Without having seen the movie or anything beyond a trailer, I don’t know how closely CA:SS follows the story of the film. It’s likely a direct take from the movie; in the game, Captain America romps through Bavaria, battling hundreds of Hydra in an attempt to help the Allies turn the tide of the war. His primary goal is to help the invasion forces breech the defenses of Hydra’s fortress and to stop their mad scientists from developing Super Soldiers under Project Master Man. The mysterious Red Skull is the mostly-unseen force behind Hydra’s war machine, but Captain America will deal more directly with the likes of Madame Hydra, Dr. Arnim Zola, and Iron Cross. These boss characters are protected by a variety of Hydra henchmen, including grunts, Screamers, Scorchers, Snipers, and others.
CA:SS is primarily a third person action adventure game, with the meat of the game being action. Adventure elements include some very simple ‘puzzle’ scenes, but for the most part you are going to be bashing Hydra skull with your famous shield as well as your hands and feet. Fortunately, the combat is nicely tuned and it’s fun. Frankly, the hand to hand combat, which makes up the vast majority of the combat you engage in, reminded me a lot of Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum. Captain America uses a variety of punches, elbow strikes, spin kicks, roundhouse kicks, blocks, and counters to get the best of his enemies. The blocking system is cool — an orange indicator pops up on screen in the direction the attack is coming from (be it a stun baton or a bullet from a sniper), and as long as you press LB in time, the Cap will automatically perform a block. For ranged attacks, with proper timing, Captain A can deflect bullets right back at the shooter.
The smooth flow of melee combat is fun to play and a treat to watch. You often face five to ten Hydra at one time, and by simply pressing the left stick, LB, X, and A (to jump and dodge), and B (to finished a downed foe), it’s really easy to create a cool, fulfilling fight sequence. There are tons of these throughout the game and they really never get old.
Although you do not have direct control over Captain America’s specific combat actions, you do have the power to decide when to use some of his advanced skills. There are nine upgrades to unlock, although in reality there are just three, each with two more levels you unlock as you go. These include a shockwave attack, whereby Captain slams the ground with his shield and creates a shockwave that stuns nearby enemies. This turns out to not be as effective as it sounds, but it looks and sounds cool nonetheless. There is also a multi-hit shield throw that is great for getting a crowd of grunt-level Hydra knocked off their feet. Simply double tap RT when you are facing a group of enemy and the Cap lets his shield fly, hitting up to five enemies by the time you have unlocked the final upgrade. Lastly, there is a counter system; if you press B before getting struck, you can counter the move and attack back.
Those are the special moves, but Captain America can also perform Focus moves too. Above the health bar in the lower left corner, a four tiered blue meter exists that fills up as you defeat enemies. The first tier allows you to do a crippling blow, just by pressing RB+X. You never quite know what kind of action he will take, but it always looks really cool and it does a lot of damage to whatever enemy it is you’re hitting. I really liked how Next Level embellished this action by instantly switching the camera to a slow motion, cinematic view that shows a great amount of detail, including a fierce looking Captain America (eyes focused, mouth open). Attacks include jumping knees, powerful haymakers to the face, and several other blows that impress.
RB+Y requires a little more Focus and executing this allows Captain to either destroy the weapon an enemy is carrying or take control of it himself to shoot down foes. There is also a Super Soldier mode that you can get with a full Focus meter; this makes Captain temporarily invulnerable and increases his damage. I actually only used this mode once, as I found RB+X to be more fun and just as useful.
More Than Just Combat
In addition to all of the combat, CA:SS includes some scripted jumping sequences as well, not unlike something out of Prince of Persia. Usually these multi-hop jumps are casually paced, meaning you can do them at your leisure, but on two or three occasions Captain America must quickly escape an area before it collapses. Regardless, all that is required of you is pressing the left stick and A in the right direction. Usually the right direction is apparent, either it’s a ledge that is above you or a horizontal pole that is in front of you that he can jump to and swing on for momentum. Sometimes though, you may need to use the Tactical Vision, which you can do at anytime by pressing Up on the d-pad. This temporary enhanced vision mode outlines areas where the Captain can reach, and it also highlights objects of interest.
As far as puzzles or adventure elements go, well, there is very little of that ultimately. Or perhaps I should say there are two mechanics that are used repeatedly. These are decrypting door codes and hotwiring machines. In both cases, it’s up to the player to use both the left and right analog sticks with some moderate precision to make either two numbers match or hold a position until a hotwire is complete. I thought both of these mechanics worked well enough, but they’re overused — you’ll do both of those actions at least a dozen times in the six hour campaign, which just felt like too much. Still, it adds to the overall experience and it’s better than a simpler “Press X to use” interface.
I wouldn’t have figured CA:SS to be the type of game that is loaded with collectibles and unlockables, but it sure is. There are numerous “x/y” collectibles and tasks to do, and literally hundreds of items to pick up. Most of these items are intelligence items like briefcases, film reels, dossiers, and maps, all of which are worth some amount of points that go towards an overall intelligence score. Interestingly, the intelligence you gather goes towards unlocking useful modifiers against the different types of enemies. For example, with enough intelligence gathering, you can unlock the ability to stun a Scorcher for a longer period of time, and other similar gameplay bonuses. It makes picking up all the intelligence items you see worthwhile, although I think Next Level might have went a little overboard with the amount of said items there are. Sometimes a room will have three items to pick up and other times it feels like items, especially the ceramic eggs, are just littered all over the place.
Still, I couldn’t help but go to each and every one and press B to add them to my collection. Plus, many of the objects are hidden, so it optionally extends the game by allowing players to decide if they want to use tactical vision to search around. Additionally, it’s easy to back track and revisit areas thanks to the Sewers, a large area that is an intersection point for all of the main parts of the Hydra compound. After you complete the story, you can Continue the game from the last level and go back, via the Sewers, to previously explored areas to mess around.
Through combat, platforming with skillful timing, and by collecting as many items as possible, you can unlock about a dozen Challenges that are accessible from the Main Menu. These will test your “combat,” gymnastic,” and “collectible” skills as you are put to the test against the clock. Plus, collecting items unlocks diary entries, artwork, and videos.
As far as presentation goes, nothing about CA:SS blew me away, but it was technically sound and overall satisfying. Granted, I wasn’t expecting a lot from a $40 movie tie-in game, but Next Level did a pretty good job here. The best part of the whole visual/aural package are the martial arts animations of Captain America. On the other hand, I was disappointed in the sheer volume of crates, boxes, and barrels (and yes, there are dozens and dozens of explosive barrels just waiting to be hit by the shield). Additionally, you can blow up a bunch of barrels and even the trucks they are next to, leave the area by backtracking for just twenty seconds or so, and come back to see it all perfectly back together. I thought that that was a bad continuity break, but since the pacing is generally linear, it’s not really a problem unless you go looking for it. Secondly, a minor gripe, I think it would have been a better choice to make the HUD (which is just the Focus and health meters) disappear unless you are specifically in combat. Having those meters up the whole time just takes away from the visual appeal a bit.
With that, let’s get to the summary…