Don’t Diss the Shield.
There are two ways Captain America: Super Soldier can be judged; we can either see it as an above-average movie tie-in, or a mediocre action/adventure game. In either case, what you’ll inevitably find during your playthrough is recycled gameplay (with most liberties taken from Batman: Arkham Asylum), a less-than-stellar detailed environment, a story sure to put you to sleep, and bosses that just don’t live up to their grandiose titles. But all is not bad, since the combat is satisfying to the end, and collecting precious artifacts is a fun way to explore and unlock extras, despite their rather odd placements.
If you end up watching the movie before you play the game, I’ll save you the shock of finding out just how loosely related the two plotlines are. Sure, the timelines are the same, the HYDRA are the fodder thrown at you, and Red Skull is present, but that’s where it ends. The Cap’s globetrotting exploits in the movie are condensed into a single location in the game.
After a brief prologue in France’s trenches, you’ll skydive into a large castle complex under the control of Dr. Arnim Zola and his hoard of genetically enhanced HYDRA soldiers. You’ll then spend your day taking down anti-aircraft cannons, destroying radio towers, getting captured (and of course breaking free), saving your fellow soldiers, and chasing down the nefarious head honchos. It’s all very predictable, but I assume this was the intent of developer Next Level Games. After all, the patriotic endeavors of our shield-bearing hero, and epic World War II success stories in general, have always been about building up to a climactic victory rather than keeping you scratching your head until the very end. And quite frankly, how many Marvel films have you watched and said, “I didn’t see that one coming,” without a hint of sarcasm?
Part and parcel of the trite storyline is the hand-holding you receive throughout its entirety. You’ll always be told precisely what to do in order to advance, and the means of doing so are little more than a single button press. Oftentimes you’ll be situated in a large room with poles and rafters, where the platforming aspect of the game comes into play. However, there’s never any sense of danger or immediacy to traversing these narrow platforms and thin bars, as a single button press ensures success. You do receive a multiplier to your focus shift for good timing, and the movements themselves are a symphony of grace, but it’s more about keeping the action moving rather than challenging the player. The game even stops you at times with puzzles to solve, but only for a few seconds at the most. These brainteasers are remedial and unchallenging, and eventually become just plain annoying.
Should your mind drift off during the objective sequence, the Cap can always throw up his Tactical Vision, which turns the screen monochromatic and highlights the usable environments. Also highlighted are any collectibles in the vicinity. You’ll find ceramic eggs, steins, and other trinkets scattered throughout the castle, which unlock various extras such diary entries and concept art. Collecting film reels will reveal video clips of Dr. Zola’s progressive research into the human genome. For more of an in-game impact, piles of dossiers are strewn about on tables and beds, but also in odd places like a prison cell and underneath vehicles. These files award you with Intel Points, a currency used to purchase new combat abilities. Aside from their peculiar locations, the thought of our patriotic hero swiping precious artifacts seems rather uncharacteristic, but from a gaming aspect, it’s still a nice diversion after you’ve knocked out the current wave of bad guys.
But perhaps you’ll want to just rush to the next set of gun-and-Taser-toting HYDRA goons, and that’s okay, because the combat system is well put together and endlessly enjoyable. If you’ve recently played Batman: Arkham Asylum, you’ll definitely find the combat familiar. It’s a good formula, especially for a superhero who relies on melee attacks. The controls are easy enough, with one button to attack, one to grab, one to dodge, and one to counter. The trigger buttons handle your shield, both for blocking and throwing. As more enemies circle around you, your strikes and dodges look more like a dance, as you gracefully roll over their backs and perform jumping roundhouse kicks. You’ll receive an indicator when an enemy is about to attack, as well as slow motion impacts, both of which help you coordinate your next strike.
Once mastered, the combat poses little challenge, even with over a dozen enemies surrounding you and more trying to snipe you down. It never grows tiring though, thanks to cinematic close-ups and a healthy variation of takedown animations, making each encounter feel fresh. If you want to test your combat prowess, try the game on hard mode, as this deletes the enemy attack indicators and makes them more aggressive. To top it off, your health does not regenerate.
To spice up the combat even more, upgrades like the Ricochet Shield, which will strike up to three enemies in one throw, and Shield Shockwave, which has you smash your shield into the ground, are available for purchase after you’ve amassed the required amounts of Intel Points.
With combat being the highlight of the game, it’s no surprise that the most addictive feature in the game is Challenge Mode, where you’re pitted in a sizeable amount of scenarios (after they’re unlocked, of course.) You’ll be working against the clock to accomplish objectives, both survival-based and acrobatic, earning a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your finish time. You’ll also receive more Intel Points to spend.
Although the combat animations are well-implemented, the characters themselves look detached from the backgrounds, which oftentimes results in limbs magically disappearing into walls and tables. The castle itself is nothing spectacular, and the sterile design of the rooms, hallways, and machinery leaves much to be desired. Even explosion effects seem half-baked and unrealistic, which seems counterintuitive for a game based on a comic book. All the artistic elements just feel like they were done completely separate from each other and then carelessly slapped together.
The music, on the other hand, is absolutely superb. Composer Bill Brown, whose extensive credits include many of the Tom Clancy games, really outdid himself with Captain America: Super Soldier. He created compositions that perfectly fit every scene of the game. I would even put his work on par with legendary composer John Williams.
Just as good are the sound effects, which have the perfect amount of resonance for everything from gunshot echoes to explosions to the various WWII-era machinery. And boy, do the Captain’s punches crack! When timed perfectly with the slow motion close-ups, they emphasize the fact that he’s no average Joe in a fancy outfit.
While many movie tie-ins fail by sticking too close to the big screen story (which are always better to watch than to play), Captain America: Super Soldier tries a different approach by being very loose with the plot. Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t improve the model. But if you can overlook the subpar script and lackluster graphics, the gameplay itself is rather enjoyable. It may be simple and unchallenging, but it’s satisfying nonetheless, with nice pacing to keep the action moving. And with a healthy Challenge Mode and tons of collectibles to gather, this superhero fares far better than most of his comic book brethren in the video game industry.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
While the combat animations are smooth and clean, the rest of the game is jagged and dirty. 2.8 Control
Simple but flexible ways to engage multiple enemies. There’s simply not enough to challenge the finely-tuned reflexes of a gamer. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Amazing music score and sound effects. Why couldn’t the story and graphics be just as good? 3.2 Play Value
It’s not terribly long, and very linear. But the satisfying combat and extra content offer some redemption. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|