G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout review

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout came out of nowhere. No really, a launch trailer hit a couple months ago and took gamers and Joe fans completely by surprise. The trailer also well, looked fun. Immediate comparisons to Fortnite were drawn, be it for the third-person shooter style of gameplay or the cell-shaded animated characters, but it certainly piqued a lot of interest.

However, there was trepidation as well. With such a sudden reveal, impending launch, a $40 price tag and not a ton of marketing behind it, high expectations were quickly suppressed and a lot of questions surrounding the game began to emerge. The developer Iguanabee is relatively unknown and the distributor, GameMill Entertainment, is known for all ages-friendly and kids titles that are designed not to break the bank. The games tend to be middle of the road in terms of quality, but overall enjoyable for what they are.

With that in mind, I wasn’t expecting the next Call of Duty or Fortnite in G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout. I was expecting something along the lines of the last major G.I. Joe video game, Rise of Cobra, the tie-in to the first film. That game was an arcade-style run and shoot, essentially a 3D Contra, and it wasn’t terrible. It isn’t the most memorable game (as some movie tie-ins tend not to be), but it was a fun pick up and play shooter which I still pop in from time to time. That’s where I placed my expectations for Operation Blackout. I wasn’t expecting a top shelf AAA video game; I was expecting something simple and fun with the G.I. Joe license.

G.I. Joe as a franchise is trying to find its footing for resurgence. The comics from IDW have been relaunched a handful of times in the past few years, there’s a decent base-building mobile game and of course, a new toy line. The G.I. Joe Classified series is the latest offering from Hasbro and matches their popular Marvel Legends line in terms of scale, quality and features. However, this toy line has been plagued with problems including being hard-to-find, store exclusives, scalpers driving up prices online… it’s not pretty for collectors or new fans. The character designs of Operation Blackout are very much pulled from the Classified toy line, in effect making this game a tie-in with the toy line. That’s all well and fine, and honestly kind of a throwback to a different time, so no harm there.

I’m a longtime G.I. Joe fan. I write military fiction that draws some inspiration from G.I. Joe, I read the comics, I grew up on the cartoon and I still collect the toys. I’ve tried a few times to craft my own version of the franchise and would certainly jump at the chance in any medium. In other words, once this game was announced, I was looking forward to it because it’s been a long time since G.I. Joe has had a game like this.

Getting down to business, G.I. Joe Operation Blackout is a third-person shooter that allows you to play as six G.I. Joes and six Cobra – including Duke, Scarlet, Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Snake Eyes, Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow, Baroness, Destro and more.

The game’s biggest strength comes in the writing. This is very much a G.I. Joe story with a tone in line with the beloved 80s cartoon and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It follows along the more modern thread of Cobra essentially taking over much of the world and G.I. Joe fighting as more of a guerrilla group, but it’s a good story. The voice acting is also a highlight, with each character having a distinctive voice and the actors coming across as very enthusiastic throughout the game. It’s definitely geared towards nostalgia, and that might be it’s biggest selling point.

In terms of gameplay, the mechanics are fairly simple and what you’d expect from a run and gun style third person shooter. You blast your way through enemy units to an objective and fight different and unique level bosses and that’s basically it. There’s enough variety to keep it entertaining, though there are times the seemingly endless hordes of enemies can be frustrating. Either way, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a game of this kind. Every character has a special attack, two weapon slots (one of which is unique to the character), grenades and a melee attack. Aside from the targeting and shooting feeling a little “loose” in some instances – when not using auto-aim, the targeting can be a little off – I really can’t complain too much and I actually prefer Operation Blackout to Rise of Cobra. The game certainly isn’t breaking new ground but the campaign is a good time and does provide some challenge on occasion.

However, Operation Blackout comes up short in a few areas. The graphics definitely seem Fortnite-inspired but they’re a bit outdated and the rendering is lacking in some aspects. This is too bad because the cel-shaded look and feel of the game is kind of great. Overall, I like the in-game look and there are some spots where it looks better than others, but the spirit of the franchise is totally in tact. The places where the game’s lower budget certainly shows are the cutscenes for the campaign. The cutscenes are comic illustrations (and good ones at that), which would be fine, but there’s little to no animation and the animating that is there is very simple akin to early motion comics. The story itself is fine and comes across fine, but it’s too bad there couldn’t be more to the cutscenes.

While the single-player campaign is fine, there is no online multiplayer which is just completely baffling this day and age. Additionally, the Team Battle mode which is essentially the “pick up and play” mode outside of the campaign only allows for local multiplayer. And when I say it only allows for local multiplayer, I mean you can only play it with other humans. This, to me, is the game’s biggest problem and unless fixed, will kill the game’s lasting replay value. There has to be an option for AI teammates and I just can’t believe this isn’t a feature. With modes like King of the Hill and Capture the Flag, the lack of online multiplayer or at the very least AI teammates is devastating for this game.

Finally, what this game leaves on the table is potential. I can’t really fault Iguana Bee – while this game may not win any awards, they did their job and made a fun G.I. Joe shooter with a solid story that franchise fans should enjoy, that’s a victory. I do wonder what could have been had Hasbro put more money into this game. There’s so much potential here for extra characters, skins, weapons and other unlockable content. Dare I say it; this kind of game is RIPE for a microtransaction-based economy and there is just so much left untapped. While this may be a “bargain bin” game, there is a big budget AAA title buried deep inside of it.

Overall, while there’s a lot about the game that’s lacking, there’s a lot of fun to be had. The story is good, the voice acting is on point and most importantly, the game is fun. If you’re a fan of the franchise like me and are just looking for a G.I. Joe experience, this may just do the trick. I am just happy there’s a G.I. Joe game that does capture the spirit of the franchise and that for me, it’s an enjoyable experience. It’s far from perfect and if given a bit of a budget, it can be vastly improved… even by something as simple as adding AI teammates to Team Battle or going more robust with an online multiplayer component.

Your mileage may vary, and if you don’t want to spend $40 on it and wait until the price drops, that’s understandable. However, my expectations were leveled at hoping for fun G.I. Joe experience and I don’t think it’s a bad game and definitely not as bad as some reviews I’ve seen, thus I do not regret my purchase, even though Team Battle really, really needs AI teammates.

Now you know and… you know the rest.