Stop me if you’ve played this game before. Superhero goes to an island full of bad guys planning large-scale chaos. Rhythmically flipping between each as he goes, he beats up five or ten henchmen at a time. Along the way, he fights a line-up of his classic rogue's gallery, uses a special vision mode to scan his environment, climbs around the place like a ninja, unlocks various powerups, and picks up all manner of meaningless doodads. Finally, once the day is saved, there's an array of extra challenges he can attempt to earn gold medals.
No, I’m not talking about Batman: Arkham Asylum, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Captain America: Super Soldier doesn’t have an original bone in its body.
The basic premise has the player, as Cap, infiltrating a Hydra castle in WWII to halt the plans of a terrorist named Zola. Along the way, you tussle with some other big bads, such as the Red Skull, and uncover a plot revolving around ‘perfecting’ the super soldier serum that made Steve Rogers who he is today.
Cap's character model looks very good, particularly the shield.
The combat system in the game is ripped right out of Arkham Asylum. It is designed around combating multiple foes at once. You’ve got one button for basic attacks, one for stunning opponents, one for dodging, one for reversals, and one for throwing your projectile (in this case, Cap’s shield). However, there are worse games to steal from, and battles do feel intense, with the odds being suitably stacked against you. The issue here is that Cap has a hard time quickly transitioning from punching one goon to another. It typically took me an awkward second or two to stop what I was doing and move over to the next guy, which interrupted any combos I was building up. It’s fun, especially when you work the nine possible upgrades into the equation, but the combat is very flawed.
When you’re not fighting in Super Soldier, you’ll usually be scouring the environment for the next path you need to take. Like with Batman’s Detective Vision, Cap has a special viewing mode that, when activated, points out important objects and things that can be climbed. Actually, Next Level seems to have avoided a common issue Arkham had with Detective Vision; since it never ran out, there was little incentive to ever turn it off, thus making the game seem unsatisfactorily easy. When Captain America turns on Super Soldier mode, relevant objects flash for a second or two, then disappear again. This is fairer, giving us a quick tip while still making us figure the problem out ourselves. I’d like to see this implemented in Arkham’s upcoming sequel.
Too bad Super Soldier mode is wasted on bland, linear environments. While this is ‘technically’ an open-world game, in that you can walk back to previously-visited areas, the storyline pushes you along a linear path until one point right near the end. Often you’ll have to engage in some rudimentary platforming, but there is no challenge involved since Cap will get where you need to go as long as you keep tapping ‘A’ at the right moment. Sometimes you’ll need to hack or hotwire something to proceed, but these just require variations on slowly tilting the analog sticks toward each other. While the combat captures some of the feeling you’d expect from controlling a superhero, navigating the environment is as drab as can be.
At least the character models look respectable. While the Captain generally looks tired, he is a faithful representation of Chris Evans’ character from the new movie. While he doesn’t transition well between animations, each individual movement is well-done, to the point where whipping your shield into some guy’s face is as satisfying as it absolutely should be. Unfortunately, the environments are dull and (besides the odd outdoor area) completely samey ‘castle’ or ‘industrial’ areas.
The Red Skull is not amused at being granted secondary-villain status.
The musical score is forgettable. No, really, I mean as soon as I turned off the game, I couldn’t remember a single tune that stuck in my head. There’s no ‘oomph’ to the sound effects — if someone was in the room but not watching the TV, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell that you just flipped on top of that robot and smashed it into the ground. Voice acting is sub-par, with Cap sounding just as bored as he looks and the other characters not faring much better.
The game won’t take anyone very long to beat — I clocked about 6.5 hours, having nabbed most of the collectibles. Said collectibles weren’t all that interesting, either. Unlike Arkham’s Riddler Trophies, which were a reward for careful exploration and detective work, Super Soldier just lays a bunch of file folders on tables around each environment and tosses in some breakable statues. Yes, they give you experience points, but you really won’t need to level up that much to beat this game. There are some extra challenges to unlock, like beating a bunch of foes in a short time limit or... collecting eggs from a hedge maze... yeah.
When this guy explodes, you may mistake the noise for a popping popcorn kernel.
I truly wish that Captain America: Super Soldier’s developer, Next Level Games, was not restricted by the need to launch around the same time as the movie. There are some really good ideas here, and the developer’s high pedigree tells us they know how to make a great game. It is just too bad that so many corners had to be cut. The game presents an open world, but is too linear. The animations are good, but there are no transitions. The combat is fun, but it’s hard to switch between enemies quickly. It seems every good part of the game comes with a ‘but’. It’s not enough to simply borrow good ideas from other games — it's important to properly integrate them into a cohesive whole. All in all, I enjoyed my time with Super Soldier, and that’s what matters. However, I’d say I’m a big superhero fan and my enjoyment may have been increased because of that. If you aren’t into comic books, then I’m going to recommend staying away from this one. If, like me, you enjoy stepping into tights and picturing ‘BIFF! BAM! BOOM!’ as you bust heads, then the game may be a decent holdover until the arrival of Batman: Arkham City.