GI Joe: Operation Blackout
I know what you’re thinking.
“Why hasn’t Costello talked about GI Joe: Operation Blackout yet? He’s big into GI Joe, and this is first GI Joe console game in over a decade!”
All of you. You were all thinking that.
So none of you should be surprised that I own the this game. The Digital Deluxe edition specifically. I have put in dozens of hours playing it. I don’t play a lot of games right now, especially solo, so that’s a lot for me.
About Operation Blackout
Developed by IguanaBee and Fair Play Labs, published in North America by GameMill Entertainment, and under license from Hasbro. GI Joe: Operation Blackout is a third person shooter in which players alternate between pairs of Joes and pairs of Cobras on missions to take over the world (for Cobra) or stop that (for the Joes).
Story mode features 17 levels with solo or couch co-op play. The two characters on the mission are determined by the storyline on initial playthrough. Defeating the level on any difficulty let you reply as any of the six characters of the mission’s faction.
Missions include secondary objectives and hidden collectibles that unlock new skins for the characters and their weapons.
GI Joe: Operation Blackout is not for gamers.
I could talk about the vibrant visuals. The level design. The tone of the story. Those alone won’t win over anyone who is coming to this without an affinity for GI Joe.
The game is repetitive and buggy. Boss fights are obnoxious. The controls take getting used to. They require the development of skills specific to this game to beat even the first level on the lowest difficulty. Many options feel like they should be useful but turn out frustrating, like:
- You need to use the target lock button. Realistically, you won’t hit without it;
- Running slower than the run speed of melee enemies;
- Dodge with a cooldown that makes it hard to incorporate into your tactics;
- Melee combat rarely proving useful.
About that last point: In my first play of the first level I tried to use Storm Shadow’s swords primarily, since, y’know, ninja. Doing so caused a bizarre glitch that deactivated my controls. I could move my character around, but could not attack with my sword or gun, crouch, or jump. This happened multiple times.
This is not a game to play for the joy of the game.
For GI Joe Fans
There is a lot to like about Operation Blackout if you are a GI Joe fan. Subcategories of things to enjoy, even!
For Fans of the Original GI Joe Animated Series
More than most GI Joe media, Operation Blackout pays homage to the Sunbow-produced GI Joe cartoon of 1983-1987.
The plot captures the feel of the cartoon’s mini-series, like The Mass Device or Pyramid of Darkness. Cobra scours the globe for pieces of a doomsday device. The Joes do what they can to stop them, but without a clear understanding of Cobra’s plot, and with Cobra infiltrators in their ranks, they’re in trouble. Eventually the Joes use teamwork to overcome their obstacles as treachery in Cobra’s ranks costs them time and opportunities.
Almost all characters with speaking roles featured prominently on the cartoon. Their characterization lines up with their original animated counterparts, with the only notable exceptions being Roadblock, who doesn’t talk in rhyme, and field medic Lifeline, best known as a pacific, who comes off as a psychopath.
The voice acting is a highlight of the game, with probably the best homages to the Sunbow voice cast of any GI Joe reboot. Fryda Wolff as Lady Jaye in particular captures Mary McDonald-Lewis’ Lady Jaye’s trademark smoky voice.
The game cleverly implements love of the cartoon at every level of the game. From character skins like Snake Eyes’ Boy George inspired disguise from Pyramid of Darkness (his only alternate skin!), to achievements like Knowing Is Half the Battle (for getting 50% of the game collectables) and Now I Know (for getting 100% the game collectables).
For Fans of the Original GI Joe Comic
Marvel’s GI Joe comic, largely written by Larry Hama, was known for a greater emphasis on military flavour and tactics-based plot twists. It also established all of the Snake-Eyes lore. If you know anything about Snake-Eyes beyond “mute ninja with a wolf” and “there’s a lot weird about Snake Eyes’ name”, it’s from the comic, not the cartoon. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow never even shared a scene together in the original animated series.
A lot of later GI Joe adaptations struggle with the balance between military fantasy and ninja shenanigans. Operation Blackout handles the balance better than most. The plot’s McGuffin ties into the Arashikage ninja clan, justifying multiple visits to a ninja temple level. There’s also a level in which Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow team up, the only time a Joe teams with a Cobra.
Cuts scenes are animated like a motion comic, which works as an homage to the dominance of Marvel’s GI Joe comic in the 80s. It also allows Operation Blackout to fit in a bunch of cameos, making the scope of the game feel much bigger than the 12 playable characters.
For Toy Fans
Sometimes articles credit GI Joe as a toyline based on an animated series, but in reality the toyline is the source material. And in Operation Blackout, the designs come from the new 6” GI Joe toyline, GI Joe Classified.
The new line still being relatively young, not every playable character has a Classified counterpart. In that case, they used designs that sparked conversation: were these previews of unannounced figures? The studio playing with the new toy’s aesthetic?
Homages to the toys find their way into the alternate skins. Zartan v2’s leather jacket and mohawk and Tiger Force Duke make appearances. Also, the game references how many Classified figures include Hasbro-owned Nerf gun designs by offering a Heroic skin for all of the weapons in Nerf’s trademark blue, white, and orange pallet.
The new larger scale of Joe figures limits Hasbro’s ability to release vehicles in scale. Unless GI Joe suddenly gains Star Wars levels of popularity, fans shouldn’t expect anything other than maybe a Classified scale HISS tank through HasLabs. Unless you’re a skilled vehicle customizer with a lot of display space, Operation Blackout might be the only opportunity to see these designs interact with old school vehicles like the Rattler, Trouble Bubbles, and more.
Look, this could have been the worst game in the world and I would play the heck out of it just because it features the first voiced appearance of Backstop.
Short of that, I took the early comparisons to Rise of Cobra as a good thing. I actually think RoC (which, I’ll remind you, I enjoy quite a bit) as more in line with my play style. But if you, like me, liked RoC, there’s a lot to like about GI Joe Operation: Blackout. I am committed to finishing it, and not out of obligation. I’ve enjoyed the game so far and look forward to seeing where it goes from here and how it concludes.
Now you know,