When you think of the supplies a soldier might need in a war, a gun would probably be the first thing that pops into your head. But if you're already infused with super serum, such a pedestrian trinket serves little purpose. In Captain America: Super Soldier, you rush headlong into battle carrying only your handy shield, though that's more than enough to get the job done. Of course, your versatile armament is no ordinary shield. Like an indestructible boomerang, it returns to your hands after it smashes someone in the face from 20 yards away, and those pesky bullets that vanilla commandos attempt to kill you with are effortlessly deflected by it. And it's in this fast-paced combat that Super Soldier thrives. Unfortunately, the other aspects are not nearly as well defined. Bland storytelling, drab visual design, and a dearth of thrilling moments extinguish the magic of your heroic forays. But Captain America: Super Soldier manages to rise above its problems to deliver an enjoyable though thoroughly predictable adventure.
No one believes a mythical creature can exist until it punches him in the mouth. Captain America is in the habit of making his existence known right before he smashes your nose in, and Red Skull has grown tired of his antics. Not even an evil mastermind can hope to defeat a chemically enhanced warrior alone, so Red Skull plans on creating his own race of super soldiers in his secluded mountain fortress. What seems like a neat plot quickly unravels because of the flat way these events are explained. The characters seem utterly bored by the proceedings and deliver stale lines in a way that's bereft of any passion. This yawn-inducing setup carries over to the unflattering visual design, which paints the world in bleak shades of browns and grays that drain almost all of the unfettered excitement out of war.
Thankfully, once you get past the dismal aesthetics, things become a lot more interesting. Combat bears more than a passing resemblance to that in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and though technical inconsistencies prevent Captain America from reaching the same lofty heights, it's eminently satisfying to bash toughs in the head with your patriotic fists. Agility is your strongest ally. Enemies flash before they attack, and if your reflexes are sharp, you can dive out of the way or let loose a devastating counterattack. Captain America is as lithe as a Romanian gymnast, and there's intrinsic appeal in just leaping around the battlefield. You can smoothly jump around and even on your many attackers, and harnessing that mesmerizing speed makes dispatching foes in one long combo a thrilling endeavor.
Your feet and fists both make quick work of the baddies that surround you, but it's the dynamic shield that brings much-needed diversity into the mix. Long-range attackers have no qualms peppering you with bullets while their melee-focused comrades close in around you, though their puny assassination attempts are laughable when you're holding your trusty shield. Easy-to-grasp visual cues clue you in on an imminent strike, and tapping block right before it pierces your flesh sends wayward bullets careening right back to the dastardly sniper. When combat is running smoothly, it's an exciting endeavor that keeps you glued to the screen. But technical problems hamper this carefree action. A stuttering frame rate is the most glaring issue, causing the most chaotic moments to move in sluggish fits. Also, your counter button may not register at inopportune moments, and unexpected quick-time events are easy to fail when you're mashing away on the attack button.
Outside of combat, there are paint-by-numbers platforming sections, which convey that you are, in fact, a super hero, though the fun Captain America must be having is far from contagious. These jumping challenges pay homage to the Uncharted series, replacing the skill of successful leaping with gravity-defying spectacle. You can only jump at specified points, and every subsequent leap ensures you grab directly onto the next hold without any fear of falling. Granted, the high flying does look really good. Cap swings from poles, runs along walls, and shimmies up ledges without a care in the world. But it would have been a lot more empowering if you had more control over these actions.
The final pillar holding this adventure aloft is the exploration. Levels comprise interconnected corridors that form one giant whole. It's not quite an open world because you need to continue on a preset path most of the time, but there are opportunities to backtrack. Although the freedom of being able to explore is satisfying, it's too easy to get lost. You can call up a map at any time, but it's poorly detailed, which means you often have to rely on guesswork to get to your next objective. Along the way, there are plenty of collectibles to sniff out. Ceramic eggs and dossier folders are sprinkled liberally across the grounds, and though it doesn't make much sense that important information would be left behind a bushel of explosive barrels, it is fun to search every inch to nab them all. Plus, you gain experience points with each secured treasure, which unlocks more attacks in your repertoire. There are also propaganda films (boring), diary entries (baffling), and schematic blueprints (helpful), so there's plenty of reason to traipse over every bit of ground to see what secrets lay hidden there.
The individual elements in Super Soldier aren't that impressive. Punishment-free platforming, a dull story, and homogenized visuals make you feel like a super zero, and the tame boss fights fail to inject much excitement into your adventure. But combat is the focus in the Captain's latest game, and that's where its strength lies. Diving gracefully around the battlefield is smooth and satisfying, and there's a sadistic joy in finishing off foes with a powered-up strike to the noggin. There's little in Super Soldier you haven't seen before, but the action manages to stay fun throughout the eight-hour adventure. And there are a few challenge rooms (with an emphasis on combat) to take part in when you wrap up the tale. Predictability isn't always a bad thing. Captain America: Super Soldier shakes free of its ho-hum trappings to deliver an action-packed adventure that manages to consistently entertain.