My starting point for thinking about a Captain America video game was a bad one: That guy's pretty boring, right? He's a strong man who punches, kicks and uses a shield. How do you make a special game from that?
Captain America: Super Soldier has an architectural resemblance to the splendid 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum. Both games confined their hero to a relatively small bit of geography, Arkham Island for Batman and a World War II Hydra castle complex for Captain America. Both games feature a hero who must learn the corners of his place. Recalling an older great cited by Super Soldier's designer, they, like Metroid, require and reward backtracking to previously locked quarters.
Super Soldier's Captain America, like Arkham's Batman is a man of quick reflexes and mastery of one-vs-many combat. In the demo of Super Soldier I was shown, America's top fighting man could battle a crowd with a rhythmic succession of inputs from the player. Captain America's fighting moves are context-sensitive, pounding and contorting his Nazi-esque enemies in different ways depending on how they stand or fall. Captain America posesses a "focus meter" that is filled as the player plays well. The focus meter can be spent to execute super moves. The hero can be brutal with his fists.
The game is being made by Next Level, who didn't just make Spider-Man and Transformers games recently. They made the recent Wii Punch-Out. The lead designer of that game is lending some tips to the Super Soldier team on how to make the combat feel like it has a satisfying crunch.
Captain America has "tactical vision" in his new game, a still-in-development feature that the creators of the game say will both highlight what to do next and provide clues about the surroundings. For now, it looks like the Detective Vision mode in Arkham.
What Captain America has over Batman is that his patriotic shield may be better than a Batarang. It can be tossed as a boomeranging weapon, but it can also block gunfire.
Captain America's best ability in the game, as far as I could see, is his athleticism. Played well, Captain America is an acrobat, swinging and hopping from one ledge of Hydra castle to the next. The designers told me that Captain America won't easily die in the game. They want him to seem super, and guys like Captain America shouldn't easily stumble to their death. A badly-controlled Captain America, however, will gracelessly start and stop, stumbling across a succession of ledges and scaffolding bars, whereas a skilled player will be able to make him advance more swiftly and with more panache. That superior execution also builds focus, which is unleashed for the super moves.
Captain America Super Soldier is coming out in July which gives the game plenty of time for polish. Does it give the team enough time to establish Super Soldier's own identity? A me-too Arkham Asylum wouldn't be a bad thing. Captain America, in action, is clearly a better video game hero than his resume would suggest. A Captain America game that was exceptional, that married Arkham with an athleticism of a Prince of Persia and masterful level design of Metroid would be extraordinary. That appears to be a target. We'll see if Next Level can hit it with that shield.