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Video Game / Blackout

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"Escape your fate — if you can."

Blackout is a Danish Psychological Horror Adventure Game created and produced by Michael Valeur and Deadline Games and released in 1997, using live action cutscenes of puppets and hand-built miniature sets to tell a dark and disturbing story. The lack of actual challenges and focus on story and environments arguably makes it an early example of an Environmental Narrative Game. The game came on three CD's and also contained a novel, written by Valeur, and is seen from the point of view of two of the game's side characters, while the game's player character makes sporadic appearances in their intertwined stories.

The story of the game proper starts when you, the main protagonist, wakes up in a messy and a dark apartment to the sound of a phone ringing, having lost most of your memory and as a result having no idea who or where you are. Answering the phone only gives a cryptic message, asking you if you have fulfilled your task, and a examination of your surroundings reveals blood stains on the walls and headless body in the bed. Before you can inspect the body any closer, you immediately have another blackout, and when you wake up again, you find a notably cleaner apartment, and the body and any evidence it has ever been there are gone. Thus begins a search for your true nature, the cause behind your madness, the constant blackouts and the identity and fate of the body.

The game, as it is, is quite open-ended, allowing the player a lot of leeway to explore a dark and rather eerie City Noir through four different neighborhood hubs; the mundane Uptown, the shady Downtown, the Docks, and the concrete Suburbs. As the player does so, the game subtly tracks their activities as well as the occasional choice they make, and uses them to inform the Player Character's personality, resulting in different reactions from the game's cast of characters as well as ultimately determining how the story ends.

Should not be confused with the book Blackout, or the Game Show Blackout.

The game originally only saw a release in Scandinavia in local languages, so a copy of the original can be quite hard to track down nowadays, though a remastered version with a build-in English translation for tablets is supposedly in the works. Until then, a Let's Play with English subtitles is available here.

Tropes used in this game:

