deaf/hoh accessible. (There are no size options for subtitles, however.)
At various places throughout the game, you’ll see (and feel, as they’re paired with controller vibration) the red streaks shown above which indicate the directionality of The Shape (the enemy who ends your run if it catches you). When you follow the instructions to close your eyes to see The Shape, you see both the shape and its footprints so that you know exactly what path it’s taking, allowing you to hide (or if you’re me, stand there and wait to die because it’s scary). The below image is what you see when you do this:
For non lethal enemies, they’re subtitled when nearby whether you see them or not, so you always know if you’re in danger of being caught, when to stay put, when to run, etc.
The above images show the stealth icon indicating both states of being spotted and being hidden.
The game offers both voice and text chat, which I’m quite pleased with considering this is from a very small team and this game launched with more accessible features than the recently released AAA game, Wolfenstein: Youngblood launched with.
While it is disappointing that Deaf players will miss out on the Enhanced Horror System, aside from that, The Blackout Club has impressive Deaf/hoh accessibility.
See all of the options below:
Note that on console, controls are not remappable.
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