When a game is so blatantly trying to parrot the features and characteristics of another, it ultimately conspires to expose its own shortcomings. And while Captain America: Super Soldier is a great beat-’em-up with some truly marvellous features, it’s never quite as engaging or impressive as Batman: Arkham Asylum. Next Level Games has employed many of the same stylistic quirks and in-game mechanics that made Arkham Asylum such a roaring success in 2009, but the pieces of this particular jigsaw don’t fit quite so neatly: Cap is a far blander hero than Bruce Wayne’s esoteric Dark Knight, he doesn’t possess such a sinuous skill set, and his quest rarely feels as absorbing as Wayne’s pursuit of the maniacal Joker. Still, Super Soldier is Marvel’s most earnest effort in cracking console gaming, and its strengths fully justify the decision not to cash in on a slapdash movie tie-in.
Indeed, where the likes of Iron Man and Thor were ferried through atrocious scene-by-scene replicas of their blockbuster movies, Steve Rogers (who is voiced by Chris Evans, the only link to the feature-length film) has his own original story arc. Our hero stumbles across Hydra’s ultramodern plasma cannon while battling on the frontline, and embarks on a reconnaissance mission to sniff out their dastardly deeds. From here, one event triggers another and before we know it we’re launched headfirst a crusade against Red Skull and his micro-army of bastardised Nazis, executed with all the jingoistic patriotism that Captain America is synonymous with.
Cap relies on his trusty shield and his catalogue of CQC skills to comb through Red Skull’s minions, with players augmenting their arsenal as they go along through an XP-based upgrade system. Moreover, in mastering the wealth of special moves (which become available whenever Cap builds up the necessary momentum), there’s plenty of variety to the game’s action sequences. The ability to “weaponise” one’s foes, in particular, proves most amusing, whereby our hero will seize an enemy and use their abilities against them: Weaponising a sniper lets you fire a few bullets from his rifle, weaponising a Scorcher allows you take control of their giant cannons, and so on. The more rudimentary hand-to-hand combat sequences are less alluring, granted, but Cap has enough haymaker punches and gravity-defying kicks to make each skirmish satisfying enough. It’s only when compared to Arkham Asylum (and comparing the two is impossible to avoid) that Super Soldier feels as though it’s lacking in any way: Where the former had a fluid countering system and made combos feel reassuringly straightforward yet infinitely gratifying, Cap’s fisticuffs can often feel haphazard and spasmodic in comparison.
Then there’s the acrobatic set pieces, which are largely lifted from any entry you care to mention from the Prince of Persia franchise. Cap spins, flips, and corkscrews across each terrain with the simple push of the A button, but incongruously struggles to jump, duck, or negotiate any obstacles above knee-height. Moreover, the map at large is frustratingly difficult to navigate and doesn’t allow the player to place their own custom markers, so players may find themselves pausing the game far too often just to get their bearings. It feels as though Next Level Games has been terribly lazy in this respect, as the dreary castle in which we lay our scene becomes increasingly laborious to rove through come the game’s halfway mark.
Still, Captain America: Super Soldier should provide a quick fix for those looking to tide themselves over until Arkham City hits shelves later this year. The game is not without its flaws, some more excusable than others, but this is an ample opportunity to don the latex of another esteemed comic-book icon.