Name: Captain America: Super Soldier
Genre: Third-person action adventure
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
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In the 2011 “Summer of Superheroes” at your local cinema, the big screen Captain America adaptation is arguably the most hotly anticipated of the lot. Veering away from the main plot of the movie to focus on Captain America’s earliest missions, Captain America: Super Soldier takes a slightly different tact to other movie-tie ins. Has freedom from the narrative of the movie led to a game better than your average Hollywood cash-in, or is this another super-heroic flop?
Of all the leading Marvel superheroes, Captain America is among the most unloved when it comes to getting his own gaming spin-offs. Barring ensemble cast appearances in the likes of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and the Ultimate Alliance series, the shield-wielding symbol of American freedom hasn’t been given much screen time during this console cycle, whereas Spiderman for instance gets an almost-annual outing. News of Captain America: Super Soldier’s release then was met with a mixture of excitement and trepidation; would the Captain finally get the game he deserved, or would the proximity of its silver-screen counterpart lead to an inevitable rush job?
Things look promising at first for Super Soldier. Sidestepping the events of The First Avenger film hitting cinemas in a couple of weeks, it weaves its own unique narrative around one of Captain America’s earliest missions. Sent to infiltrate castle hideout of the fascist HYDRA forces, this 3rd person action adventure has appearances from the Red Skull, and Nick Fury, among other familiar faces. Even Hollywood’s own Captain, Chris Evans, is on hand to voice our hero, and he does a fine job compared to the usually bored-sounding actors who have put their names to games before.
For a game that has a strong focus on combat, developers Next Level Games wisely take their brawling cues from another comic book legend, pilfering many of the ideas found in Batman Arkham Asylum. Captain America can pummel baddies with free-flowing melee strikes, popping from one baddie to the next with a lean of the directional stick without breaking a combo chain and reversing attacks from other enemies. This being a Captain America game, his indestructible shield also comes into play. A well-timed tap of the block button will repel gunfire back towards any shooters, while it can also be thrown around at enemies, bouncing off multiple HYDRA foes once upgraded and also used as an area-of-effect ground-slam with the appropriate upgrade. String enough hits together and you’ll also earn an unblockable strike which cracks with a slow motion crunch. While not as slick as Arkham Asylum, wailing on bad guys in Super Soldier is initially good fun.
That however, is as good as things get with Super Soldier.
You’ll quickly release that foes offer next to no challenge, standing off you and just waiting to be knocked out. They also arrive in their cookie-cutter droves, room after room of identical nazi-inspired baddies practically asking to be stomped on. Even later in the game when power-weapon wielding baddies enter the fray little tactically changes, with boss battle not so much fun as a welcome diversion from the tedium that preceded them.
Platforming sections, meant to highlight the Captain’s nimble nature in fact only make him look like a clunky Nathan “Uncharted” Drake wannabe. Executed in rhythmic fashion by hitting the appropriate jump button near a ledge and then on to swing from beams and flag poles and the like, the timing of the tap mechanic is all-but broken, meaning you’ll never be able to string a slinky smooth parkour sequence together. It’s made all the more frustrating when you realise that mistiming these jumps leaves you vulnerable to enemy fire.
Taking another cue from Arkham Asylum is Super Soldier’s light puzzle mechanics. Hotwiring electronically locked doors for instance is a simplified version of the cryptographer minigame gadget that Batman wields, pushing the two analogue sticks together before finding a sweet spot, but without a visual cue to aid you. Likewise, the code cracking puzzles, requiring you to overlay two identical numbers from a numerical sequence over each other, offer no challenge other than getting the frustratingly unresponsive patterns to glide together.
An easter egg hunt for HYDRA dossiers and actual porcelain antique eggs is designed to encourage you to explore the mostly-linear levels of the game but fails on two fronts. Firstly, because the “hidden” collectibles are more-often-than not left in clear sight of your primary objectives, meaning little actual hunting is needed. Secondly, because the environments in Super Soldier are so bland that you’re unlikely to want to spend any more time than necessary exploring them.
Visually, Super Soldier is as beige as they come. The HYDRA castle, which is the predominant setting of the game, feels like an endless succession of wood-panelled corridors that open up into the odd-arena like room. The objects that litter the rooms are bereft of life and look decidedly last gen; you get no sense of anyone ever having used the castle before the game’s start, nor until much later on in the game that it is being used for truly nefarious means. While enemy design is limited, they are on the whole interestingly crafted, as is Captain America’s combat and movement animated relatively smoothly. However, the framerate seemed consistently low throughout Super Soldier, while recurring visual glitches (like Captain America’s disappearing shield when viewed from near angles) only act to highlight the lack of polish on show throughout.
Though it gets off to a strong start, sadly Captain America succumbs to many of the same old failings that movie-tie ins do, year in, year out. The decent combat mechanics will do enough to keep you focussed through the seven-to-ten hours it’ll take to finish Super Soldier, but it’ll be almost wholly forgettable once you do so. Arkham Asylum showed that superhero games need no longer be butchered for the sake of coinciding with a silver-screen sibling, and can act to really highlight the strengths of the property and in turn do a far better job of building interest in any big screen adaptations, which seems to be Super Soldier’s sole, failed purpose. This game presents itself more like Steve Rogers before his Captain America transformation; a sickly failure in need of a few steroids.