Grand Theft, the American Way
'Licensed' is easily the dirtiest word in gaming. The mere mention of it brings about visions of stunted development, simplistic gameplay and derivative storytelling, a stigma that has unfortunately been very well earned. They don't all manage to kill an entire console generation, but even at their best, movie tie-ins tend to play more like CliffsNotes than actual games. Occasionally someone with ambition will attempt to overcome the crippling deadlines and limited resources to make something great, but only rarely do they succeed. The most unfortunate part of a game like Captain America: Super Soldier is that while the passion was clearly there to make a worthwhile game, the time and resources simply were not. Still, Next Level Games should be commended for releasing an admirable, if not always successful, attempt at something that could rise above the label of 'movie tie-in.'
Of course, any success they may have found should probably be credited to their ability to commit wholesale theft. Super Soldier's combat system is less 'in homage to' and more 'completely lifted from' Batman: Arkham Asylum. It isn't entirely the same, but that has more to do with fumbled implementation rather than any intentional differences. Batman, for instance, required a sense of rhythm and precise button presses to deliver visceral, bone-breaking combos. Wildly mashing away delivers the exact same experience in Captain America. It may not feel as cohesive, but there's something to be said for the sense of satisfaction felt by repeatedly watching Captain America break a Nazi's jaw in slow motion. As awkward as it may sound, Next Level likely won't be faulted for stealing simply because they at least manage to do it competently. Combat is easily the main attraction, and the addition of some light platforming and varied objectives keep the experience feeling fresh enough to keep moving forward to the next fight.
Intentional or not, a small bit of credit may be in line for Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay as well. In creating Riddick, developer's Starbreeze were afforded the luxury of starting development not shackled directly to a film. Rather than covering the same ground a movie had already gone over, they instead opted to expand the fiction and cover another chapter of Riddick's story, leading to a far more interesting experience. Next Level Games wisely chose to try the same with Super Soldier. They just opted to tell the stupidest chapter of Captain America's history. If the game has any real stumbling block, it would be the story. Sure, Hydra is still involved and there's at least some level of novelty in getting to experience uncharted territory in Captain America's battle against the Red Skull, but then giant robots are introduced and the entire thing goes off the rails. Chris Evans doesn't help, delivering a performance that succeeds only in making him sound phenomenally bored by the proceedings. Rather than feeling like a logical expansion of Captain America's history, by the end the entire experience just feels weird and unnecessary.
In fact, 'unnecessary' may be the easiest way to describe the game itself. Given more time, and maybe better writing, Next Level clearly could have delivered something incredible. Instead, the game only comes off as a surprise simply by virtue of not being another terrible licensed game. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but there are mountains of more interesting and less derivative games out there to be played.