Captain America: Super Soldier puts players in the red shoes of the titular hero and offers a chance to acrobatically smash an army of evil. And while this third-person adventure has a good share of thrills, there are flaws that keep the experience from living up to the Captain's exacting standards.
Next Level Games managed to construct an interesting atmosphere within the WWII-era castle and secret facilities of the power-hungry Baron Zemo. The movie-based design of Cap's uniform, variety of technologically enhanced enemies and the looming mechanical horror sleeping in the mountainside provide a slightly ridiculous but fun undercurrent of old-time radio dramas and sci-fi serials. Solid voice acting strengthens the mood, including film counterpart Chris Evans as the stalwart and straight-laced Captain himself. Some of the boss's German accents could be argued as being over-the-top, though even that fits the game's style swimmingly.
Combat is by far Super Soldier's strongest feature, offering a surprising number of options for a dude who brought a shield to a gunfight. Long range shield throws are an obvious go-to maneuver, and close-quarters combat can link combos from one enemy to another -- much like that in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Counters and defensive moves require proper timing and more attention be paid to enemy movements, making button-mashing far less effective. Friendly fire is also on, and timing a dodge just right so that sniper fire hits a soldier behind you is supremely satisfying.
As in any bureaucracy, though, not all of the Captain's duties are so exciting. Some sections are composed of poles, ledges and other obstacles to be navigated with timed button presses. It's amusing to watch Cap fly about the first few times, but these sections are too linear and begin to feel like filler later on.
A number of decoding machines also block the way, requiring the regular completion of puzzles that boil down to finding a letter or number that matches in two fields and joining them together. The setup isn't something you see every day, but is still weak and will have you begging for something new by the end. Oh, and every machine ever made can be sabotaged by pulling the same panel and touching the same two wires together. Who knew?
Wandering around a bit to pick up extra collectibles is worth it, but hunting everything down may feel more of a chore than it's worth. The world is open, to its credit, yet has a guiding linearity and flow that makes all the chapters feel like one big adventure. On the few times you're asked to backtrack, however, odds are pretty good you'll get lost. Having to switch back and forth between the clunky and complex map screen (sorry, there's no HUD) can only serve to compound your confusion.
Captain America: Super Soldier clearly could have used a bit more polish on its shield. Some of its one-note elements cry out for variety and it can't hold a torch to the senses of immersion and depth that make a game like Arkham Asylum stand out so brilliantly. But as far as movie-based games go there are plenty worse -- and just like a popcorn flick, there is enough fight and flash in the Captain that you may end up having fun in spite of yourself.
This review is based on the retail version of Captain America: Super Soldier for Xbox 360 provided by Sega.