Captain America: Super Soldier review: Rank and Files

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Captain America: Super Soldier review: Rank and Files
Like baseball and apple pie, the wholesome beatdown of Nazis has been adopted as a symbol of American pride. Captain America has long delivered such blows on the comic pages, shield clanging off the craniums of bad guys like a gong sounding an end to tyranny. As it turns out, blunt force trauma can be pretty darn patriotic.

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.
%Gallery-126118%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.

Also adding to the strategic side is a meter that builds up with successful fighting and allows different special attacks. These range from Crippling Blows -- cinematic attacks which are unique against each enemy type -- to strong-arming a soldier to forcefully borrow their armament. These moves are fun and can get you out of a jam, but their use is also the only thing that will restore Cap's health on higher difficulties. A wise balancing of the meter can be essential in getting through some heavily populated areas and boss fights.

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?

The massive amount of pickups and collectible items scattered throughout the world offer a more rewarding quest. Dossier files, briefcase and other pieces of intel are waiting to be stolen from the castle when the Captain isn't busy blowing pieces of it up. Sure, a lot of it is inexplicably strewn about roads and floors like confetti at a WikiLeaks party, but it all adds to a point total that opens combat upgrades. Additional treasures help fill in the backstory, provide short slideshows on enemies or grant bonuses when fighting certain types.

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.
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