SEGA's clearly spent a lot of time playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Given the quality of SEGA's most recent Marvel movie tie-ins, Captain America: Super Soldier feels like a triumph. In borrowing many of conventions popularised by Rocksteady's surprise blockbuster, SEGA has crafted an enjoyable third-person adventure game that achieved something we never expected it to do: make us care about Captain America.
It's true, going into Captain America: Super Soldier we had almost zero expectations from the game. We are not huge Captain America fans, and SEGA has not exactly covered itself in glory with its recent super-hero portfolio. So to say Super Soldier came as a pleasant surprise is an understatement; the game might feel unpolished and rough in places, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable romp while its six-to-eight hour campaign persists.
We've never had an affinity with Captain America as a character. We shunned him as patriotic and silly from an early age, and have never looked back. But Super Soldier has transformed our perception of the character, and that's probably the biggest compliment we can pay the game.
Loosely based on the upcoming Captain America movie, Super Soldier drops you into a Bavarian castle tasked with the objective of ceasing the experiments of a deranged scientist known as Armin Zola. The restricted nature of the game's setting means it doesn't quite replicate all of the events from the upcoming movie, but from a gameplay perspective the design choice is sound. Super Soldier is an open-world game, allowing you to revisit many of the game's sectors beyond the campaign's conclusion.
The setting is the first of a number of principles SEGA's borrowed from Arkham Asylum's design blue-prints. Another is the combat. Like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Captain America is able to slide between foes with fluidity, switching between targets with a careful push of the analogue stick and a tap of the attack button. Foes come equipped with glowing rings that not-so-subtly instruct you when to hit the counter button, and Cap also has a super-efficient dodge move that springs the character into a whole manner of acrobatics when pressed. The formula works. Sure the combat can get a touch repetitive (especially when you factor in the limited variety of enemy types), but its an enjoyable mechanic taken from one of the best games in its class. Various special moves allow you to use energy to swat enemies with an obliterating blow to the face, while others let you steal their weapons and use them as mini-turrets. Captain America never quite lives up to the bone-crunching satisfaction of its inspiration, but it does a good enough job of creating a system that won't make you groan each time you run into a room packed with foes.
Captain America also has access to his trustworthy vibranium shield. The patriotic disc can be used to stun enemies and open up new pathways, but is arguably at its most advantageous when used against enemy fire. Using a combination of strength and superhero awareness, Captain America can deflect the bullets of foes back towards their distributors, turning a potential threat into a deadly reversal. The game handles this by providing a window of opportunity in which Cap can perfectly deflect attacks. Hitting the block button at the right moment will cause the character to spin around and deflect incoming projectiles from which they came, rewarding you with a hefty points bonus. Super Soldier is at its best when it's throwing you into combat scenarios in which you're constantly having to react to various enemy attacking patterns. Flipping between counters, deflections and attacks is genuinely exciting, and because SEGA's made Captain America feel so powerful, you always feel in control.
Super Soldier's design pushes you through its open-world environment fairly linearly, though the game encourages some exploration too. Collectibles are hidden all over the environment, with an underground sewer network aiding quick access to some of the game's more spread-out locations. Admittedly these locations do look a bit dull, with much of the Nazi iconography stripped away in favour of the more politically palatable Hydra. The goons themselves would benefit from a bit more artistic variety too, but have a reasonably appealing look to them, reminding us of other alternate history titles such as Wolfenstein.
Like so many other adventure games of its ilk, Super Soldier is packed with pieces of back-story that are dotted around the world. Collectible objects, film reels and schematics allow you to level up Cap's performance against various enemy types, as well as flesh out some of the lore surrounding the game's narrative. In addition, you'll happen upon Intel Points which allow you to upgrade some of Cap's abilities, although disappointingly these have minor implications on the gameplay itself.
Outside of the primary combat and exploration elements, Super Soldier includes some rather cheap platforming sections. While these are fairly unobtrusive, they can feel a bit contrived, with Cap's interaction limited to portions of scenery highlighted by the character's tactical vision. This means that unless you stick to the game's predefined path, you're unable to navigate anywhere else. It's odd that the so-called "Super Soldier" can leap across beams thirty feet in the air, but never over a table or bar-stool.
Outside of the game's main campaign, Super Soldier introduces a selection of challenge stages. The majority of these focus on Captain America's combat abilities, as you face off against waves of foes trying to pummel them all as quickly as possible. The game does opt for a couple more unique stages though, with one incorporating an isometric camera as you attempt to recover eggs from a hedge-maze. Bizarre.
Captain America: Super Soldier's not going to be up for any game of the year awards come Christmas, but it's still an enjoyable foray into a universe that's thus far been under-represented in video games. While the game borrows many of its gameplay principles from better games, it does so with good intentions. The net result is an enjoyable third-person action game with a decent side-order of exploration.