Who would’ve thought that in order to create the single best Captain America video game experience to date, you’d have to turn to the Great White North. Such is the case with Captain America: Super Soldier for the PS3/Xbox360 from publisher Sega and Vancouver based developer Next Level Games.
Captain America: Super Soldier can be considered an interquel to the film Captain America: The First Avenger, as it takes place in an unspecified time between the period when Steve Rogers dons his full Captain America uniform and when his partner and best friend Bucky falls into the hands of Hydra. The titular Captain has received intel that the Red Skull and Hydra are developing secret weapons that can cripple the Allied forces in a castle owned by one Baron Zemo, so Cap and the Invaders set out infiltrate the facility and put a stop to the plan before it spells the end of the war in the enemies favor.
If there’s any super hero who deserves to have the “Arkham” combat model adapted to them, it’s Captain America, and anyone who engrossed themselves in the one attack/one counter button combat from that game will have no trouble diving in head first here. Combat feels ungodly satisfying with each punch feeling and sounding powerful, and Next Level went the extra mile in getting the perfect sound effect down when you either attack or defend with your shield. Ultimately, fighting wise, Captain America feels exactly like he should, in fact Captain America himself, Chris Evans, liked it so much that it helped him develop the character’s fighting style for this year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Evans of course, also voiced the character in this game,and is joined by fellow cast mates Sebastian Stan, Neal McDonough, Hayley Atwell, JJ Field and Jim Morita.
What differentiates the Star Spangled Avenger from Gotham’s Dark Knight is his mighty shield, and it can be used for more than sparing the captain from a hit or two: Timing your hits appropriately against foes with projectile weapons launches their attacks back at them (a skill very important against bosses,) you can also focus target to hit select targets or simply toss it ahead of you with a simple tap of the trigger. One of the more fist-pumpingly awesome moves is available when you fill a meter by taking down foes and can target them with your shield for a one hit kill. The camera follows your discus as it takes out your clueless prey that will do nothing but put a smile on your face as you hear the “clang” of their inevitable defeat. Your saved energy can also be put towards super moves that can take out lesser bad guys in one simple attack, but can also allow you to turn foes powers against themselves or even weaponize their projectile weapons against their partners.
The situations you find yourself in combat wise don’t repeat themselves over and over in the adventure, and Next Level carefully sprinkled new wrinkles into the combat formula as you venture deeper into the castle. Starting off you’ll fight unarmed goons that soon start to show up with their own shields that have to be lowered before any damage can be dealt. Eventually enemies will appear up that are larger than even you with even bigger armaments as well as ones with a frequency shield that is impervious to your thrown shield.
I’ve spoken in length about Super Soldier’s excellent combat, as it outshines the acrobatic traversal of the game, something Next Level Games should have maybe studied closer when looking at Batman: Arkham Asylum.Captain America is an acrobatic character, and he does have some Prince of Persia-eqsue moves in his repertoire on display here, like wall running and jumping around corners and off of poles. However there’s no skill or weight to them and they play out with simple timed QTE (quick-time event) button presses.
Another area that Super Soldier lacks in is structure. The castle environment presents itself as an open area where you can visit anywhere, and that is true to an extent, but the game divides itself into chapters and funnels you through the short campaign, thus stifling any sense of exploration. You can replay the game and revisit any previous area to collect enemy intel film reels, dossiers and other collectibles, but outside of getting some additional achievements or trophies, there’s not much incentive to do this.
As a whole product, Super Soldier’s parts are not as great as the overall package, but that shouldn’t keep you from missing out on this great game, especially if you’re a fan of the character from either your experience with comics or the more recent films. Had as much effort been put into all of the other Sega Marvel games that came before it, titles like the Iron Man and Thor games may have been some truly special experiences. Fortunately for them, Next Level Games are developing games exclusively for Nintendo platforms, like last year’s well received Lugi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on the 3DS. Though I’m happy for them, I would love to see this talented group take another shot at the Captain America license, perhaps at a time when they’re not under the gun to reach a film release deadline.