  • Abusive Parents: Even the Big Bad seems to feel a bit sorry towards the main character, recognizing he behaves in such an odd way because of his absolutely hellish childhood.
  • All There in the Manual: There is a lot of additional information on some of the characters found only in the novel.
  • Asshole Victim: The main character might be a Self-Made Orphan, but it is rather hard to feel sorry for his parents, seeing how they both made his childhood absolutely miserable.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: One of the first clues to the Player Character's terrible childhood is when he reminiscences about how his father beat his dog to death with a hammer.
  • The Bartender: Two of them in fact:
    • The bartender on the lower-class Buttom Bar is a very buff Indian-looking man who is quite the big boxing fan and loves to discuss the great stars in boxing history.
    • The bartender on the higher-less establishment, The Mask, is a a war veteran with a French-esque accent who has a preference for red cocktails and enjoy sharing his (at times rather depressing) war stories.
  • Blind Seer: The old medium, Claire, ends her séances by removing her sunglasses, showing you the empty eye sockets beneath.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Choosing to have a session with Vicky, the prostitute at the New Orleans brothel who dresses like a dominatrix and is heavily implied to offer some sort of sadomasochistic sexual service, pushes you further towards the cruel and sadistic "fire" personality.
  • City with No Name: The name of the city, or even the country, is never given.
  • Choice-and-Consequence System: Subtly done. Firstly, the game offers the player relatively few straight-up either-or choices, and the consequences of them aren't immediately obvious. Secondly, the game is more about tracking how the player interacts with the world (i.e. how often does the player buy drinks at the bars, have sex with (or just talk to) the prostitutes at the local brothel, have sessions with the therapist, or pay visits to the library, to mention a few), and mainly uses these parameters to alter the story.
  • The Chain of Harm: The main character suffered a horrible childhood at the hands of his father, but when exploring his father's past, it turns out that he himself suffered at the hands of his own father during childhood.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The Priest, judging from his outfit, and the Church he serves, judging by its emphasis on the Virgin Mary and relics, is clearly Catholic-esque at the very least.
  • Classical Elements Ensemble: The main character has four split personalities, each of which is aligned with a Classical Element and has the corresponding Elemental Personalities. The air personality is a carefree, easygoing Gadfly. The fire personality is characterized by his extremely cynical world-view and Tranquil Fury. He also has a latent sadistic streak, and is obsessed with revenge and inflicting cruelty upon others. The earth personality is quiet, distant, shy, and modest and believes he is not very interesting. The water personality is childish, skittish, and fearful, and is plagued by feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
  • Cleanup Crew: Turns that the main character fulfils this role in the local mob's production of snuff films. He cleans up the apartment where they carry out and record their horrific business, and in return, in addition to some hush money, he is allowed to live in said apartment for free.
  • The Don: "The Widow" is a Rare Female Example, being the leader of the local organized-crime gang. As it turns out, she is also the Player Character's employer.
  • Driving Question: Who are you, and what is the identity and whereabouts of the headless body?
  • Environmental Narrative Game: The game contains no actual challenges or puzzles. If you just walk around exploring and talking to people the story will progress anyhow. The only real challenge comes if you are trying to find out how to get a specific ending. The game might therefore quite possibly be an Ur-Example of the genre.
  • Evil Old Folks: "The Widow" is the rather amoral leader of the local mob and she has specialized in producing snuff films. She also happens to be an elderly woman.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair: Made even worse by the fact that it is your own, forgotten, evil lair that you are exploring.
  • Film Noir: You as player navigate a City Noir and interact with a colorful cast of character, in the attempt to solve a mystery, while wrestling with heavy existential questions and themes such as the meaning of life, fate versus free will, what identity means, and the difference between sanity and madness. Interestingly, the game seems to deliberately try to invoke Neo-Noir, in that the main character is not someone who has experienced the Great Offscreen War personally, but rather is member of the generation born after it.
  • Great Offscreen War: The country has recently been involved in a war of some sort, and a number of characters are veterans of the conflict. But just as the name of the county and the city, no actual information on the war is ever given.
  • Good Shepherd: The Priest genuinely shows concern about the state of both his community and society at large, and is quite friendly towards the main character, having listened to his problems and given him guidance in his youth and he tries to gently nudge him towards getting professional help from the local therapist.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: The player is asked to type in a name at the beginning of the game, which they are told will be the main character's name. However, it turns that the main character actually has a pre-established name, which is Gabriel, and the name the player has been asked to type is actually the name of one of Gabriel's split personalties.
  • He Knows About Timed Hits: The medium, Claire, outright breaks the fourth wall, whenever her services are requested, by directly asking the player to "click" on the objects she is holding out to them in her hands.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: All of the prostitutes in the game really, who in the end come of as some of the nicest characters in the city.
