OK, you’ve twisted my arm for long enough – yes, the Captain America game has more than a fair share of similarities to Arkham Asylum. From taking visual cues for the menus, to the simple fact the game takes place in a semi open world made up of a mansion and a prison, it almost gets to the point that a cynic might call Captain America: Super Soldier little more than a fifty dollar total conversion mod of Rockstaeady’s transcendent Batman game. Personally though, I wouldn’t go so far as that, and there’s more to America’s Soldier of Superiority than a simple rip-off.
Furthermore, if you are going to, let’s be generous, pay homage to another game than there are few better choices than what was arguably the finest comic book game since, well, when did Pong come out? Cause it would be the year before that. Cap pulls together a few of the basics of Batman, a little open world here, a jazzed up combat system there, a touch of cinnamon. But for all their similarities, there is one pretty big, and quite depressing difference. Arkham Asylum was one of the finest games of its generation and a near masterpiece, but thanks to a lack of time and polish, Cap is unable to attain anywhere near these heights and is mere popcorn fluff by comparison. A good game, but held back by an unfulfilled promise of something that could have been so much more.
The best part of Captain America: Super Soldier, and the one aspect of the game that I would recommend without question, is the brilliantly thought out combat system. To draw just one final comparison to Arkham Asylum, and then I promise to stop, in the same way that Rocksteady did a near pitch perfect job of translating the experience of being Batman to the player, Next Level games, who we will soon see in action in the promising looking Luigi’s Mansion 2, have managed to capture what makes Cap tick. In combat he moves with fluidity and grace, ably switching from evasion to attack with nary a moments pause. Stringing together successions of flips and strikes is joy, and once you get a hang of the system you’ll be running rings around their foes exactly as you would expect a super soldier to do.
To begin, it will be a simple matter of taking on two or three grunts at a time, connecting your boots to some faces and finishing them off with the game’s satisfyingly weighty crippling strikes, but before long you’ll be clearing whole rooms full of soldiers like a hyper violent ballet dancer. To make you feel even more like the titular Super Solider, combat is particularity well designed to allow the player to use one’s enemies against each other. The larger foes are especially useful for this practice, and you can chose to either weaponize an enemy, or simply time your maneuvers to dodge incoming attacks that leave your opponents open to friendly fire. Your shield will come into play with a quick tap of the trigger, and can be used to take out multiple foes or to deflect incoming attacks that add yet more alternatives to combat than a simple button mashing punch.
Outside of combat, exploration plays a fairly large role in the game thanks to buckets worth of collectables, from simple intelligence dossiers that give you points to spend on new abilities and schematics that bequeath combat upgrades, to a host of ceramics eggs, films reels, diary entries, beer steins (mugs) and the destructible statues of the Baron Von Zemo’s ancestors. Finding these items is well worth the effort as you’ll unlock concept art, new cinematics, and combat challenges to further test your skills. It’s also a good excuse to further explore Caps well designed, if admittedly rather small, playground.
The castle home of the Nazi Baron Zemo serves its job well enough as the world of Captain America: Super Soldier. The mixture of bright, airy spaces and cramped underground laboratories is a good setting, it’s just a shame there’s so little of it. The briefs forays into the gaping vistas seen on the outer walls only serve to tease the player with the idea of what might have been. Likewise, that the game is fairly linear, despite its open world trappings, is just another reminder of what could have been achieved with more time. Some credit then for producing a flowering bud, but you get the sense that Next Level thought it better to focus on polishing what they could and taking as few risks as possible. An understandable decision perhaps, but a disappointing one all the same.
Super Soldier’s other notable sacrifice lies in the unfulfilled promise of parkour mechanics. The idea is sound of course and fits well with Caps image, the rhythm based execution however is sorely limited and while timing your jumps to avoid sniper fire is a fine enough idea, pausing to leap over little gaps is not so much. Considering that Cap already flings himself forward with a tap of the X/A button, the addition of a full fledged jump doesn’t seem like to much to ask. The lack of it feels especially odd when further considering just how nimble you are in combat, and, again, I imagine that time would probably have been the answer for making more of the Captains free running abilities.
Without giving anything away, the tale that strives here to be told is betrayed by the necessity of keeping in line with the motion picture, and can be a touch confusing in parts as a result. None of this is helped by the fact that Super Soldier is also a pretty short game, clocking in at just six hours even with most of the side stuff collected. The challenge missions will tack on another couple of hours, but ultimately (and as reflected by being cheaper than your average AAA release) the game feels like it should only have been one part of a much greater whole.
What there is, however, is presented with style and polish. Voice work is top notch thanks to the inclusion of Cap himself, Chris Evans, and a few of the other films stars including grandmother of future lover, Peggy Carter, and assassin turned assassin turned Captain America Bucky Barnes. Graphically it’s a little unremarkable, but the designs are good both for the world and its characters and the various antagonists in particular stand out. There are a few stumbles with the cinematics that fall into the trap of showing the player cool things that they’d rather, and could very well be, doing themselves, but on the whole the presentation of America’s Soldier of Superiority warrants some praise.
With more time and fewer of the restrictions that accompany a movie tie in game, I feel like Next Level could have taken an already solid game and made it even better, since what’s here already is more than a simple compliment to the Captain America movie. For a large part of it, Super Soldier feels like playing an action packed comic book, with short roller coaster chapters for singles issues and all the punching and villainous soliloquizing you could hope from a graphic tale. So if they, or anyone else, ever get another stab at this, then next time just make it a longer series of issues. Also, since you’re already taking cues from one successful game, whoever does it should just go ahead and take a gander at a certain assassination centric title and take a few notes.
Now I’m going to go ahead and give this game a four out of five, but I also want to explain that number a little first. I don’t put much stock into the cost of a game since I’m not trying to tell anyone whether or not they should buy a particular title, only if I think it’s good or not, and how good at that. It would also be easy just to point out that there are better games out there that do similar things, but again that doesn’t really reflect the title itself and I think it better to imagine every game existing in the world alone. If you want to, you can think of the score as a four with conditions, or even just a three and a half. But for its faults my experience with Captain America made more than a passing grade, and managed to scrape that four out of me thanks to being such a charming little game and not just another soulless cash in.
Captain America: Super Soldier was released on July 19th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and Nintendo DS. Review is based on the PS3 version.