It’s a Saturday morning, there’s no rush to do your weekend and it’s time to watch some cartoons on a telly that required you to sit dangerously close to it so that you could bask in its radiation. If you’re older than original sin, that cartoon that kicked off your mornings was probably GI Joe (whereas mine was the infinitely cooler Beyblade I promise I’m not lying to myself again).
A series about knowing half the battle or some sort nonsense, America’s greatest army recruitment and toy advert (when do I get to join COBRA?) was gung-ho madness with a moral lesson attached to the end of each episode. Like looking both ways before crossing the street or how to get away with war crimes and justify it as bringing democracy to oil-rich countries.
Fast-forward a few years later and outside of a rubbish film sequel, GI Joe’s pretty much loosened its kung-fu grip on pop culture. It does live on in the hearts and minds of fans who are beginning to notice that their hair has become a predominantly monochrome colour, and now it’s making a counterattack with a game that so far has had next to zero marketing to help it stand out.
Anyway, here’s the pitch: G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout pulls the pin on a six-hour gameplay grenade, lobs that at you and a shrapnel campaign split across the ol’ Joes and their insidious counterparts COBRA perforates you right in the nostalgia organs. Set in the same universe as the cartoon, Operation Blackout immediately scores points for avoiding being linked to the last GI Joe game, 2009’s movie tie-in The Rise of COBRA. Brrrrrrr.
The end result is a game that looks great, has a ton of colourful personality and allows you to trot around the globe as one of several icons of the series, dispensing lasers and bullets into PG-friendly enemies. Also, COBRA Commander is now president of the US of A, so at least things are slightly better for the perpetually buggered country.
And that’s pretty much where Operation Blackout goes from love letter fan service down to okay at best gameplay. As a third-person shooter Operation Blackout bungles its controls with a sluggish input scheme that makes every characters feel like they’re wading through a vat of industrial-grade ooze. Sure there are options to tweak the experience and the generous auto-aim helps tremendously but it’s hard to enjoy the game when you can’t find a sweet spot for movement and action.
Likewise the cover-based style is obviously inspired by the likes of Gears of War, but plays closer to Quantum Theory in practice. Remember Quantum Theory? You don’t? Exactly. You’re pretty much stuck fighting off waves of identical enemies across numerous attempts to gain ground, and while I’m all for the idea of gaming junk food, too much of a greasy thing can be bad for you.
There are some attempts to jump away from the Gears run ‘n gun formula by catching a train to Overwatch, but heroic abilities and unique weapons feel utterly wasted when you can cruise through every level with the stock-standard arsenal and leave nothing but bionic rubble in your wake. There is a multiplayer mode which will probably find more life shortly after the end credits have rolled but here’s the current catch: It’s local co-op and versus only, so you’ll have to split your screen with a pal who’s ready to break quarantine for some nostalgia butt-kicking.
All of this combines to create a game whose heart is definitely in the right place, but whose execution feels like an outdated throwback to the past that’s begging for a few adjustments to be made so that it can at least elevate itself from an average Joe and into run ‘n gun action junk food.
Last Updated: October 26, 2020