As we wind down the summer movie tie-in games we are left with the one that I was most interested in: Captain America: Super Soldier. Next Level Games, developers of Punch Out! for the Wii and currently working on Luigi’s Mansion 2, have put down their Nintendo licenses to have a go at bringing the worlds most patriotic superhero to life in video game form. Does this game do the American thing and save the day for those of us tired of boring wasted movie tie-in license games or does it fall to the evils of communism and just phone it in like everyone elses game? Read on to find out soldier, it’s the American thing to do!
Before we begin this review proper I’ve got to get the elephant out of the room as it’s probably going to be coming up a lot. Captain America: Super Soldier owes A LOT to Rocksteadys 2009 smash hit Batman: Arkham Asylum. There’s no way to mince words about this, the gameplay, fighting mechanics, and story structure all borrow extremely heavily from Bats best video game outing and unfortunately some reviewers have listed this as a negative. I’m here to tell you that there’s probably nothing better Next Level games could have done given the property they had. When you look at a superhero like Captain America, he is very different from his fellow Avengers. He can’t fly, shoot rockets, rarely uses guns, or even have any particularly cool flashy superpowers at all. He’s got super-strength and a shield. These abilities are not unlike Batman with his intricate knowledge of hand to hand combat and tossing his batarangs. Had Next Level decided to go the Thor route and make Captain America a standard 3D brawler it would have been a bigger borefest than Thor was, as at least he had lighting powers to spice things up. So, yes, you will spend a lot of time in Baron Zemos castle, punching faux-nazis, in a Batman: Arkham Asylum lite style, but at the end of the day it all really just works for the character.
The story of Captain America: Super Soldier is pretty simple. The Red Skull has taken over Castle Zemo in order to unearth an ancient evil that slumbers beneath the castle grounds. Captain America is flown in to investigate the goings on at the castle and is confronted by an army of HYDRA goons including Madame Hydra herself, as well as the dastardly robotic creations of Dr. Arnim Zola. Throughout his travels through the castle Cap discovers what happened between Skull and Zemo and the mystery behind the Sleeper. This whole set up works well enough, it gets Captain America inside the castle grounds where you move from section to section dealing with an ever-increasing number of enemies. The game is broken up into 18 chapters, each one essentially amounting to a specific area of the compound, much like Arkham Asylum broke each area of its estate up into levels. Throughout the compound Cap will find a multitude of collectibles, much like the Riddler trophies of AA, in fact Cap will find a hilarious plethora of collectibles. These collectibles are EVERYWHERE, without the use of a guide I was able to easily find all of them throughout normal play, it’s just hilarious to see Cap swiping beer steins, german helmets, Faberge eggs (and a rooster), and enough folders, documents, briefcases, and film canisters to fill a damned library, clearly Cap is borrowing his pants from Guybrush Threepwood.
Combat in Captain America works rather well actually, as I’ve mentioned, it borrows the Arkham Asylum model of fighting multiple enemies at a time in large groups. Cap has the ability to dodge and roll around the battlefield doing extremely acrobatic flips to gain the upper hand in combat. Some enemies hold shields and so Cap must jump around behind them to attack them properly, others are too large to fight hand to hand and must be dodged and counterattacked. Caps signature shield plays a very important role in combat as well. Of course you can toss the shield at enemies, killing weaker ones in a single hit or stunning stronger enemies, and it will even ricochet off of multiple enemies if you upgrade it. The shield is also used defensively and true to comic book form can block pretty much any attack coming at you. Enemies on your peripheral will not sit idly by as you beat up their front line friends, however, they will take aim with their rifles and shotguns and fire at Cap. This initiates an unobtrusive onscreen prompt and if you hit the block button at just the right moment Cap will swing his shield and knock the bullet back killing his would be attacker.
All of this adds up to visceral and fluid combat that is very satisfying, but there are some issues. The first is with the upgrade system. Cap earns points for doing flashy attacks in combat and finding (way too many) collectibles, when he’s earned enough points he gains an upgrade point which he can use to spend on a new ability. The problem is there are only 9 abilities for the duration of the entire game and they are all essentially just 3 abilities with 3 levels of strength. So you have to unlock the counterattack ability, then the next level gives you a counter with a strike and finally a strong strike. The shield bounce upgrade is the same it adds 3 bounces, then 4 and finally 5. This means there are a severely limited number of abilities that Cap can learn to keep the game interesting throughout the whole story. While it is nice that Cap is never hamstrung early in the game and you always have access to his full roster of moves, it does get repetitive by the end of the game when you are still relying on the same abilities from chapter 1.
