Oh, Joe…

HIGH It’s like getting to rifle through a box of action figures.

LOW Repetitive maps. Enemy AI is as clever as an action figure.

WTF Why is Storm Shadow using guns???

GI Joe: Operation Blackout should press all of my nostalgia buttons.  It features classic GI Joe characters, an over-the-top, nonsensical plot where Cobra tries for world domination, and lots of stuff blows up.  Unfortunately, despite some enjoyable moments and being able to blast ‘bots with my youngest child in local co-op, the overall experience is as empty as a blister pack with its figure removed.

The setup here is that Cobra Commander has managed to get his scaly hands on a satellite that knocks out communications around the world. At the same time, he launches a strike against the Joes’ iconic aircraft carrier, the USS Flagg. After this terrible defeat, the Joes are isolated and scattered around the globe while Cobra consolidates power. It’s somewhat convoluted yet pretty basic, and no worse than anything we came up with as kids playing with our figures. 

Puzzlingly, Blackout doesn’t seem to know what its target audience is. I’d suggest that it should be aimed at older players like myself who spent time with the toys and iconic TV show in my childhood. However, it instead opts for kid-friendly vibrant colors and comic-style cutscenes along with sanitized violence in the form of exploding robots and characters that miraculously escape harm when defeated in combat. 

Blackout plays like every third-person shooter out there.  Controlling one’s character from an over-the-shoulder, players run and shoot their way through enormous maps, occasionally pressing buttons to to unlock doors or operate machinery.  Players will also assault locations to destroy a key piece of equipment or a boss, or defending a position from waves of enemies. 

During the early going, the combat can be fairly exciting. It’s great to try out Scarlett’s incredible crossbow, and who doesn’t want to play as Snake Eyes?  Unfortunately, the monotony begins to creep in, and after facing legion after legion of cookie-cutter robots, GI Joe became less about enjoying time with a nostalgic property and more about slogging through to the end so I could write this review and move on to my next game. The issue isn’t that Blackout does anything particularly badly — it simply does nothing particularly well. 

The maps are vibrant and detailed, but they’re also linear and largely empty apart from limited exploration to find collectibles. 

Players get to experience both sides of the conflict between the Joes and Cobra, but characters on each team are basically palette swaps of one another.  Duke and the Baroness are both Solider-class fighters using the same machine-gun… er… laser, for example.

There’s a melee mechanic, but it’s almost impossible to use accurately or effectively, limiting the effectiveness of Storm Shadow’s trademarked blade. 

Each character class has an impressively-animated special move that can be used after a lengthy cooldown, but they’re almost all laughably easy to avoid — even the brainless AI can run past most of them. 

Boss battles allow one to relive countless action figure matchups from childhood, but they mainly involve sniping at opponents from long distance and avoiding swarms of robots. 

If there’s a saving grace to Operation Blackout, it’s that the local co-op mode was enjoyable in short spurts with my seven-year-old.  He’s young enough not to be bothered by the repetition, and he enjoyed learning about the characters and trying to foil Cobra’s dastardly schemes. 

Co-op does make the game a bit easier — if a teammate falls, it’s not an immediate game over as long as the other can survive long enough for a respawn timer to count down.  We also loved cooperatively driving tanks, with me behind the wheel and him blasting our enemies.  We tried some of the versus modes, but found the maps too large for our fights to be particularly interesting, as it took forever for us to find one another.

GI Joe: Operation Blackout could have been something special, but it doesn’t capitalize on its nostalgia effectively, and has too many shortcomings to stand out in any meaningful way against the countless action games already available on every platform. It might be worthwhile as co-op fodder with a younger player, but everyone else might want to give this a pass.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by GameMill Entertainment.  It is currently available on PS4, Nintendo Switch,and Xbox One.  This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4.  Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.  About 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Blood and Violence.  The official description reads as follows: This is a third-person shooter in which players assume the role of elite members of either Cobra or G.I. Joe forces through military missions. Players use firearms, laser blasters, and explosives to battle enemies (e.g., robotic troopers, battle androids) in frenetic combat. Battles are accompanied by large explosions and realistic gunfire; enemy robots explode into pieces when destroyed. A handful of missions allow players to operate vehicles with mounted turrets/cannons to destroy vehicles (e.g., airplanes, ground-based robots). A gallery image of comic-book covers depicts a character holding two bloody swords.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All in game text is subtitled, and the game is fully playable without sound.  There is a slight audio cue when an enemy robot is damaged which isn’t obviously detected visually, but a player will most often know when an enemy has been hit.

Remappable Controls: This game offers four controller presets, but no option to remap individual buttons or controls.

Jeff Ortloff
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