G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout Review: Worthy of the License

The G.I. Joe franchise isn't quite at the level it used to be. Back in the '80s, G.I. Joe had one of the biggest toylines in the world, a comic series beloved for its mature storylines, and an animated series that acted as a strong entry point for younger fans. Fast forward to the present, and G.I. Joe doesn't quite get the same treatment that Hasbro franchises like Transformers do. The toys and comics are still there, but it doesn't have the same cultural impact. There are signs that this is starting to change, however, and G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is a step in the right direction.

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is developed by IguanaBee and Fair Play Labs. In the game, players take on the role of 12 members of G.I. Joe and Cobra in a third-person shooter. The game's storyline bounces back and forth between the two factions, giving the player an opportunity to experience the narrative from both sides. This isn't done in an attempt to give Cobra's actions any kind of depth or nuance; they're still the over-the-top villains fans have come to expect over the years. Instead, it gives longtime fans a chance to play as some villainous favorites along the way.

One of the most interesting things about Operation Blackout is the way that it approaches the brand. The game's storyline is told via cut scenes that are animated like a motion comic, pulling in elements from both the G.I. Joe comics and animated series. There are also a plethora of Easter eggs and references. The whole thing is married together with character designs based on the current Classified Series toyline. The resulting amalgam feels a bit like Activision's Transformers Devastation, a game that similarly combined old-school elements with designs based on the then-current toys.

G.I. Joe Operation Blackout 2
(Photo: Game Mill)

In the majority of the game's levels, players choose one of two characters to control. Each character has their own weapons: two long-range, and one short. Throughout the levels, players can also find replacement weapons that can be picked up. The effectiveness of the weapons can vary. There are some that can be a joy to use, like Scarlett's crossbow, while others are less enjoyable (in particular, Sci-Fi's default weapons could be a major pain). Unfortunately, the short-range weapons are fairly useless. There are times when it pays to use them, particularly during a boss fight, but it rarely felt like it was worth switching from using one of the various guns. When playing as Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow, it would have been amazing to truly cut loose with a sword.

Missions in the game are fairly basic, and most will task players with traveling through the area, gunning down swarms of B.A.T.s, and pressing a few buttons on specific devices when necessary. The combat itself is okay, but there isn't a large amount of depth; players won't see anything truly revolutionary. Fortunately, there are a handful of levels that allow players to control classic G.I. Joe vehicles. It's a nice way to break up the action.

As far as difficulty is concerned, Operation Blackout is fairly well balanced. Each character starts out with a shield that can regenerate, but once it goes down to zero, enemies will start to chip away at the character's health. Those willing to venture beyond the "Action Figure" difficulty will find this happens fairly often, and players can easily find themselves overwhelmed by opponents.

If there's one area in which Operation Blackout stands out, it's the sound. The game is fully voiced, and the takes on the characters are quite good. It's clear that a lot of care went into making sure that each voice had the correct accent, or fit the character's personality. The voice actor for Cobra Commander, in particular, nails the voice in a way that perfectly evokes the late Chris Latta. The music also features a few memorable tracks that are sure to get stuck in the player's head long after a play session has ended.

G.I. Joe fans haven't had much to celebrate over the last two decades, but G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is a solid step forward in the franchise's return to greatness. It's not an experience that's likely to excite those unfamiliar with the brand, but this is a game that was clearly made for those looking for a genuine, G.I. Joe experience. IguanaBee and Fair Play Labs put a lot of effort into getting all of the little details right, delivering an experience that's absolutely worth checking out for Joe fans. The game doesn't offer anything too revolutionary, but this is a licensed game that does right by its audience. Yo Joe!

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Rating: 3 out of 5

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is now available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PlayStation 4.