Blackout Protocol is a top-down co-op twin-stick shooter developed by Ocean Drive Studio. It was released on Steam early access on July 20, 2023, and the emphasis is on co-operative gameplay as it is a challenging game to play solo. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where players take on the role of an agent from the S2P Corporation. Their goal is to investigate a top-secret research facility called Section 13, which has been overrun by its own murderous experiments.
During the early access period, which is set to be around 12 months, we have access to four playable characters, five levels to explore and 13 weapons to find. The four agents we can play as are Beaker, Scalpel, Red and Boy Scout, and each has their own unique special ability. Beaker has an AOE heal, Scalpel has a damage ability that will cyphon health, Red increases her firing speed and Boy Scout has an AOE slam that damages and knocks back enemies. The game’s graphics are decent enough for an isometric game of this type and it runs very smoothly.
We start the game with a guided tutorial where we are taught the twin-stick movement controls, picking up items like weapons, medkits and ammo, and we carry data nugs that once we get to a safe room, can be used to specialise and enhance our abilities. We are taught how to switch between primary and secondary weapons, and then face off against a boss. Playing solo, I was doing small amounts of damage but the boss is fast moving and heavy hitting, so I died quickly which I think is to teach you about the roguelike nature of the game.
The game has been designed to be played in 3-player co-op and each time I tried to join a lobby, I would wait 4-5 minutes and no games would pop up. This isn’t uncommon for me trying to play multiplayer games in my Western Australian time zone. The developers have listened to player feedback about the difficulty of the game and on August 10, added a new solo rogue mode. I thought this would be a great thing, however the difficulty of the monsters doesn’t feel as if it’s been adjusted for the missing two players. Monsters supposedly have their hitpoints reduced to 80%, but it is still bloody hard to progress the missions, especially as your progress is reset each time you die unless you can make it to a safe room.
When I did finally join a multiplayer game, I quickly learned the hard way that friendly fire is on and can’t be switched off. I was playing as Boy Scout and saw a swarm of zombies charging us. I ran ahead to use my ground slam ability, only to be mowed down from my own teammate. You can be revived thankfully but the longer you remain in the downed state, the less health you will have when you are eventually revived, so it’s important to get your downed teammates up as quickly as possible. The only other thing with medkits and ammo when playing co-op is that it’s not shared by the team, so the person that picks it up needs to manually share. If you’re playing with mates then you can share easily but when playing in a team of randoms, you’ll be racing to get to the kits first.
Another aspect to consider when exploring each level is the light of your torch. Not only does it light the path forward, but it also keeps little monster critters away from you. I couldn’t shoot them so ignored them at first, but I noticed they would scutter away from the torchlight. What I didn’t realise though was that they were running around to nibble attack from behind. Characters have two health bars, orange for regular health and purple for mental health which can set off the panic gauge and this can cause you to freeze or drop your weapon.
After six attempts at the first mission playing as Boy Scout, I switched to Beaker who has the AOE heal. I got to the power station section of the parking lot but still died to mobs that spawn once you flick the switch. One frustration is that dodging will stop the reload animation, and some of the weapons take as much as 2 seconds to do a full reload. I picked up an Arc Cannon weapon which fires an electrical beam that can arc between enemies, and I was finally able to complete the first mission. Then I came unstick again in the lobby mission as I was overrun and couldn’t reload due to needed to dodge so often. I did pick up some weapon blueprints in the first mission though, so I have been trying different character and weapon combinations and slowly getting further.
Overall, I like the many concepts on offer in Blackout Protocol, but it is not a solo friendly game yet. I think the addition of the solo rogue mode was a good move, it just needs some more tweaking and refinement to get the balance right. Ammo runs out really quick on your own, but there’s plenty of ammo to find and other guns to switch to. The graphics are great and playing co-operatively is a much more challenging and fun experience. The question will be if the game can sustain and grow the player base over the early access period as there is a heap of potential here.
This review utilised keys provided by XOGO Consulting and Blackout Protocol is out now on Steam early access.