Oh Sega... what am I going to do with you? Somehow, someway, you manage to continue securing the rights to the various Marvel comic movies (to make the video game versions) despite producing “less than stellar” products each and every time. Let’s look at the list of Marvel licenses that had so much promise yet managed to become forgettable, if not horrible games: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and of course the recent Thor. All of these title had the potential to be HUGE, blockbuster releases on the consoles to match their Hollywood success but alas, gamers were left with some of the most forgettable games in recent memory. Now we have the latest entry in the Sega / Marvel lineup: Captain America- Super Soldier.
Let me come out and say it right off: Captain America isn’t a bad game; the problem is that it isn’t a very good game either. The game is a mixed bag of great ideas and concepts buried under bad design decisions and lackluster implementation of said ideas. On its surface, the game is comparable to Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum. Next Level Games obviously took a few notes from the game and it really suits the Captain America universe; just like the Caped Crusader, Cap isn’t about flashy super powers and insane abilities but rather just plain getting the job done with a combination of brute force and style.
As you strap on your boots and take hold of your trusty shield, you will assume the role of Captain America in a tale loosely based on the recent film release. Set during World War II, the good Captain must fight his way through Red Skull’s forces to stop the sinister Dr. Arnim Zola from recreating the super soldier serum which granted Cap his powers. Failure to do so will give Red Skull the upper hand in the war (WWII). The storyline, just like the game, only spans a couple of hours worth of events. It’s a fast moving, steadily paced tale, but ultimately it comes up too short in the overall length. I felt like I was just getting into my “groove” of being Captain America just as the game was coming to an end.
The Arkham Asylum influence is evident though quite a few gameplay elements including the combat system, collection of items and documents (akin to Riddler’s clues), and the ability to analyze your environment to find clues to usable objects and traversable terrain. The combat system is perhaps the most similar and actually translates perfectly into the Super Soldier universe. Players are encouraged to methodically plan their attacks against enemies who will bombard you from every direction. This isn’t a button masher and the game forces you to play out your attacks with an appropriate cadence in order to be effective. Once you learn the rhythm of both your attacks and your enemies, you will be taking on large groups of villains simultaneously in impressive manners.
As you progress, you skillset of offensive moves will improve as you collect experience points from defeating enemies. While this is a great premise and something that helps you improve the effectiveness of your maneuvers, the variety of skills offered for leveling leaves a lot to be desired. The game only allows you to improve 3 different skills along the course of the game, and their improvements are minimal. The only one that I found to be effective is the counter-abilities and the various follow ups that leveling allowed you to achieve. This is a major missed opportunity as there could have been so much more, especially when it comes to using your shield to reflect enemy attacks. Leveling your skills gives you access to two special maneuvers which should have been a big deal, but I honestly never used a single one of them after unlocking them. Sure, they looked cool, but they were ineffective in the course of battle and ultimately served to be more of a hindrance than asset in battle. It doesn’t feel like a lot of thought went into this aspect of the game and you will find yourself relying more on the basic combat skillset throughout your adventure, which is thankfully polished and fun in its own right.
The collectible aspect and environment analyzation are two other missed opportunities. Gathering collectibles can be fun, but this game takes the premise into the realm of overkill. The game challenges you to collect a wide variety of object sets throughout your adventure, including ceramic eggs, film reels, beer steins, diary entries, and enemy schematics. These are just a few... there are over a dozen, each with multiple objects scattered throughout the game. There are times when I wasn’t sure if I was playing an action game or partaking in a scavenger hunt. Its a nice feature but just isn’t utilized properly.
The exact opposite issue exists with the ability to analyze your environment. It is an interesting skill and one that could have been used in some great situations, but there is only one small portion of the game where it was required. You can trigger the ability at any other time if you get a little confused on where you need to go but that is a rare occasion. Why would you make one of Captain America’s most impressive abilities so worthless? The implementation of the skill is very well done visually and something that I still enjoy witnessing even after completing the game. Triggering the ability allows you to view the environment from the eyes of the good Captain and you see him sketching mental notes around objects and paths, pretty much following the way that he thinks things through. It looks really cool, but you just don’t get to use it enough.
Captain America: Super Soldier is a brief game, clocking in at around 5 hours or less and that includes some extensive “milling around” seeking out the abundant collectibles. Yes, it is a brief experience, but the pacing of the storyline is really well done. There are only a couple, two to three, “slow” points of the game where you have to do a little backtracking to return to a previous area; aside from that you will spend nearly every minute either battling hordes of enemies, solving puzzles, or using your acrobatic abilities to find paths to seemingly unreachable locations. It keeps things moving from start to finish helps to overcome some of the design shortcomings that I mentioned.
In another nod to the great Arkham Asylum, the development team has also included a series of challenge modes that you can partake in outside of the storyline / campaign. Players are given 10 challenge levels, each of which will be unlocked by both completing the various chapters of the game and earlier challenge levels, which will put you in different scenarios and challenge you to put Cap’s skillset to the test. Some of them are fun and can provide nearly infinite replay value, specifically the combat oriented ones, but other challenges just seem tacked on for the sake of including them. There are a couple of levels that focus on simply collecting items and strip you of your combat abilities for absolutely no reason at all. Why would you take away the strongest aspect of your game and try to turn it into a stealth-mission simulation when there aren’t any such levels in toe campaign? The game never challenges you to use stealth in the story, so why create boring challenges which require it? This just doesn’t make any sense to me. The game also encourages you to complete the challenges in order to earn experience points for leveling your character in the game however the amount of points that it awards you is so minimal that it never makes a dent in the amount of points required to unlock the next level of abilities. Thankfully, you don’t really need any of them as I said before.
I think that the main problem behind Captain America: Super Soldier is that it tries to do too much and be more than it needs to be. The game has a solid combat foundation, great pacing (for the most part), and a nice story, but all of that is hindered by the repetitive nature of constantly searching for various collectible and a lackluster leveling system. If Next Level had put more of their eggs into one of these fine baskets (combat or storytelling), the game could have been so much better. Instead, gamers get a mixed bag of treats that, although enjoyable, is over far too quick and fails to leave any sort of lasting impression.