This summer saw the release of not one, but two big super hero movies from Marvel, both of which were accompanied by a game. I can already see you rolling your eyes, waiting for the inevitable. It’s a foregone conclusion really…video game movies just aren’t that good traditionally. The best ones are the games that get the characters and franchise, but not the deadline required to come out with the movie so they can cash in on the hype train.
Enter Captain America: Super Soldier, released to coincide with the movie Captain America: The First Avenger. I went into this one once again expecting the worst, considering my experience with Sega’s Thor: God of Thunder game. However, a glimmer of hope remained and I’m glad I held on to that hope. Read on to see why I ultimately ended up enjoying what is one of the best movie tie-in games I’ve seen in awhile.Most people know the story of how Steve Rogers became Captain America, a symbol of hope and freedom during World War II. The game assumes this from the outset, as you are dropped right into the action. There’s no origin here, no scrappy levels where you play as scrawny Steve Rogers. It basically feels like they’re saying “if you want to know the background, read some of the comics or go see the accompanying movie”, and I’m fine with that. Wasting no time, you’re dropped right into the thick of things.
If you haven’t been following the pre-release trailers and images for the game, one thing instantly springs to mind as soon as you begin playing and as much as I would like to it can’t go without saying: Captain America: Super Soldier has a lot in common with Arkham Asylum. Nearly every aspect of the game will feel very familiar to anyone who has played that game. But you know what they say: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if you’re going to imitate you may as well look to the best.
It almost feels like a checkpoint of substitutes. Batarang? Shield. Detective Mode? Tactical Sense. Captain America even borrows the idea of having a large sprawling environment of interconnected areas which the entire game takes place on, creating a feeling of open world exploration. All of this isn’t a point against Captain America, but it needs to be mentioned and that’s just how it is.
Combat should feel familiar as well. Moving the right thumbstick towards your desired opponent and pressing the appropriate button will send Cap flying towards them to punch, grab or counter them depending on the button pressed. On the lower two difficulties you’ll see a yellow ring close in around when you can counter an attack, or sometimes a red one to show it must be blocked or dodged.
Captain America’s most useful tool in his inventory is his trusty shield, which also comes in handy during combat not only for attacking but for blocking and deflecting attacks. The most common will be snipers or similar projectile wielding assailants. As they prepare to shoot you, two white lines will appear on the edge of the screen in the direction of the incoming attack. Pressing the left bumper at the right time will deflect the shot back at the enemy, with a mistimed press having you take the full force.
With all of this in mind, the combat is actually very fluid. All of the enemies have distinct appearances and it’s easy to quickly assess any situation and plan your course of action. Taking enemies out in the right order will make your job all the easier, and if you maneuver between them properly they might even take some of their allies out for you.
When he’s not punching Hydra goons in their helmeted faces, Captain America needs to navigate the different levels to find whatever it is he’s looking for in that particular area. This is made easier thanks to his acrobatic abilities, which will see you swinging and running around all sorts of outlying areas to reach your goals. A subtle yellow glow will often illuminate areas where you can leap or swing from, with visual or audio cues telling you when to make your next move. This is all done by tapping the A button at appropriate times to leap to the next target, with a point bonus if you time it perfectly on the first go.
The entirety of the game takes place in the sprawling castle of Baron Zemo, the size of which is indeed very impressive. As you’re progressing through the various caverns, ballrooms and factories of the castle and in between your battles with the forces of Hydra, you’ll be able to partake in one of the oldest video game standbys: collectibles. Scattered through the environments you’ll find various dossiers and film reels from Hydra as well as treasures belonging to Baron Zemo himself.
Captain America takes the art of the collectible and pushes it above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The amount of random junk laying around for you to pick up is positively overwhelming. Some of them simply unlock standard bonuses like concept art, or things like Baron Zemo’s diaries and the aforementioned film reels which provide background information on what’s going on in the story or how particular enemies came to be. It’s not that the rewards aren’t nice, there are just far too many things to stop and pick up. So much that about halfway through the game you’ll probably stop exploring and just grab things that happen to be on your chosen path.
Should you have trouble finding these things, you can tap up on the D-Pad to activate Cap’s Tactical Sense which will highlight any collectible item in the environment with that same yellow glow, and dim the rest of the colors to make it stand our more. It also highlights all the interactive elements in your surroundings, making the platforming routes easier or finding that button you need to press. This effect fades fairly quickly, and I actually found that I wasn’t using it very often as the game is usually pretty clear about what you need to do next or where to go and the collectibles constantly shimmer anyways.
One thing you might find a little jarring for a game set in World War II are the enhanced weapons your enemies are carrying, such as stun rods or modified flamethrowers that are now a plasma beam gun. This is all explained by Hydra and the Red Skull having the Cosmic Cube which they are using to power their bizarre weapons and equipment. In fact, almost everything you encounter is actually explained in the game in some way, if not outright then in the extra unlockable material.
It also feels a little strange playing as Captain America and destroying the statues scattered around the levels or blowing up the inexplicably large number of your standard red exploding barrel which Hydra leaves laying around almost as haphazardly as they do their top secret documents. This is all handwaved and ultimately forgiven by the fact that in the end it IS a video game, but it still feels strange.
All of these elements combine to create what sounds to be an incredible game, especially considering that it was tied to the release of an accompanying movie. Throughout the game things feel a little unpolished and there are signs of it being rushed scattered throughout. The physics are a little wonky from time to time, with discarded enemy weapons or other objects bouncing around or getting stuck halfway through the floor or wall. The graphics themselves are pretty good, and the animations solid and fluid throughout, but they’re still a little lacking. Not bad, but not great.
Perhaps the strongest element of the game is the voicework, the most notable being Chris Evans reprising his role as Captain America. Evans commands the role and combined with the solid writing personifies everything about Captain America that makes him stand out as a character in the first place.
In the end Captain America: Super Soldier manages to both standout as a an example of how good a movie tie-in game can be, while at the same time showcasing precisely why these games are usually so terrible. While it ultimately falls pretty far behind it’s obvious idol, it’s still miles ahead of previous efforts (particularly those based on the recent Marvel movies) falling in line with the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game as the leader of the pack.
As it stands, the game is fairly solid and fun though ultimately lacking in both content and polish. The campaign is very short, with my final time running at just over five hours on Normal difficulty (with one harder option available). There are two unlockable costumes which you can acquire before you complete your first run through if you’re really looking for those collectibles or shortly after if you skipped a few. A challenge mode is present as well though it only contains ten challenges which are ultimately pretty simple. I got gold on all but two on the first try, and only had to retry those stragglers once each.
It’s not the best, but definitely a noble effort. With more time and polish this game could have been a gem, but as it stands it’s simply a diamond in the rough. But it gives me hope.
Title: Captain America: Super Soldier
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Review Copy Info: A review copy for this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.