  • I Am Who?: Personal details about the Player Character are gradually revealed as the game is played. He is a young man by the name of Gabriel, he has had a rather hellish childhood, he works as the Cleanup Crew for the local mob, he suffers from a severe case of dissociative identity disorder, having four different Split Personalities, and he is a Self-Made Orphan.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: Downplayed. The available options in the final choice which determine the ending the player gets is unlocked depending on which actions they have been doing during the game, but they are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to get everything between all choices to only one choice.
  • Live-Action Cutscene: The game is quite a notable twist on this; instead of actors and full-scale sets, it uses puppets and handcrafted miniature sets.
  • Losing Your Head: In your nightmares and when you finally find the lost head, it speaks to you, telling you it's story and the reason you chose to steal it. But this is probably only a effect created by your insanity. Probably.
  • Mad Artist: The player character turns out to be one. Part of his secret lair is an atelier full of Spooky Paintings with plenty of overt demonic and apocalyptic imagery, like something taken out of Zdzisław Beksiński and Hieronymus Bosch's bodies of work.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: In the "love/Act" ending, where Gabriel ultimately chooses to leave the city for a new life with Kate, the latter transforms from her normal puppet self into a live actor as she leans in and kisses him. The rest of the ending then plays out entirely in live action, as he and Kate drive away towards the sunset in a car.
  • Missing Time: Happens every now and then to the protagonist, thus the title of the game.
  • Mr. Exposition: The old street sweeper can reveal a lot of background information if you ask him to.
  • Multiple Endings: The game has several endings, which depends on which of the Player Character's personalities the player decides to lean into and some other choices made during gameplay.
    • "Act" ending. Gabriel decides that he loves Kate above everything else and wants to live with her. Kathe admits that she knows the path before them won't be easy with Gabriel's mental health issues, but she is willing to give it her best try. The two of them leave the city for a new life in the South where Kathe has gotten a new job.
    • "Fire" ending. Gabriel lets his anger and inner fire consume him. He assaults and beats up Jakob, before setting fire to his practice.
    • "Leave" ending. Gabriel succumbs to the demons of his past. Overcome with his traumas he goes catatonic, and the local priest declares him to be beyond help.
    • "Therapy" ending. Gabriel decides he ultimately cannot be free of his illness. Urged on by his inner voices, he returns to his atelier and sets himself on fire.
  • Muppet: The characters are all played by puppets.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The protagonist's father used a nihilistic might-makes-right philosophy to justify the abuse of his son.
  • Optional Sexual Encounter: One of the locations is a brothel by the name of New Orleans down by the docks, and you can have a session with any of the four prostitutes employed there. As with anything else in the game, the choice of which one of them you choose to visit pushes your personality in certain direction. There is even an extra layer to the "optional" part, as each of them give you a choice between "sex" or "conversation", so you can actually interact with them in other manners than just having intercourse.
  • Player and Protagonist Integration: The game plays quite a bit around with the trope. Amongst the first things player is asked to do is to name the player character, and the game treats the player and the main character as the same for the most part in the beginning of the game, but it gradually turns out that the main character actually has a name and past outside of what the player has established. But this actually fits with the main character suffering from amnesia and a Split Personality, and it is strongly implied that the player themselves is actually not playing the main character, per se, but rather that they are playing as one of his split personalities.
  • Pyromaniac: Arson is the modus operandi of the protagonist's violent and vengeful fire-personality.
  • Quest for Identity: The main crux of the story is figuring out what the protagonist has forgotten due to his amnesia.
  • Self-Immolation: Gabriel decides to go out this way in the "Therapy" ending.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Turns out the main character murdered his own abusive parents, took their heads, and preserved them in jars as trophies.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Bob, the tattoo parlor owner, says so to the Priest when he causes a ruckus over the fact that he is giving a tattoo to a minor, threatening to report the Priest to the Widow and then telling him it would be a shame if a fire accidentally was to start in his church some day.
  • Show Within a Show: You can go and see the movie "Bird Brain" at the local cinema.
  • The Shrink: The player can interact with one, which will have an effect on which personality traits become the most dominant.
  • Snuff Film: The reason why the headless body was in your apartment to begin with has to do with a mob film production of such a movie.
  • Son of a Whore: While there is an example in Vicky's son, the main character also turns out to be one.
  • Split Personality: Four of them actually, constantly fighting over the mind of the protagonist.
  • Story Breadcrumbs: Due to the nature of the game, it is quite possible to inadvertently miss certain rather crucial story clues and elements, and in fact some choices are deliberately constructed to inform the player on one part of the story while leaving out others. This encourages multiple playthroughs, if the player wants to fill out all the gaps and get the full picture on certain things, especially regarding several subplots and the full story about the main character's Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Some of the events you witness are a result of the protagonist's mental instability; see the example for Losing Your Head.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: The plot in and of itself is not very long, but the game is relatively non-linear and contain a lot of people to talk to and things to interact with.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: The opening of the game. The Player Character wakes up in a messy, bloodstained apartment with a headless body on the bed. One flash later, the apartment is clean and the body is gone. The driving questions of the game then become: What happened with the body, and who are you?