Let’s go over why Captain America is in this fortress castle fighting Hydra to begin with. Not that it matters, as you’ll spend your time attacking generic soldiers in bland environments and collecting falcon statues that are hardly hidden. Red Skull and Hydra are going to start making their own, mass produced super soldiers thanks to Doctor Arnim Zola’s Master Mann project, and the Captain has been sent in, alone, to shut down production. It isn’t connected to the recent Captain America movie in any way, aside from being set at the same time frame (1944) and all the most enemies having German accents (but they’re not Nazis).
Here’s what Captain America: Super Soldier wants. It wants to be Batman: Arkham Asylum. The battle system, the "supposedly" open environment, the attempt to generate atmosphere via a dull color scheme. Next Level Games even attempts to copy Batman’s "detective mode" by giving Captain America a "tactical sense." If it actually did a good job of copying Arkham Asylum, Super Soldier could have been a pretty awesome game.
First, Captain America gives players the illusion of an open world game. For the majority of the adventure, it isn’t. The fortress Captain America is fighting Hydra goons in looks big enough. Bring up the map and you can see lots of paths and hidden rooms. You’re actually locked in. In each chapter, some doors and areas will be locked off, so it will look like you could deviate from a path, but you can’t. Eventually, you reach a point where you can use the sewer system to backtrack and all areas are unlocked, but there’s absolutely no reason or incentive to revisit any area you were already in. Hydra are obviously the stupidest criminal organization in history, as every collectible – secret diaries, crucial documents, ceramic eggs, and decorative beer steins – are just left in plain sight. You’ll have no trouble finding them or difficulty reaching them. The aforementioned "tactical sense" turns the world orange, then grey, with anything the Captain being able to interact with glowing orange.
Plus, why would you want to revisit the drab setting? Next Level Games must have thought that everything in 1940’s was dull and lifeless. Nothing stands out. No one stands out. Most general grunt enemies look the same, and the same can be said for the more powerful enemies. The only characters that really stand apart are the bosses, which you see very rarely. Said bosses will usually repeat their names several times in conversation as well, so you can remember, then promptly forget, who they are.
Even though he’s Captain America, he can’t just interact with anything. Basic crates and barrels can’t be destroyed by his all powerful shield. The most you can do is knock them aside and put a superficial dent in them. No, the Captain can only climb on and move around items that also have glow orange, triggered just by tapping X. If you tap X with the right timing, you can put together combos and get extra points. It’s not difficult though, and even if you hesitate you aren’t penalized as you move from one area to another. What’s most frustrating are areas where you can see an assortment of trailer or beams. You’d think Captain America could leap up on and run around any of these trailers and beams. Nope! He can only jump around and climb up some of them. I mean, if he can scurry up on top of one trailer, he should be able to climb up on all of them to get tactical advantages against his enemies!
Combat is the only part that’s actually worth your time, which isn’t saying much. It’s follows in the footsteps of Batman: Arkham Asylum, where you dodge with X, toss the iconic shield with the R button, punch with square and grab with triangle. If you dodge enough enemy attacks and land enough hits, you fill a gauge that eventually lets you land critical hits that instantly knock out enemies. It works well, but the downside is that it lags. Even if he’s only facing one opponent, the Captain and his foe move at a crawling pace. I suppose it’s supposed to be cinematic, but it’s overkill when every punch looks like it’s staged in slow motion. It would have had more effect if the slowdown was reserved only for the critical hits.
Now, I’m going to try and go through this next portion without being too harsh, but let me describe the exact moment that made me loathe Captain America: Super Soldier. Chapter 5 has the Captain entering a building where he has to plant explosive charges and reach the top to plant more explosive charges on an anti-air gun with radar. About halfway up the tower, you encounter a boss fight against Baron Von Strucker. The boss fight is tedious and just plain ridiculous. You can only damage him by grabbing him (L1+triangle) then button mashing a button immediately after that appears on screen in a quick time event. There is only a short window of time in which to button mash. This is the only way he can be damaged, and grunt enemies keep appearing around you at the same time to shock you. To deal the finishing blow, you must do the L1+triangle grab and complete two QTEs. Fail that and about 1/5th of his rather large life bar is restored and you have to whittle it down again. As annoying as this battle was, it wasn’t what pushed me over the edge and took me from just "not being impressed" to "actually hating" Captain America: Super Soldier.
Now, the battle I just described sounded pretty unappealing and frustrating. It gets worse. Imagine how it is when you reach the top of the tower and suddenly get a five minute time limit attached to you. At first, it seems like you just have five minutes to clear out the six grunts that are there, override two panel areas on the radar to open a door and then plant a bomb on the radar so the good guys can provide Captain America backup. Nope! It’s Von Strucker time again! Only this time, you’ve probably got around four minutes left to beat him and he gets multiple waves of minions. The second time I attempted it, I felt jubilant when I beat Von Strucker with 30 seconds left. Plenty of time to reach the panel and plant the bomb. But wait! The glowing orange field isn’t there! I can’t interact with it! That’s because three idiot grunts were still around. I waste the next 20 seconds taking them down, reach the panel with four seconds to spare, trigger the action to set the next bomb and….
Black screen. I swear I had 2 seconds left after I pressed the circle button, and I got a black screen. "You’ve failed to complete your objective." At this point, I yelled an obscenity I probably shouldn’t repeat here, directed at Captain America because my technique was flawless. I had to step away from the game. I actually had to take a breath, regroup and step away from the game. Demon’s Souls never even infuriated me to the point where I didn’t trust myself in the same room as the game disc!
Actually, aside from those mind-numbingly tedious boss fights made artificially difficult, I’d say that the best audience for Captain America: Super Soldier is small children. It’s not very difficult to play or manage, and it’d give younger gamers quite a confidence boost to see how easily they unlock trophies and find collectibles. Too bad they’ll never get to play it, unless their guardians are lax, as it’s a Teen rated game.
I felt a little betrayed after running through Super Soldier. Next Level Games made one of the few Super Mario sports games I really liked – Mario Strikers Charged and they’re doing the 3DS Luigi’s Mansion sequel I can’t wait for. My mind just can’t grasp how a developer I like could actually be responsible for a game I despise.
I guess the best I can say about Captain America: Super Soldier is that Sega and Next Level Games tried to make a game that was as good as Batman: Arkham Asylum. They didn’t succeed mind you, but the companies tried.
Food for Thought
- If you want to, you can turn on 3D.
- I thought it was kind of odd that the best looking item in the game is Captain America’s shield.
- I don’t really get why the game needed to install 4gb of data to my PS3 hard drive. It wasn’t especially pretty and it wasn’t like there was a lot of voice acting or in-game movies. Granted, the loading times were practically nonexistant.
- You do earn experience throughout the game, which can be used to purchase upgrades to Captain America. Oddly enough, I found I got through the game just as easily whether I remembered to upgrade or not.
- There are three levels of difficulty.
- You can unlock Challenge mode levels, where you fight through endless waves of enemies and such. Contrary to the name, the provide little challenge and it’s not difficult to earn gold medals in each one.