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PlayStation 3 Review: Captain America: Super Soldier

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It would give me great pleasure to be able to sit here and write that the new Captain America movie tie-in game, Captain America: Super Soldier, is this generation’s equivalent of GoldenEye (arguably the high water mark for movie-based games).  That however is not the case.  It isn’t even the equivalent of the moderately distressing updated-for-Wii GoldenEye.  Instead, it is simply another entry in a long line of poorly executed movie tie-ins, one that will be forgotten as soon as the bad taste leaves your mouth.

The game is, more or less, a straight actioner.  You play as Captain America (or Cap, if you’re acquainted with the fellow) and run through the various levels beating up World War II baddies (like the evil folks from Hydra).  There are no true shades of grey here – there are all manner of ‘suped-up bad guys in front of you and you melee your way through the hordes in order to protect truth, justice, and the American way (or is it the fellow from Krypton who does that… sorry, wrong universe).

As with so many games, Captain America starts off with a nice simple introduction – a couple of soldiers are shooting the breeze while in trench in France, debating the veracity of reports of Captain America’s excellence.  The grunts are quickly ambushed and then Captain America shows up to beat up those who would dare attack Americans.  Now, the obvious payoff for this sort of introduction to our red, white, and blue hero would be, once the enemy is dispatched, for a soldier to note the true excellence that is Cap.  Even if Cap were to be far away at the time, a nice little cutback to a living soldier (or even a soldier elsewhere relating the story) right at that moment would be nice.  We don’t get that at the end of the opening, the game just goes merrily on its way, never too concerned with closing the loop or providing any sort of logic or relevance to the scene.

It is actually this last bit, the lack of logic, that is truly distressing and it is prevalent everywhere.  Perhaps the most egregious example is the way in which the game is positioned as slightly more involved than just a go-down-the-path-and-kill-the-baddies game.  Throughout Captain America there are tons of “hidden” items for you to pick up.  Much of what you grab are Hydra (the baddie group) research folders.  You see, we’re told at the beginning of the game that Hydra are kind of fanatical with their devotion to recording all their deviant experiments.  But, while they may record the nature of their experiments meticulously, they then just toss the notes anywhere and everywhere – behind a barrel, under a truck, on random tables, in a kitchen, on the floor, in every possible ridiculous place you can find.  Then there are other things you can find as well – beer steins, golden eggs, etc.  There’s no real reason for them to be lying around, but they’re their so that you can gain experience points by finding them (really).  You can also find plans for the various enemies you face so that you’re attacks are more effective.

Honestly, at the start of the game, the melee action seems fun.  Cap is able to string together a couple of punches and kicks here and there, toss his shield around a little, and take out Hydra grunts in fine fashion.  You also gain experience points (of a different sort) by battling enemies, and can unlock new and enhanced abilities.  However, no matter how many you unlock, there’s never a huge sense of progression to the character, Cap can never put together a sufficiently longer string of hits and his being able to target weak points of soldiers due to finding blueprints is all behind the scenes – you see the result of his finding blueprints not a change in approach (enemies go down more easily, Cap doesn’t visually do anything differently).

Perhaps part of the problem with Captain America’s melee abilities are the awkward controls.  No matter how much you sit there and play the game, the combination of buttons required to do things is never quite natural and you’ll find yourself regularly wondering which button dodges and which initiates an attack.  Then there’s the fact that Cap can’t strafe.  He doesn’t have a gun, but he can throw his shield at people (as you would expect), and when you have enemies in rafters that you’re supposed to throw your shield at it would be nice if the mechanic were a good one.  It isn’t.  If you put up your shield you’re not allowed to move and what that means is that once you step out from behind a barrier, you’re going to be shot at before you can possibly aim and fire.

Then there’s the issue with the rest of your movements.  Cap can run and jump on things, he is in fact quite adept at swinging from pole to pole and around corners – he’s almost like Spider-Man but without the web stuff.  Unfortunately, he’s only allowed to swing and climb on things the game wants you to swing and climb on.  There are times when you’ll find yourself in a huge area full of shipping containers.  All of these containers are of the same height and constructed of the same material.  Only some of them can be climbed on however because the game only wants you to be allowed to climb on some of them.  Think you have a great way to cross a room full of enemies that would require you climbing on one of the containers?  Yeah, the game will either want you to start on the right container or simply not go that way at all.

At least the game looks pretty good.  Well, it looks good until it stops looking good.  There is a whole lot to see and the characters are pretty sharp.  Even the camera, which you can alter using the right analog stick, works well.  But, when members of Hydra “fall” off of a platform and end up hanging out in mid-air or Captain America’s shield fails to return and instead just remains in the air at some distance, things fall apart.  Yes, I understand those are physics issues, but they do mar an otherwise pretty appearance.

Captain America: Super Soldier is full of hidden objects, has a reward system, and has a classic good vs. evil tale.  It is even pretty to look at (mostly).  The game has all the elements required to put forward a stellar title.  It isn’t a stellar title though, it has all the elements, but it only has them in their nascent form, nothing is fully developed, nothing is fully realized, and nothing is carried through to an acceptable conclusion.  Even boss battles can be lackluster, particularly ones where it’s obvious that the boss didn’t actually die, that you’re going to have to fight them again in a minute (because, you know, the level isn’t over and they’re not going to end the level on a down note).  With more time and more effort, Captain America: Super Soldier could have been something, but the title never gets out of basic training.

Captain America: Super Soldier is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Blood, Mild Language, Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, Wii, and Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.