While videogames based on Marvel super hero movies aren’t that rare, most of them are pretty terrible. I object to this, both as a gamer and a longtime comic book fan, so I was prepared to be disappointed with Captain America: Super Soldier, particularly so because I really enjoyed the movie. Happily, the game is not nearly as bad as most of the Marvel movie tie-ins. Though it does have some truly terrible moments, the fun and fast combat held my attention for the five hours or so it took me to complete it.

The best thing about Captain America is the combat. Much like Batman in Batman: Arkham Asylum, from which this game borrows heavily (and I mean heavily), Cap has one main attack, but it varies so much based on position, timing and movement that you can get a lot of mileage out of that one move. When you add in the dodges, counters, grapples and finishers, combat becomes a truly heroic affair. You really feel like you’re a super soldier in this game, especially when you’re surrounded by loads of enemies. Cap’s trademark shield also has a tremendous presence in the game; you can throw it and watch it bounce back and forth among your enemies, or even use it to literally whack bullets back at your opponents. It takes a while to master all the skills, but once you get a handle on them, it’s tremendously fun.

It helps that Captain America is richly detailed and full of dynamic animations. The punches, kicks and shield slams feel weighty, so when you see your fist smash into an enemy’s ribcage, or hear the “clang” of your shield as you bash a technician’s skull, you’ll really connect with the character’s strength and ability. The first time I broke a guard’s faceplate with my fist, I thought, “Yes, more of that, please.”

The rest of the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by the combat. There are acrobatic movement sequences like you might find in Assassin’s Creed or Prince of Persia, but they’re far too restricted for you to feel like you have any freedom and far too easy for you to feel any tension. The small minigames you play when hacking doors and short-circuiting equipment are equally shallow. Instead of providing a challenge, they just remind you over and over again that you are, in fact, just playing a game. The game even cops the “detective vision” mode from Arkham Asylum and it makes even less sense in this setting.

I don’t want to review the movie here; we’ve already done that. But I do think the contrast between the movie and the game can help you understand what I don’t like about the game a little better. The pivotal moment in the movie is when Cap decides to rise above his status as a sideline icon and do something truly heroic with his powers. Up until that point the movie is just an origin story, and it’s a great one that really helps you understand who Captain America is and why he could be such a great hero. But once Cap embraces the mantle of Real Hero TM, the movie stops caring about the context of it all and just starts packing in loads of action. There’s even a montage of missions where it’s clear the filmmakers thought, “There’s no real story here, but we think these shots are pretty awesome.” Though the movie stops being real or authentic at that point, you don’t really care because of all the groundwork laid at the beginning.

The game is like the second half of the movie without the benefit of the extra context to make you care. You meet characters but are never really introduced to them. You take on the big evil organization without ever really understanding what’s at stake, either for the individual characters or humanity at large. Sure, you have to rescue some prisoners and blow up power plants, but there’s no purpose behind it other than that prisoners need rescuing and power plants need blowing up. The whole time I was playing, I kept asking myself, “Just who am I going to fight at the end of this thing?” When I found out, it was a real surprise. And it’s not a good “Luke, I am your father” sort of surprise. It’s more like the “I thought this was sugar, but it was really flour” surprise.

It’s all the more disappointing because the game doesn’t follow the plot of the movie and instead tells the story of an extra mission that might have taken place within the action montage during the second half of the movie. The game makers, free from the by-the-numbers approach required of most movie tie-ins, should have been able to do something more meaningful and original. This is a character who is the embodiment of an entire nation and is engaged in one of history’s greatest conflicts against one of history’s more despicable villains. Bland enemies and shallow characters tend to undermine the potential of it all. Some of that could surely have been remedied by actually using Nazis as the villains, but I suppose that’s more the movie’s fault. I mean, what right-thinking person makes a Captain America game that doesn’t end with him punching Hitler? In the end, you’re left just beating the crap out of wave after wave of generic enemies who don’t really seem all that into the idea of world domination.

Even if you can get past the thin context of the story, there are loads of illusion breakers staring you in the face. The opening scene, for instance, has Cap in a plane waiting to jump out and start his mission. Then, when he jumps out, he doesn’t have a parachute. He just puts his shield in front of him and crashes through a building. While battling the evil forces of Hydra, Cap finds time to run around collecting useless crap like Ceramic Eggs. Even the useful stuff he has to grab, like research notes and schematics of new weapons, are just strewn across the level. Why Hydra would keep top secret drawings of new weapons on prison cots and sewer grates is more than I can understand. Perhaps the worst offender in terms of tone is the loading screen message that tells you that the Red Skull’s name is Johann Schmidt and then informs you that he is no relation to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, but that when he goes out, people still tend to shout.

Sigh…

Bottom Line: The combat in Captain America is actually fun but there’s no substance to the story and no challenge for the rest of the gameplay.

Recommendation: Get it if you’re a Captain America fan of if you just can’t wait for Batman: Arkham City. Otherwise, this is a rental.

[rating=3]

Steve Butts still wonders how a shield that absorbs kinetic energy can clang so loudly.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Captain America: Super Soldier
Genre: Action
Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Sega
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS

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