The other main problem with the game is in its enemy variety. Throughout the whole of the game you will only face about 4 variants of the basic HYDRA thug, a basic foot-soldier, a shielded type, a rocket carrying type, and a large brutish type. There are a few other enemy types but they are rarer and only show up in the final few chapters. You can only punch so many fake-Nazis in the face before you begin to yearn for something new to hit. Fortunately the later chapters have the most variation so if you can stick through the game you will be rewarded with some interesting enemies to face. The bosses in the game unfortunately don’t pick up the slack here. They are interesting to be sure, you’ll be facing off against Baron Strucker, Madame Hydra, Iron Cross, and multiple Zorim-bots in the game. The problem is each of these boss fights is essentially the same. The bosses have their own unique attacks and all that, but because of Caps limited combat abilities you fight them exactly the same way. You’ll dodge and counterattack them until you are able to fill up your focus meter and unlock a super-attack which does the bulk of your damage. Rinse and repeat this until the boss is dead and repeat that for every single boss in the game. While it makes for flashy combat and cool looking fight scenes it is disappointing to fight Iron Cross, a bipedal robotic tank, the exact same way as a mere human like Baron Strucker.
Lastly, the only other major issue I can see having with this game is the fact that it’s environments are rather bland. The game is entirely set in World War II inside of a European castle so you can expect a lot of greys, greens, and browns to populate your screen. The color palette of the game is very muted to fit with the movie universe rather than the comic book universe and over the course of the game it can be slightly boring to keep looking at these similar drab environments. However the game does at least make use of the bombed out castle environments, as many times in your travels Cap will find himself climbing along walls and jumping from posts and railings to ascend to different sections of the castle. This is done in a similar style to Uncharted, where there really isn’t any way for you to fail the climbing sections as you can only go forward or back, but if you can time your button presses to make the acrobatic moves in a perfect fashion you will easily fill your focus meter for using in fights later on. These sections aren’t long or tedious and they add an action scene element to the game to help spice things up as there’s nothing more awesome than watching Cap flip across to a platform, plant some C3 explosives, and then slide away on a zip-line as an explosion goes off behind him.
Ok, so I’ve gotten all the bad stuff out of the way, and you’re probably expecting me to tell you to avoid this boring, dull, Arkham Asylum knock-off like all the other reviewers right? WRONG! Despite all the flaws I’ve listed above Captain America: Super Soldier is one of those games that is just more than the sum of it’s parts. People writing this game off as a Batman rip-off aren’t giving it enough credit for staying true to it’s own license, and people claiming it is a dull lifeless movie tie in aren’t even giving the game a fair chance. Is it really such a bad thing to have copied one of the best comic book adaptations we’ve ever seen? Much like Darksiders was a great game because it copied Soul Reaver, Captain America is a better game for taking so many cues from Batman. The game isn’t bogged down by it’s film tie-in roots as the story is completely separate from the movie and the game’s plot moves at a fast enough pace that it never overstays its welcome. I have played this game for the past 3 nights straight and I never once got bored with it, which usually happens when you’re FORCED to play a game. The story mode will last you about 10 hours if you rush through it, but can be increased to 15 if you go for the collectibles. There are also unlockable challenge modes you can go through after you finish the game, these consist of combat arenas, platforming races, and item collection hunts. While they’re not anything particularly special they will at least give a little extra life to the game once you’ve found everything Castle Zemo has to offer.
The best thing this game does though is that is gets the Captain America character right. Steve Rogers and all his super soldier abilities are present and available for you to use. Nothing has been sacrificed in order to cater to the gameplay and nothing has been overblown just to make the game more appealing to a non-comic fan crowd. If you are a fan of Captain America you will love this game, it is a Cap game that we can be proud of. Unlike Iron-Man who Sega continually dropped the ball with and STILL does not have a game that can even be called decent, Captain America has been given a game that stays true to the character, is interesting for players, and will satisfy any fans looking for even more after seeing the major motion picture release of Captain America: The First Avenger. If you don’t like comic books and hated Arkham Asylum (may God have mercy on your soul) then yes, you should probably avoid this one, but if you’re a fan of the genre, character, or just want to see a Marvel game done right then give this one a try. Don’t let the lower 49.99 retail price fool you, this game is head and shoulders above every other movie tie-in game released this year, and is probably the best comic book game released since Arkham Asylum.