The attention surrounding the Batman: Arkham series - brainchild of Rocksteady Studios - may have recently turned toward the team's final entry in the franchise, but the developers seeking to tell the origin story of the iconic superhero and his rogues gallery aren't done just yet. With several of Batman's most villainous opponents already introduced in Batman: Arkham Origins, the team at WB Games Montreal saved one of the best for last: now, players can finally see the first encounter between the Dark Knight and Mr. Freeze in the 'Cold, Cold Heart' DLC.
Set just days after Wayne survived an onslaught of assassins and hired guns in the events of Origins, 'Cold, Cold Heart' brings the violence to Wayne Manor itself, with the mysterious Mr. Freeze crashing a humanitarian gala populated by some of Gotham's upper crust. Although Bruce Wayne may not be the primary target of the attack, he can't resist a good mystery - especially if it means manhandling thugs en masse.
It's worth stating that the main criticism found in most reviews of Arkham Origins (including our own) was that WB Games had difficulty evolving or significantly refining Rocksteady's formula, simply offering more of it, with additional twists or extra features. That in itself was likely a sizable task, but it certainly meant the game would leave only those fans craving more content - not necessarily refreshing content - truly satisfied. Fortunately, 'Cold, Cold Heart' does give the developers a chance to get creative.
For starters, the surprise attack gives fans an opportunity to see that a suit and tie doesn't hinder Wayne's combat prowess. In addition, the chance to navigate through Wayne Manor, it's subterranean levels, and, yes, the Batcave, is always an intriguing prospect for any serious fan, brief as it may be. With this side of the hero left largely unexplored in the video game space (aside from the inspired opening of Arkham City), it feels as if the developers still left plenty on the table.
Players will be treated to the standard mix of stealth attacks and 'Predator Room' designs of the previous games, but the task of completing them using only Bruce Wayne's cunning - not gadgets or traversal abilities - is exploited to a minimum. It's a shame, since it feels like the team had the competence to bring some old school stealth gameplay into the formula through an under-powered Batman; but this DLC is meant to focus on Mr. Freeze, not Bruce Wayne's domestic life.
The story itself fits the tone and delivery that fans have come to expect; at least, the story delivered through pre-rendered cut-scenes. While these portions are the kind of well-directed and nostalgia-inducing storytelling that comic fans first came to admire from Rocksteady's treatment, the madly-flapping lips and rough designs of in-game exchanges will have players looking forward to a dose of next-gen in Arkham Knight.
With a story that is up to the task of introducing the chilling villain with enough sympathy to keep his core motivations clear, it's a good thing that WB Games Montreal felt compelled to add to the core gameplay. Those who played through Arkham City will recall the Freeze boss fight as one of the more compelling, requiring players to use environmental hazards and traps to bring the villain down, as opposed to a frontal assault. Fortunately, the design team has followed a similar concept with 'Cold, Cold Heart.'
Aside from the inevitable boss fight, the risks of dealing with sub-zero weaponry are more varied than they had to be. The freeze-ray-wielding enemies bring an element of evasion to larger battles, with players able to turn the weaponry against other unsuspecting thugs. Add in Batman's tactic of drawing goons to key areas before crushing them beneath falling ice, and the core gameplay is more of a departure (if not an evolution, exactly) than was expected.
Nothing grabs a spotlight like a brand new Batsuit, of course, and the Extreme Environment (XE) Suit doesn't disappoint. The hulking, weatherproof armor doesn't affect Batman's abilities or agility, but its thermal gloves and Batarangs counter Mr. Freeze's tactics so well, it's almost as if they were designed to tackle this very challenge... but who's to say?
Where previous Batsuits and unlockable skins were merely cosmetic, the XE Suit's arsenal both in and out of combat is a welcome change of pace. Even if the variations aren't reinventing the wheel in any way, it helps deliver on the assumption that 'Cold, Cold Heart' will bring a new twist, not merely another helping of the exact same gameplay found in the standalone campaign.
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It's difficult to tell what WB Games' top priority actually was for 'Cold, Cold Heart'; the story is serviceable and up to the standards of a set of side-missions, and the gameplay seems to dip its toes into more pools than it seems intent on exploring. Navigating the open world is as interesting or overlooked as ever (depending on individual players), but with a clear-cut story this time around, exploration is far from emphasized.
When side objectives include thawing out frozen GCPD officers or security guards - who offer nothing but scripted remarks - most players will come to realize that a greater attention to detail would have elevated much of the overall experience. Given just how much time has passed since the launch of Origins - and the fact that the developers left behind fixing bugs and glitches to focus on this DLC - WB Games put themselves in a tough spot from the start.
The 'Cold, Cold Heart' DLC is rewarding enough for restless fans, but with so much time and resources committed to the campaign, it's surprising there isn't more meat on the bone. It's a shame, since this standalone introduction to a famous villain is the kind of formula that could have worked for several others post-release, had that been WB's overall strategy. As it stands, it meets the expectations of most slimmed-down, story-driven DLC - for good and bad.
Batman: Arkham Origins and its 'Cold, Cold Heart' DLC is available now for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.