The Captain America that appears in Captain America: Super Soldier should really have been called Captain Collectibles. There are so many collectibles lying around in Super Soldier that the game has surely set some kind of new benchmark, but strangely this never really makes the game feel like a mindless grind. Although collectibles are nowadays used (way too frequently) to covertly prolong the life of a game, here they form a very significant part of the appeal. Hunting for trinkets on co-op (as you could do in something like Gears of War 2) can be a very entertaining diversion, but the process of doing the same thing in a single player campaign very rarely is; hence the mass of completist-friendly collectible guides that are now available on Youtube, for any and every game that has ever featured them.
The difference is that Super Soldier goes out of its way not to hide them from you. Not only are the collectibles – be they enemy schematics, Zola reels, Zemo diaries or ceramic eggs – located in plain sight more often than not, you can also find them via Super Soldier’s riff on Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode (called Tactical Vision) or simply via the map. So once you’ve dispatched everyone in a particular area, you can then mop up anything that you’ve missed in a matter of seconds. When some videogames tend to do this – ones that are traditionally somewhat lean in duration – it’s a rather insulting gesture that’s designed purely to create the illusion of added value. That isn’t the case here. There isn’t even a rigid number of collectibles; if you miss a couple, you can make them up later because there are actually spares.
If you want a broad overview of how Super Soldier plays, that’s easy; it plays like a stripped-down version of Batman: Arkham Asylum, with a few nods to the platforming sections of Uncharted 2. It was clearly created on a budget and under some tight time constraints, but at least the developers were aiming high, and the combat (whilst no match for the elegance of the revolutionary system seen in Arkham) is nevertheless weighty and satisfying, if a little imperfect when you’re facing off against more than ten enemies at once. The standard set of unlockable moves and manoeuvres is here too, but the meaty thwack of the melee combat means that you’ll probably play through most of the game without ever using Steve Rogers’ trusty shield as a projectile.
It’s also terribly sporting when it comes to the usage of gun turrets. Amusingly, the only times that you get to pilot a machine gun turret is after you’ve dispatched all of the goons who were surrounding it; but as soon as you jump into the driving seat, the game graciously sends a few walking bowling pins into the area just so that you can pop off a few rounds at them. That’s Super Soldier down to a tee. It isn’t concerned with offering up too much of a challenge – although there is the odd, mild difficulty spike, particularly towards the finale – but it does bend over backwards in order to ensure that you have as much fun as you possibly can with it.
One of the smartest decisions made about the control scheme is the complete lack of a rudimentary jump button. This is replaced by a combat roll (which is invaluable during combat on the Hard difficulty setting) although there are several context-sensitive situations where you’re able to use the command to vault over pieces of the environment. Not being able to jump really strengthens the game’s focus, and aside from a lengthy section that takes place inside a grubby prison – which is the bit that’s somewhat indebted to Uncharted 2 – platforming is kept to a strict minimum. You’ll never get lost, and you’ll never come across a collectible that requires you to jump around for half an hour before you work out how to reach it.
Captain America: Super Soldier is not too short, moderately sweet and definitely not without replay value. The only thing that’s fresh about it is the uncomplicated attitude towards collectibles, and this is one aspect that other developers will (hopefully) take a cue from. It’s rather like Captain America’s shield itself; very fast and very, very blunt. But it’s also considerably more enjoyable than expected, and if you’re counting the minutes until Arkham City arrives – aren’t we all? – then this is a notably solid little stop-gap. Do expect a surprisingly engaging adventure. Don’t expect fireworks, or big surprises.
Captain America: Super Soldier is out now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. A Nintendo 3DS version is currently due for release in February 2012.
Watch the Captain America: Super Soldier trailer here: