Review – Captain America: Super-Soldier

In comic books, there are few parallels one can draw as easily as that between Batman and Captain America. Both are unpowered humans who not only persevere in a world full of godly powered individuals, but both lead those same individuals and are counted among the best of the best. It strikes me as no small wonder, then, that the Captain America game should play so similarly to last year’s amazing Batman: Arkham Asylum. Is this similarity a strength or a weakness? Read past the jump to find out. That’s an order, soldier! Move!

Captain America: Super Soldier, developed by Next Level Games, had a lot of ground to cover if it was going to impress me. First of all, as a Captain America fan, I’m just hard to please when it comes to Steve Rogers. Secondly, this is a movie license game, which is commonly a mark of death for anything remotely resembling quality. Thirdly, Next Level Games had never worked on a project this big before, their only Xbox and PS3 offerings before being an Xbox Live Arcade game and the divisive Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. However, Cap Fever struck and in a fit of pique, I slapped down the 50 bucks for what I was certain was going to be a terrible game… and I am pleased to say I couldn’t be more wrong.

The game starts off with a brief tutorial as Cap storms through claustrophobic trenches, beating the tar out of Hydra goons, but quickly progresses into a Metroid-style setup, where you are faced with a giant map teeming with collectibles, secret passages, traps, and enemies as you and Steve try to figure out just what the hell Hydra is doing in Castle Zemo and how to stop them, once and for all. Combat is handled with a quick, directional fighting system almost identical to that of Arkham Asylum. What separates this game from that is the inclusion of Cap’s iconic Vibranium-Steel alloy shield, which is as much a part of his fighting style as his fists. Cap finishes most combos and special attacks with a healthy swat from the shield, and it also makes for a fantastic ranged weapon, with the option to throw the shield blind or to aim it to make that perfect shot. On top of that, you can sacrifice pips in a focus bar that fills as you play intelligently (dodging and countering attacks, properly timing acrobatic sequences) to “lock on” to up to four enemies and knock them all out with a cinematic ricocheting shield toss. This bar is also used to fuel the game’s “focus” attacks. For one pip you can deliver a crushing, slow-motion strike that sends most enemies to the ground for a nice, long nap in a single strike. For two, Cap uses the enemy’s weapon against them, whether that be knocking the electrified club wielding grunts out with their own weapons or stunning a giant Scorcher and making him turn his deadly plasma gun on his allies. You can also spend all four pips at once to send the Star-Spangled Hero into “Super-Soldier Mode,” giving each strike knockout strength and increasing your speed and resiliency.

Super Soldier also differs from its Caped Crusader counterpart in it’s approach. Whereas Batman skulks around in shadows, playing the unseen predator, it is to this game’s strength that it does not try to force Cap into that role. Instead of stealthily evading fights, our hero charges into them with both fists, ready to do battle. Instead of zipping around with a grappling gun, Cap runs, jumps, and flips acrobatically, with focus rewards being given for proper timing and quick progression. Finally, the bosses are not extended puzzle sequences, but rather tougher, longer fights against ruthless enemies that require the same tactics and approaches the standard fights do. The similarities are there, and at times Super Soldier feels like Arkham Asylum 1.5, but Next Level managed to take these gameplay conceits that we all enjoyed a year ago, tweak and rebalance them for a character that plays very differently, and reintroduce them to us. Across the board, it works.

Now that I’ve heaped on all this praise, there are some minor failings. The graphics are… not what they could be. The jaggy edges, the poor lip-flap, the lifeless face of Cap… all of it screams “budget title.” It’s not as bad as the other Marvel Movie titles have been, standing leaps and bounds over both Iron Man games and the recent Thor: God of Thunder, but it’s still not the best looking game. On top of that, while Chris Evans puts in a better than expected performance as Steve Rogers, the rest of the cast falls flat at best, and at worst seems like a cheesy mockery of 40′s propaganda, with enemies’ German accents either disappearing completely for no reason or so over the top and thick that you can practically smell the bratwurst and beer on their breath. Another strike against it is that the game only lasts so long. At 5-8 hours, the length is fairly standard for an action game, but once you’ve found all the collectibles, unlocked both Classic Cap costumes, and bought all the combat upgrades (all three of which you will do before the finale), there’s really… nothing else left. The game gives you free roam through the map and you’re offered ten challenge maps that vary from Survival, Time Attack, Collection, and Acrobatics… but once that content is experienced there’s precious little left to do. Being the obsessive gamer I am, I made sure to finish all these tasks in my first playthrough, and now Cap and I are stuck in Castle Zemo with nothing to do but break faces, which does eventually grow old, even with combat as slick and responsive as this.

What else is there to say? Captain America fans will love the cameos from Bucky and Dum-Dum Dugan, and smirk at the not-so-subtle hints at Lord Falsworth’s comic book persona. Fans of acrobatic movement will find the game visually interested but lacking in freedom, as each acrobatic section is more or less a timing puzzle rather than actual world traversal, and puzzle fans will enjoy the Enigma decryption segments once or twice before the task becomes so rote and by the numbers that each puzzle is just an extended door opening sequence.

Captain America: Super-Soldier is by no means a bad game, whatsoever. Neither, however, is it the standard that superhero games should be measured by. Ironically, Cap says it best in the game’s epilogue. “I’m not special.” He’s not, and neither is his game. This is a good outing for a superhero who deserves better, and stands as a jumping-off point. We deserve good superhero games. We deserve good movie-license titles. Captain America: Super-Soldier is a step in the right direction, but we must pick that flag up and carry it the rest of the way.

Pros

  • Good story with engaging, if silly, characters
  • Solid, kinetic combat with each hit packing a lot of force
  • Natural progression of combat with relatively few QTEs stealing your thunder
  • Plenty of collectibles to open up extra backstory and rewards
  • Chris Evans offers a solid performance

Cons

  • Once you’ve experienced the content, nothing left to keep you
  • Graphics belong somewhere between Wii and Xbox 360
  • Puzzles and acrobatics can get tiresome

7.5/10

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