Captain America is one of those superheroes who frequently gets called out by disaffected postmodern irony fetishists for being “boring” simply because one of the core elements of his character is that he happens to be morally upstanding and believes in the inherent goodness of humanity. I frequently counter that virtually no character is fundamentally boring; what really matters is the writer and what they choose to do with them. And while Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Official Game (whew!) sports a script partially penned by prolific comic writer Christos Gage, fault for the game’s failings cannot be laid at his feet. In a mobile game such as this, Gage’s role in producing a quality product is essentially nonexistent.
At first glance, Captain America: The Winter Soldier resembles the cel-shaded, comic-based action brawlers that proliferated across home consoles back in the 2000s, like the X-Men Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. In fact, speaking just in terms of visuals Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually something of a treat to look at. Unfortunately, the beauty here is only superficial.
Under the hood we’re presented with a much uglier face. The interface is mapped around the bottom/lower right sides of the screen, with gameplay taking place on a somewhat awkward vertical orientation that makes for constrained level design and a frequently glitchy camera. And while the controls themselves are more or less fine, the biggest issue comes when actually attempting to play the game. On a phone, the buttons are very closely spaced and my thumb frequently slid too far off the virtual d-pad, necessitating periodic hand repositioning. Sometimes I would outright shift to tapping buttons with my right index finger to gain some precision while awkwardly attempting to hold the phone and work the pad with just my left hand. Captain America: The Winter Soldier can also be played using just taps and swipes, avoiding the controls altogether, but that only serves to make the game more frustrating. Meanwhile, playing on the iPad alleviates some of the control awkwardness, but at the expense of my hands cramping after only a couple of minutes of play.
But it’s honestly hard to take more than short bursts of mindlessly button-mashing my way through repetitive, uninspired missions anyway, so perhaps I should be thankful for the pain. Then there are the requisite bolted-on PVP modes that consist of nothing more than picking a squad of Cap’s faceless supporting goons and pitching them at some random stranger. There’s no real strategy to speak of, save for picking the strongest soldiers one has. Just press a button, wait three or four joyless seconds, and the game will inform players if they won or not. Yay?
Strip away the numbing grind and half-baked additional modes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and what remains is undeniably pretty, but ultimately devoid of substance or enjoyment. Save that three bucks and put it toward a matinee showing of the movie. Trust me. It’s money much better spent.