Michael Kontoudis
28 Jul, 2011

Captain America: Super Soldier Review

PS3 Review | A feather in Cap's cap?
Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in the wake of the outbreak of the Second World War, Marvel Comics icon Captain America may, at first blush, seem somewhat anachronistic in an age of cynicism and pervasive distrust of the world’s greatest superpower. Early signs, however, suggest that audiences and critics have been force-fed enough darkness, irony and cynicism to last a lifetime, and are willing to welcome with open arms a symbol of hope and optimism. Early critical reviews of this year’s Captain America: The First Avenger, starring Chris Evans and directed by Joe Johnston, have been largely glowing, with audience expectations for the film steadily rising. Few would argue, however, that Sega and Next Level Games’ latest movie tie-in, Captain America: Super Soldier has been met with little anticipation and even less expectation of being anything more than a crude piece of merchandising designed to capitalise on the success of its accompanying cinematic big brother. But the tepid reaction may not be entirely warranted in this case; despite the game starring the likeness of Chris Evans as Cap, and releasing alongside the film, Super Soldier boasts its own storyline and takes as its principal source of inspiration Rocksteady Games’ 2009 opus, Batman: Arkham Asylum, arguably the greatest licensed game to date. While Cap’s latest adventure fails to reach the dizzying heights ascended by the Dark Knight, suffers from an overall lack of polish and sometimes feels slapdash in its construction, Super Soldier is solid enough to stand out as one of the better movie tie-ins of recent times.

Cap doing what Cap does best.

Cap doing what Cap does best.
Set entirely in a Bavarian fortress occupied by the Red Skull’s slippery henchman, Dr Arnim Zola, Super Soldier follows Cap’s exploits as he infiltrates the castle to rescue his compatriots, the Howling Commandos, and put a stop to the dastardly scientific experiments being conducted by the mad doctor on behalf of HYDRA, an off-shoot of the Nazi science division. Armed with little more than his super-serum-infused physical perfection and iconic boomerang shield, Cap is tasked with pummeling baddies, picking up an insane number of collectibles, flicking switches and performing more jumps and swings than a troupe of acrobats. Super Soldier is smart enough to avoid attempting a scene-by-scene recreation of the accompanying film, which allows it to focus its action and incorporate a number of Marvel villains from the agile Madame Hydra to Iron Cross and Baron von Strucker. The story never goes anywhere particularly interesting, however, and Cap cuts a fairly bland figure who boasts none of the charm and strait-laced sense of decency of the actor playing him. Compared to Rocksteady Games’ efforts in portraying all aspects of Batman’s character in Arkham Asylum, Cap is sadly anonymous, which may be in part symptomatic of being one of the less complicated and multifaceted characters in the Marvel canon.
What Super Soldier does convey, and with considerable aplomb, is the efficiency and athleticism with which Cap pummels his foes, shield in hand; which is fortunate, given that at least three quarters of the game’s paltry six-hour duration is devoted to melee combat and hand-to-hand scraps with dozens of HYDRA goons. Once again taking cues from the Batman, Cap sports a flurry of counter-offensive moves and dodges, and is able to fluidly transition from baddie to baddie with a nudge of the analogue stick. Building combos fills a ‘focus’ meter which in turn affords him the ability to lay some smack down with devastating slow-motion strikes which have the added benefit of refilling his health gauge. The combat in Super Soldier is fast, visceral and accessible, but there is also scope for mastery, particularly when players consider the tactical uses of Cap’s shield, which can be used as a long-range weapon (which can be shot off at the nearest enemy or aimed with precision by using the shoulder buttons), a block, or even as a means of deflect enemies’ projectile attacks. Juggling a dozen foes while countering, blocking and finding time to deflect an incoming bullet requires players to time their strikes and effectively manage the crowd; the strategic combat is clearly the game’s greatest strength and the aspect which has received the most attention during production. In the best moments of Super Soldier, you will feel like Captain America as you sashay around the battlefield, slamming foes to the ground with a swipe of your vibranium shield. Even better, the game’s few boss encounters make good use of the combat system, and require players to deploy the same skills they have already mastered throughout the course of the game, eschewing the tendency to introduce one-shot mechanics or rote ‘hit the weak spot’ tropes. The combat is so strong, so accessible, that it single-handedly supports the rest of a game which is lacking in variety or finesse.

The Captain America School of Dentistry. "Hold still, sir..."

The Captain America School of Dentistry. "Hold still, sir..."
Platforming, for example, is underdeveloped to the point of anorexia; between bouts of fighting and exploration, Cap will be prompted by glowing yellow symbols to hit a button to initiate a sequence of jumps and acrobatic moves. These sequences require little more than to press a button to the rhythm of Cap’s jumps, and are impossible to fail. Cap is never in danger of falling to his doom, and is never capable of eking out optimal routes – if it doesn’t glow yellow, Cap can’t jump to it, which shatters any sense of empowerment players might have derived and hinders what little sense of immersion the game may have engendered. The platforming, such as it is, is relatively infrequent, but its tiresome inanity is nonetheless a blemish on the game’s pace and flow. Similarly, exploration and progression through the castle and its grounds is limited to flicking switches (again marked with glowing yellow symbols) and partaking in tediously simplistic decoding ‘mini-games’ which test patience in lieu of wits.
Compounding such issues is the fact that navigation of the castle fails to elicit any sense of awe; Super Soldier is a mediocre-looking game, awash with all the visual deficits one would normally associate with console launch titles. In contrast to the eponymous Arkham Asylum, the mountaintop Bavarian castle is an indistinct mess of muddy browns and grays and never convinces as a real, detailed location worthy of serious exploration. Bland too are the game’s few, repeated character models, and while enemies crumple realistically under the force of Cap’s blows, each and every one of them looks like a plastic action figure dipped in candle wax. Other blights, such as a choppy frame rate and lackluster effects, speak to the game’s lack of polish and the evident rush on the part of Next Level Games to cobble the game together in time for the movie’s release. Adequate sound effects and decent voice acting are otherwise elevated by a stirring, dramatic musical score which propels the action sequences and underscores the action with bombast.

This is where the game (but not Cap, mind) often falls down.

This is where the game (but not Cap, mind) often falls down.
Captain America: Super Soldier, in the final analysis, is a passable movie tie-in and an average licensed game with a well-realised combat mechanic at its centre. For the most part, it feels as if Next Level Games focused its limited time and resources on the fighting mechanics to the detriment of the game at large, which is otherwise sloppy and average. Fortunately, the fighting is great and accounts for the majority of the game. In those few hours spent flinging Cap’s shield at a Nazi skull before deflecting a bullet in another's face, Super Soldier comes alive and makes players feel like a superhero. It’s a shame, then, that the developer’s admirable ambition is undercut by execution which feels compromised by a lack of both time and budget. A good rainy-weekend game, then, but never more than merely decent – here’s hoping a sequel can build upon the fantastic combat and deliver a total package worthy of Cap’s heritage.
The Score
Captain America: Super Soldier is one of the better movie tie-ins of late, but not a particularly inspiring game in its own right; a weak story, bland visuals and shoddy platforming are propped up by an enjoyable combat system which deserves a sequel of refinement.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  14/07/2011 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
  Action Adventure
Year Made:

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