Developer: IguanaBee and Fair Play Labs | Publisher: Game Mill Entertainment | Genre: Third-Person Shooter | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Epic Games Store | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
I’ve always considered myself a patient person. I’ve grinded for hundreds of hours in online MMORPGs, played expansive JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles, and climbed the competitive ladder in games like Overwatch. But, G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout has pushed me to a limit I’ve never expected before in a game.
I’ll cut to the chase. Even if you’re a huge fan of G.I. Joe, own every action figure, and sing the Theme Song from G.I. Joe the movie in your Serpentor pajamas, don’t buy this game. I barely made it for an hour. It is one of the least polished shooters I’ve ever played. I cannot recommend it for anyone. Even if this game is on sale for $5 in some sort of future eShop sale, do not buy it. Don’t even spend your Nintendo coins on it.
Let me explain. I asked to review this game because I really enjoy the original G.I. Joe series from the 1980s and have great memories from watching the movie as a kid on VHS via a rental from my local video store (yes, I am old.) The game’s reveal trailer looked great, and the thought of another amazing officially licensed Hasbro game after 2015’s surprisingly great Transformers Devastation made me pretty excited.
Unfortunately, my hopes proved to be illusory.
Operation Blackout’s issues begin with its technical underachievement. The game was made by a small development team, so it is understandable if it wasn’t the most well-optimized port ever. After all, the team developed this game for four platforms (PS4, Switch, Xbox One, and PC) and it makes sense that they would put development efforts primarily towards what was going to be the most popular platform: the PlayStation 4.
Unfortunately, the game looks terrible on Switch. In handheld mode, it suffers from an incredibly low resolution (I don’t have a scientific method of measuring this, but it looks to use some sort of dynamic resolution scaling that’s between 480p and 540p) and the overall result is a muddy image, even on the Switch’s small display. In docked mode, the issue is not as apparent, since the game seems to be running at around 720p, but the result is still a muddy and washed-out image that’s especially noticeable on a 4K TV. Similar games running the Unreal Engine, including Yoshi’s Crafted World and Fortnite, seem to suffer from the same issues on Switch, so it’s not entirely unexpected, but it makes for an experience that oftentimes looks much worse than its PS4 or PC counterparts. Operation Blackout also runs at 30fps. For a shooter, this is nigh unacceptable, but given the challenges of Unreal Engine and the confinements of a small team, it’s an understandable, if regrettable, compromise.
What is really unfortunate are the character designs. Some designs, such as Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander, look great, a callback to the show’s historic roots while still being new enough to please longtime fans. Others, like the design for Lady Jaye, are horrendous, firmly rooted in the uncanny valley, with as much visual appeal as a half-melted wax model. Final Fantasy X on the PlayStation 2 decades ago looked better. That’s a shame given the G.I. Joe series’ penchant for memorable character designs.
The game’s various animations suffer as well. At one point, the player is tasked with taking down a cadre of jets as Cobra Commander using an anti-aircraft gun on board the U.S.S. Flagg. When the jets are hit by anti-aircraft fire, they simply turn into two pieces of scrap with a “burning” effect that fall for a half second before disappearing. The result is not only unconvincing, but also immersion breaking levels of bad, making what could have been a seriously impressive set piece look and feel like a cheap mobile game.
A Real American Zero-Fun
I could excuse Operation Blackout’s poor graphics if the underlying game was fun. After all, plenty of Switch games, from Xenoblade Chronicles to the aforementioned Yoshi’s Crafted World, suffer from graphical issues that make them less-than-lookers, especially from a resolution and texture standpoint. Unfortunately, Blackout’s underlying gameplay is one the most poorly constructed shooter experiences that I’ve ever played.
Your character moves at a snail’s pace, with aiming that feels even more sluggish. My experience with shooters has mostly been on PC, so my console aim isn’t good to begin with. Nevertheless, aim feels slippery, with precise shots nearly impossible to land and the best general strategy seems to be an up-and-down strafing of the target. Aim has a strange acceleration effect that makes stopping on a target accurately a chore. Guns feel unimpactful to use, without any visible recoil or visual effect that makes them feel powerful. Machine guns feel like paintball guns and others, such as a lightning cannon and laser shotgun, don’t have any impact which makes them fun to use.
The character’s ultimates are lackluster as well. In team-based games, which this game’s multiplayer is desperately trying to be, ultimates are usually fun, flashy abilities that can change the tide of a match in a near instant. Ultimates in Operation Blackout are rather lackluster. Cobra Commander’s ultimate sees him plant his serpent staff into the ground and release a cloud of poisonous gas in front of him while Duke’s ultimate sees him throw a grenade into enemies. With no tooltips to explain the effects of these ultimates or how they work, they are confusing to use and have little impact on the main game. Boss fights are mostly the same, slugouts that feel overly long. The game’s first boss, Duke, soaks up bullets, even on the game’s default difficulty. The result is long, drawn out encounters that do little to raise the stakes or do anything original.
The game’s story is one of its few bright spots, with a typical Saturday morning cartoon vibe and voice actors that decently portray their respective roles. Cobra Commander’s VA, in particular, does a good job of channeling Chris Latta of yesteryear, resulting in a modern Cobra Commander performance that’s pretty good. But, as decent as it is, it is not nearly enough to lift the game up above its lowest elements.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend this game to anyone, for any reason. Poorly designed with abhorrent performance and hideous character design, it is a fundamentally unfun game that simultaneously wastes the talents of its VAs and the license upon which it is based. Given the small team that developed this, it might be understandable, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic for fans of the 80s True American Heroes.