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G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout (Xbox One) Review

G.I. Joe and Cobra return to action for a new generation with a new video game based on the toy line. Expect action, and nods to the classic series.

An icon

There are a few categories where G.I. Joe, as a franchise, is more than notable as “iconic”. Actually, it’s almost any category of pop culture that you can think of. Toys, cartoons, comic books… Joe is a legend in all of them. Of course, you can’t say the same about movies, where the property has fallen puzzlingly short. And, for that matter, you can throw video games in with that.

Yes, I know there were some decent NES games released and a kinda/sorta cool arcade title. But honestly, this is G.I. Joe we’re talking about here, and there should be all kinds of great games for it stretched out across the console generations. But there aren’t.

For some reason Joe-parent Hasbro has never put any kind of emphasis on video game adaptations of the property. In fact, it’d gone silent all-together since the ill-fated movie game a few years back.

Now though, we have Operation Blackout, a video game based on the new action figure line… or maybe it’s the other way around.

Premise

Take G.I. Joe and bring him into the modern age. And by that, I mainly mean the cartoon version of Joe, and their nemesis’ in the terrorist supervillain organization known as Cobra. Unfortunately, the comics version, which started under the Marvel banner and is now homed at IDW, looks to have been too mature for what publisher GameMill and Hasbro wanted to do with the property.

That’s not the best in my opinion, and a missed opportunity. The fanbase for Joe isn’t young, in fact it’s pretty darn mature at this point. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like a matchingly ‘mature’ gaming take on the property could definitely have worked.

But nevertheless, what we have is essentially a modernized version of the weekday afternoon ‘toon from the 80s. That means laser guns, over the top action, and battles where nobody actually dies. A quick note on that last part – all of the enemies are Cobra BATS (Battle Android Troopers) or the Joe facsimile. Yeah, take all of those awesome Cobra vipers from throughout the history of the property (and thoughts of Steel Brigade and greenshirts for that matter) and ditch ’em.

Lots o’ lasers

But even so, and keep in mind I do say this as an older fan, the main story is actually really cool. The narrative unfolds with Cobra taking the Joes’ mobile HQ, the aircraft carrier known as the FLAGG. Yes, they actually win. Told you the story was cool.

From there, Cobra activates something called the Blackout Sphere. That kills all of the power on Earth, excepting theirs. No you’re not dreaming, Cobra rises up and takes the globe. But even that is a but of a ruse, as the story twists a bit and only slowly reveals itself. Action cuts back and forth through time, bouncing between Joe and Cobra viewpoints.

You’ll find a dozen total Joes and Cobras to play as, as well as a few vehicles to drive. Tack on an arena battle multiplayer mode, and away you go.

Presentation

Operation Blackout looks decent enough. It’s bright and colorful, and even has some nicely staged levels. No, the game isn’t going to knock your socks off in terms of graphics, but it’s a sight better than I had assumed it was going to be.

For the most part, the characters look terrific. The models that the main skins for each hero and villain feature are based off of the modern line of action figures, just with an animated look. So if you dig those, and you probably do if you’re a Joe fan, then you should like this too.

The levels themselves look good enough, with the same animated feel as the characters and some nice effects happening here and there. Though again I feel like there are a lot of missed opportunities.

Zartan takes aim

Yes, there’s the FLAGG, but while there’s a Cobra Island, there’s no Terrordrome. G.I. Joe has a ton of playsets from the classic toy line and setting from the show that could have been used in the game. How about a larger, more structured version of the Battle Platform for a sea-based mission that also works in the WHALE Hovercraft and Cobra Hydrofoils?

With a property as big and expansive as G.I. Joe, there’s just so much to pick from that there isn’t a need to make up new stuff. And while I do understand the desire to let the creative team’s ideas take shape, working in more of what Joe is known for could only be considered a good thing.

I also want to mention the cut-scenes, which are mostly static and done like comic art. I have seen this a few times this year now in games, and I have to wonder if it’s done more out of necessity (thanks to covid keeping teams apart) than anything else. There is voice-acting, which is actually pretty decent, but the motion-comic style isn’t great otherwise.

Gameplay

If I was to boil Operation Blackout’s gameplay down to one phrase, it’d be ‘hit and miss’. The gunplay is actually pretty fun, with a number of weapons to make use of, some of which are really neat. What’s on the miss side though, is that Operation Blackout clearly wants to have a Gears of War-style cover system, and it just… doesn’t.

Dotted around most maps are cover points, behind which you can crouch and popup to attack. There’s no method to ‘stick’ to these points though, so you just kind of crouch down and do the best you can.

And by the way, the BATs will be doing that as well, the best they can. I’m not talking about taking cover, as most of them will just run up to you and open fire. And if you happen to be facing an enemy agent as a boss battle, that’s almost all that they do. So cover is completely useless in that case.

A classic battle

Aside from that, the melee is nearly pointless too, which is kind of a big deal. Remember that two of the biggest characters in the franchise are Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, and both are mostly about close combat. Does Storm Shadow even use a gun ever in anything besides this game? I can’t think of an instance.

Other than that, controls are very straightforward and solidly done. You can jump, shoot, dodge, use special abilities that are extremely easy to miss with, and active-reload. Yep, active-reloads. OB has one more tribute to Gears.

Overall

Okay, so here’s the thing, there’s a lot with Operation Blackout that could have been better. But even so, I still had fun with it. That might be because I’m a huge Joe fan who’s not gotten a game since the movie-inspired one in 2009, or a good one since the days of the NES.

So yeah, I’m a bit starved, and I’d reckon that most G.I. Joe fans feel similarly. So if that’s you, then there’s probably a chance that you’ll find a surprising amount to like about this little game. If not though, and you’re just looking for a new action title to shoot your way through, then this one’s probably safe to skip.

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout
Release Date:
October 13th, 2020
Platform(s): Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher: Gamemill
Developer: Iguanabee, Fair Play Labs
MSRP: $39.99 USD

Yo Joe!

Premise - 68%
Presentation - 72%
Gameplay - 65%

68%

Cobra!

Operation Blackout is a surprisingly fun take on the new Hasbro toy line that rebirths the classic 80s series. It makes more than a few missteps however, and definitely skews younger in theme. If you're not a big fan of the franchise, it might not be worth your time.

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About Jason

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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