Cobra la-la-la-la! Or is it Yooo Joe? Whichever you pick, ready yourself for the fight and lead your forces against the enemy to establish your dominance or protection over the world and its people.
Type: Single-player, Local Co-op
Developer: IguanaBee, Fair Play Labs
Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Release date: 15 December, 2020
The extra-wide dresser drawer packed full of my collection of G.I. Joe action figures is one of the most memorable parts of my childhood. If there was a Joe or Cobra out on the market, it’s likely that it was in there as I can only recall a small handful of them that hadn’t made it in. While my brother and I were at school, my dad would set up these massive battles that took up the entire room with bases, vehicles, supply stockpiles, and so on. We knew as soon as we walked in the door that it was time to go to war.
So yes, I’d say that G.I. Joe carries quite a bit of nostalgia for me. I decided that G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout was going to be one of the next games that I’d review before I’d even really taken much of a look at the store page. It was the kind of spontaneous decision that could’ve ended in a disaster. Fortunately for me, the legendary heroes and villains came through for me once again and offered me an enjoyable experience, even if it was clear that there had been some changes over the years.
Cooperative Shooting in a Classic Universe
There’s a lot that’s familiar here for those who know the G.I. Joe setting and it’s adapted quite well into an action-shooter format. Each character has one of six primary weapons, a secondary weapon, grenades, a melee attack, and an ultimate ability. A good amount of variety in weaponry makes each feel different than the next, with the classics like assault rifles, SMGs, and sniper rifles showing their faces, but also with electrical cannons and rocket launchers thrown into the mix. Grenades pack some AoE punch for when the enemy makes the mistake of huddling up and they come in a few different shades as well with some dealing immediate damage and others applying damage-over-time effects. Melee is either mediocre or absolutely exceptional depending on your character, it’s more of than not an emergency back-up, but you’d do well to not underestimate its use in the hands of those like Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes. Finally, ultimates stand out from some of the others in the genre by both charging more quickly and being noticeably weaker than in something like Overwatch. They can certainly turn the tide of a close battle, but they won’t turn an utter rout into a victory either.
The campaign itself is designed well and offers something that I would call a modernized old-school experience. It feels less like a modern shooter, with less bells and whistles, but more like those we used to play through an era or two back. Missions tend to mostly be clearing zones of enemies and completing simple objectives, though defending locations from enemies while a timer runs out isn’t rare either. Every once in awhile, you’ll even be able to pilot one of the vehicles and use their heavy firepower to your advantage as you race through a level, blowing up enemies and defenses that stand in your way. The on-foot shooter portion follows a straightforward path for you to complete it though there’s room to run around and explore to find collectibles, while the vehicle portions railroad you as there is only ever one way forward. That said, the simplicity here is a strength rather than a weakness, and I found it to be something of a walk down memory lane to something akin to the old Star Wars Battlefront games.
Narratively speaking, missions bounce around between G. I. Joe and Cobra allowing you to choose between at least two of the roster to take into the fray. I always look forward to being able to play both sides of a conflict, particularly when it’s asymmetrical and I don’t have any complaints here. The story feels like classic G.I. Joe with Cobra finally pulling off a successful enough maneuver that they drag the world in a Wolfenstein-esque scenario where Cobra Commander has established his organization as the uncontested leaders. The Joes fight back and do what they can to restore peace and order to the world.
The only real issue that I found with this title was that that the unnamed enemy fodder that you spend eliminating throughout most of the game is used for both sides. The justification that’s provided for this is that the Cobra B.A.T. technology was adapted by the Joes to field their own army of robot soldiers, although I would’ve liked to see unique-looking enemies even if each type still filled the same role. Instead, the relatively small variety of enemies that you face has little more than a palette swap when you change sides. The gameplay surrounding these encounters isn’t bad though, so it didn’t tarnish the experience too much, I just found that it would’ve helped add to the setting overall.
The Boys Are Back in Town
It’s clear that G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout put heroes front-and-center and there are a handful of familiar faces here even if I would’ve liked to see more. Each side has six characters available, each of which mirrors the class of one on the other side. This means that both sides play relatively similar, though there are small differences between them that do manage to keep them feeling slightly different.
Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow represent the ninja class. They wield SMGs, move quickly, and have brutal melee attacks, though they’re fragile and drop quickly if they’re focused on by the enemy. Duke and Baroness are soldiers that carry rifles and have relatively balanced stats that let them perform admirably in any given situation, even if they may not excel; they’re the jack-of-all-trades sort. Lady Jaye and Cobra Commander are supports that bring solid firepower to a team but take longer to reload, making them ideal for backing up others but not for going one-on-one with a foe in a duel. Sci-Fi and Firefly are havocs, and as that name would suggest, they carry heavy explosive weapons that have a penchant for blowing things up with heavy damage and area of effect. Scarlett and Zartan are skirmishers, specializing in long-range attacks at pinpoint accuracy, though you want to keep them out of harm’s reach as they’re extra squishy. Finally, Roadblock and Destro roll up as your heavy strikers, locking down enemies with their close-range electrical cannons and excelling at eating damage that would murder the rest of their team. I enjoyed playing every class available and they felt balanced enough that I bounced around between them as I progressed through the missions. I would love to see the roster doubled, or even tripled though; even if the heroes’ characteristics are mostly decided by their class, it would be fun to see more of the legendary icons show up to fight.
G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is a surprisingly good third-person shooter that plays like a smoothly designed title of years past. I was willing to take the plunge and risk wasting some of my time on a G.I. Joe game to give it a chance, but I was surprised to find out how enjoyable it actually is. That goes doubly when you drag some friends along for the ride, either tearing through the campaign as a duo or duking it out with up to four. It doesn’t reinvent the genre or push it forward, but it’s an excellent experience to add to your digital shelf if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned run-and-gun in a good old-fashioned setting.