As someone who grew up in the 80’s, watching cartoons and playing with the toy action figures from shows such as Voltron, Transformers and G.I. Joe, I have to imagine that my nostalgia for that era makes me the target audience for G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout. The end result is a perfectly average third-person shooter that managed to make me smile from time to time as I recalled classic characters, but very little that I would consider memorable once I put the controller down.
The story starts off with the rare win for Cobra as you take control of either Storm Shadow or Cobra Commander – two great characters to being with really, as they raid a Joe battleship in an effort to… well, this is video game / Saturday cartoon levels of ‘take over the world’ here, so the details aren’t really all that important. The story is not terribly deep, but neither is the source material that the game is based on, so to that end it all works just fine. The story is told through a comic book style of still images that update here and there to serve as the cutscenes. In most cases this would seem rather budget-friendly, but here it is not all that distracting given the source IP.
Still, these scenes are generally brief – the meat and potatoes are in the combat which is perfectly serviceable. You have a third person shooter sans cover mechanics, the ability to switch between weapons while picking up more throughout the level, some grenades to toss for some splash damage, melee attacks when close to an opponent and a super power that charges up similar to Overwatch that is unique to each character. There is even a Gears of War-like active reload that works nicely within the gameplay. The actual shooting mechanics are a bit loose, and I found myself favoring rapid fire weapons that have a ‘spray and pray’ approach over harder hitting but slower ones that required precision to use well. There is some aim assist that can be turned on, but with the lack of a good cover mechanic, enemies swarming from all around and a somewhat fast gameplay, precision is not really the name of the game here.
There are seventeen different missions to be played, and a dozen characters to work with (with half being Joes and half being Cobra as your stages have you flipflopping roles – probably the coolest narrative choice really as it was fun to see both sides of the story). Masked characters like Cobra Commander, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow tend to look a bit better than the actual blocky facial features found on the other characters, and visually G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is pretty mediocre overall. There is that bright, cartoon aesthetic at play which works well, but environments are pretty same-y and characters can seem a little weird in movement during up-close and personal combat (this really stood out to me in the first mission when I was using Storm Shadow and trying to use melee attacks on my opponents because… well, ninja with swords). It’s undeniably fun with plenty to shoot and slash at – just not the most polished of experiences.
However, each of the characters has their own stats (defense, speed, rate of fire, firepower, etc) that makes them feel different from one another in combat. They are also pretty decently voiced. There wasn’t anyone that I just sort of went: huh – that didn’t sound like I was expecting him / her to. In particular Cobra Commander is pretty spot-on with the shrill-sounding voice of my youth. Music is appropriately fast-paced with plenty of bombastic sound effects to represent guns, lasers and explosions along the way. There is a evident appreciation of the source material, even if this is also clearly not a AAA title either.
Missions can be replayed at varying difficulties, and the stages themselves are generally well laid-out with handy markers that pop up pointing you to specific objectives or telling you where to go next, which is helpful amidst all of the chaotic shooting taking place. This makes for some perfectly solid short bursts of gameplay (each mission can usually be completed in about 15-25 minutes), though I didn’t see any kind of online multiplayer – just local, which feels like something of a missed opportunity. Given that the game was built with two players in mind (each mission has two characters working together – either you and an AI or someone on your couch joining in with you). That really hampers the multiplayer aspects (of which there are a few modes such as Capture the Flash).