PAX East 2023: Blackout Protocol is Men in Black but with More Guns and Aliens
In the late 90s, space and aliens were everything in pop culture. The X-Files dominates television. Invader Zim was broadcasting on Nickelodeon. Will Smith rapped about neutralizers for the hit blockbuster Men In Black. The truth is out there, but in Blackout Protocol, it is here on Earth. Blackout Protocol is an ambitious hardcore twin-stick shooter that emphasizes cooperation and coordination.
Twin-stick shooters are among my favorite genre in video games. They are quick, easy, and exhilarating. Everything from Nex Machina to Neurovoider has been played by me. If it's a twin-stick shooter, I am down for it. Blackout Protocol certainly appeared ambitious and interesting as I approached the demo, but after 15 minutes, I was left fist-pumping at the fact that we had survived.
First, Last, and Only line of Defense
Blackout Protocol is a twin-stick shooter themed to the para natural. Players are a part of S2P Corporation, a secretive company specializing in advancing humans through cutting-edge technology. When a disturbance arises, specially trained agents of S2P Corporation are called in to neutralize the threat. Should the agents fail, their consciousness is backed up and sent back in time to repeat the mission and potentially correct any failures as their learned consciousness also travels back in time.
Blackout Protocol began with the basics. The game is a twin-stick shooter, and each player can select weapons and abilities. My character sported an advanced assault rifle and the ability to shooting abilities through cybernetics. The rest of my team sported the usual assortment of weapons, from shotguns to rifles. We set off into the mysterious facility to quell the alien threat.
Nothing Is What It Seems
We were dead in five minutes. The enemies, which appeared to be mutated humans, swarmed us and made short work of the team. Puzzled, we rebooted and set off again. Only this time, the layout was significantly different. Blackout Protocol is a roguelike with procedural generation, meaning every playthrough will be significantly different. For good measure, friendly fire is always on, meaning that if players recklessly spray bullets, a member of their team can be slain.
On the next go around, I chose the same weapon and attributes but was determined to succeed. Further, into the level, we managed to overcome the swarm of enemies that did us in last time but managed to come across an unexpected enemy. Small aliens appeared on the ground. They couldn't be shot, but they could be whisked away via flashlight. These smaller aliens coated the ground, and while they didn't actively attack, they were causing something worse: Panic.
Cool heads Prevail
Blackout Protocol has a panic system. The dynamics of the mission increase the panic level in each character. The meter can be regulated, but once it achieves a certain point, a certain effect is inflicted that may negatively affect the player's character. At one point, the screen got blurry and zoomed in on my character. This, according to the developer, was an effect of that panic system. This made fighting much harder for a short time. Before we reached the end, our team got ambushed by more enemies and fell.
With time running out in the demo, we started again. I decided to choose a minigun, and the team sorted their selections as well. We entered, only this time, we came in with a vengeance. We communicated our commands clearly between shooting and healing. Using different weapons was advantageous as the heavier firepower proved effective.
Turning Up The Heat
Shooting in Blackout Protocol felt more grounded and authentic than I would have expected. Using the minigun meant I had to spool the barrel before firing. Holding the right mouse button allowed me to keep the minigun spooling in the event of sudden encounters. This was also notable when retrieving the flamethrower, as the gas had to circulate into the weapon before being able to fire. The resulting effect was most effective as it incinerates large groups of enemies.
During this run, I noticed the panic meter stayed reasonable, meaning that through healing, reducing damage, and coordination, the panic meter can stay within a reasonable level. We fought the same few enemies, from the pink-brain aliens to the mutated humans. It wasn't until we got to the end of the demo that the heat turned up.
Trapped in a burning corner of concrete and steel, the enemy opened up, and we were in the fight of our lives during the demo. The enemy began pouring into the corner, and it took everything we got to blast out of there. Bullets and laser fire flew amidst the fire and smoke. Grenades compounded the tight space as well fought through tooth and nail. Everything became a blur as we fought to make it through this third run. After a few moments of chaos, we made it to a safe room to upgrade our characters and save.
By the time we were ready to continue, the demo was over. There was a sense of relief and triumph over surviving the hordes but also a sense of ambition. Despite the difficulty in playing Blackout Protocol, it was a barrel of fun. Fighting swarms of enemies and overcoming obstacles with strangers who became friends was satisfying fun.
Imagine What You'll Know Tomorrow
Blackout Protocol is hard, but it is in a challenge that friendships and camaraderie are forged. Fighting and coordinating with other players was satisfying. The weapons and combat were enjoyable, and the enemy left a constantly spooky impression. It was a challenge but a solid challenge where communication and learning were essential for success.
I really enjoyed what Blackout Protocol sets out to do. The team is passionate about creating an engaging experience with co-op mechanics. There is no other twin-stick shooter like Blackout Protocol right now. Having played, it was a pleasure. Backout Protocol is shaping up to be a definitive hardcore twin-stick shooter experience, and I cannot wait to see when it is ready.
Blackout Protocol is in Steam Early Access with a release slated for 2023. The Beta is now available on Steam.