If recent trailers have got you excited for Steve Rogers's big-screen outing, Captain America: Super Soldier won't exactly fill the void until the film's release. Like its protagonist, the game has noble intentions, attempting to reproduce Arkham Asylum's winning yet elusive formula by restricting the campaign to a single sprawling location and equipping you with a rich combat system. But ultimately it's not enough to save Cap from movie-tie-in mediocrity.
The action takes place within the film universe, using both the voice and likeness of Chris Evans. But there's little overlap with the film in terms of content. You never guide a feeble Steve Rogers through basic training. Nor ride a motorcycle through the mossy terrain of the Black Forest. There are no submarines; no experimental aeroplanes. And Cap's arch-nemesis the Red Skull has little more than a cameo. So if you're expecting to re-live scenes from the upcoming movie, you'll be disappointed.
Instead, the story unfolds exclusively within a castle high in the Bavarian mountains. It's a labyrinthine complex with multiple wings and levels, and is home to crackpot scientist Armin Zola's workshops of filthy creation. Throughout the campaign, you'll destroy countless antennas, sentry guns and tanks. You'll also rescue various members of the Howling Commandos, but the role of secondary characters is minimal (you only ever hear the voice of Peggy Carter, for instance).
Occasionally, you'll open a door that leads back to a previous area, but you'll rarely have to backtrack. Although you feel as if the game wants you to comb the castle meticulously, even providing a sewer system to aid rapid navigation. But the overall lack of detail, dull textures, and lack of interactivity makes the kind of exploration expected unthinkably tedious.
While the environments appear drab, Captain America and his trustworthy vibranium shield look detailed in comparison. The shield has a pleasing metallic sheen and is battle-scuffed and -scorched. But the gleam is gone the moment you launch it, when it transforms into a smudge horribly streaking across the screen.
The game (which runs to a stingy six hours at best) is sparsely populated by instantly-forgettable enemies. And even though levelling the topography of a Nazi's face should be one of the most satisfying things imaginable, the game does its best to deprive you of this vicarious pleasure. The game has been overly sanitised, with all traces of Nazi iconography bleached out. You'll be taking down Hydra's goons, instead. Of course it would have been extremely bad taste to recreate some of the Nazi's medical atrocities in Zola's subterranean labs – yet removing all ties to the S.S. makes Hydra's thugs innocuous and inconsequential, which considering their repellent ideology is pretty inexcusable. Jackbooted Nazis wielding experimental technology shouldn't make for such insipid adversaries. The game eventually passes them over for robots of ever-increasing size.
The game is punctuated by some uneventful boss fights, in which you'll take on some of Captain America's recurrent antagonists, from Madame Hydra (Viper) to Iron Cross. But just don't expect a titanic showdown with the Red Skull. Each boss encounter is a slog to get through, and they lack defining moments.
Gameplay is an uneven mixture of combat and platforming. The latter is disappointing and clunky. When performing acrobatic sequences, you'll feel more like a military grunt than a super soldier – with a barrage of onscreen prompts barking at you. Captain America shouldn't always be taking orders.
Exploration is further curtailed by Cap's inability to interact with his environment freely; he can only ever move along a narrowly-defined route. If you ever get stumped, Cap's 'tactical vision' mode will highlight this predestined path. But the illusion of controlling the manifestation of human potential is undermined slightly by his inability to hurdle a bench. Or a table. Or do anything that isn't highlighted by a swirling orange halo.
Combat, on the other hand, is solid and one of the game's few redeemable features. It's not brilliant but thankfully has enough variety to relieve the tedium of taking out faceless foes. You'll soon be able to take down multiple enemies in spectacular fashion without having to memorise a litany of combos. It's all about timing your punches and your parries. But Cap's shield is a big part of the combat, too: from targeting Hydra goons (mark and execute-style); reflecting bullets and ray guns; and barrelling through enemies like skittles. Perform enough combos, and you'll be able to unleash a slow-motion finisher, splintering femurs and scattering teeth.
Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of Captain America: Super Soldier, though, is the way in which the environment is saturated with collectibles, of which there are two types. The first kind consists of top-secret Hydra files, film reels, schematics, and dossiers. And you won't have to search long to find them – they're indiscreetly plonked behind explosive canisters or in the middle of open spaces (you know, the places where you'd usually keep confidential material). With every item you collect, you'll amass Intel points, eventually unlocking new abilities.
But throw in the additional collectibles – of which there are many – and the environment quickly becomes cluttered. The range of things to collect is beyond absurd.
In throwaway dialogue Steve Rogers proudly reminds us of his impeccable American credentials. He's an individual yet equal to his peers, with an unwavering belief in freedom and democracy. So it's more than a tad perverse that the game rewards you for indulging in two of the Nazi's favourite pastimes: plundering and the destruction of fine art.
Captain Kleptomania swipes everything from ornate beer steins to pointy Prussian helmets, and most bizarrely 50 ceramic eggs and a complementary rooster. Even in the heat of battle, you'll still find plenty of time to pocket a few fabergé ova. Yes, Cap might be salvaging them for posterity, a sort of one-man preservation mission. But why then is the destruction of art so blithely encouraged? The game not only rewards you for pilfering religious icons but for the smashing of statues, too.
Truth and freedom are the principles upon which Captain America stands. Not cultural philistinism. It's bizarre, misjudged and deeply out of character. Gameplay should support characterisation, not undermine it.