Friday, August 5, 2011

Captain America: Super Soldier for XBox 360

Little video game review action today.

This morning I finished the story portion of Captain America: Super Soldier on the XBox. It took me a little over nine hours to complete, which, based on the reviews I'm reading, is really slow. They say about six. Whatever.

Superhero and movie-based games each have a poor, poor history, and when you combine them...Hoo Boy! To this day, I blame my Three Rings of Death experience on the fact I was playing the Iron Man game at the time. The flying controls, alone, in that game were enough to make you want to kill someone, and not a vido game avatar, either.

There have been exceptions. Batman: Arkham Asylum being the best of the lot, and, as I've written about, my pick for the best video game, ever. The sequel is set for release in October. Of course, that game had nothing to do with a movie. Still, the development team got all the elements in place, and well executed, to make you really FEEL like you are Batman.

I bring that up because Captain America: Super Soldier was clearly developed by a team that spent a lot of time looking at Arkham Asylum. A third-person action game with a super hero character in a confined (if sprawling) location. Instead of Arkham, Cap is exploring Castle Zemo, the family home of classic Cap villain Baron Zemo.

The pros are pretty extensive. The combat system is really responsive, and intuitive. Again, the clear inspiration is Arkham Asylum, but that system is spectacular, so why not? I only had problems with shield-slinging, when you do a "quick throw" the shield will occasionally fly off in the...well in not the direction you wanted to throw it. There's a "aimed throw" process that works pretty damn well.

The character models are pretty sharp, and there's two unlockable alternate skins for Cap, the "Ultimate Universe" (WWII) version:

And the "Classic" uniform:

Of course, the default uniform is the one seen in the Captain America: The First Avenger movie.

The villains/bosses and Hydra soldiers all look good, as well. The character animations and cutscenes are all exactly what I expected, solid, but not spectacular. I've read a number of reviews that docked points for the backgrounds not being very detailed. I'll admit that I didn't have my eyes popped out of my head by them, but neither did they diminish my enjoyment of the game.

The vocal performances, with Chris Evans and most of the cast reprising their roles from the film, were really decent. The cast seemed committed, and frankly I've seen too many of these games where the vocal work (if they can get the actual cast) comes off as exactly what it is, a contractual obligation. Evans gets to do more speechifying than in the actual movie, and, I think, it proves what a solid handle on Steve Rogers he has. The villain cast, sadly, is not the original actors. For the amount of actual time the Red Skull is in the game, you think they could've talked Hugo Weaving into doing it. Alas...

Arnim Zola movie/game-style
That does, however, bring up a...well, I wouldn't call it a complaint, but a disappointment. You never actually clash with Herr Skull. Oh, there's a whole passel of classic Captain America baddies you do get to smash in the jaw, but the Skull remains elusive. Baron Strucker, Madame Hydra and Iron Cross all appear.

The ultimate battle is with Arnim Zola, in a very nicely realized "movie version" of his robotic, "face in his torso" look, which was nice to see after Toby Jones remained human for the entirety of the film. Alas, Jones doesn't provide the voice for the game, either.

I was a bit surprised that I didn't ultimately square off with Baron Zemo, given the location, but the game, via hidden "Zemo diaries" (Think the "Chronicles of Arkham" from Arkham Aslyum), ultimately paints a noble and somewhat sympathetic portrait of the Baron.

Oh, and they bring The Sleeper into it, which make my inner fanboy happy.

There's extras, once you finish the story, some challenge levels, etc. Stuff I haven't really dug into at all yet. I think it'll have more replay value for me, being a Captain America fan, over a strict gamer, and I'm probably overlooking some faults for that reason, as well. Still, I had fun with this one, and I picked it up for significantly less than a full-price new game (thanks, Amazon!, so I'm happy.

The game is good, but not REALLY good. There's an undeniable thrill to tossing the shield and seeing it ricochet around and nail 5 guys, and it provides that thrill. At the end of the day it's an Arkham Asylum clone, and, no matter how well executed,  it does pale against the original. It is, in my humble opinion, in the top-tier of the superhero/movie/video game genre. It's certainly a hell of a lot more playable than Iron Man, which just frustrated me too much to even deal with.

So, there you go. Your mileage may vary.

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