Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Batman Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart DLC Review

Is the final DLC for Batman: Arkham Origins a frozen delight or another Schwarzenegger?

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Warner Bros. Games Montreal certainly stepped up to the plate with this final DLC for their take on Rocksteady's Arkham franchise.  And whom better to dive into the 'Origins' of than Mr. Freeze, a Batman rogue who rose to fame after his appearance in the iconic animated series in the early 90s.
In fact, it's hard not to see the developers' love for 'BTAS' throughout this story DLC - the plot is loosely based on fan favourite episode 'Heart of Ice', in which The Dark Knight must rescue humanitarian Ferris Boyle from a chilly demise at the hands of one giant ice robot, but all is not as it seems. Even the opening title screen beautifully mimics the original series' title card, and there are multiple references through dialogue that are subtle nods to the infamous episode. Needless to say, knowledgeable Bat fans will definitely appreciate these Easter eggs.
The story itself is essentially a retelling of said episode, but has more twists and turns for gameplay value. We open with a fantastic sequence in Wayne Manor, where you fight your way through thugs that have invaded the mansion before travelling through a secret passage to don your cape and cowl. From then on it's a race to find Mr. Boyle before Freeze quite literally breaks the ice, and you'll bump into a few familiar faces along the way, including a hilarious cameo from Nolan North as the Penguin, who was sadly underutilised in the main campaign. Maurice LaMarche reprises his role from Arkham City as Freeze, and his voice work shines through as the highlight of the DLC. With such well written dialogue paying homage to the original animated classic, it's bizarre to be both intimidated by and sympathetic towards a character in such a way. Overall the story is a little underwhelming if you know the basics of Freeze's origins, especially considering how emotionally driven it's source material was, but has a few touching moments here and there to keep you interested.
 Gameplay has also evolved thanks to the addition of the new XE suit; an Iron Man-esque fashion statement that allows you to kick criminal ass whilst in subzero temperatures, and use your Thermal Gloves to free frozen civilians, or just allow for interesting new takedowns. Whilst the suit has a great design, with its bulky shoulder pads and mouth-less cowl, the only new feature it gives us is a copy and paste of the Shock Gauntlets from the main game. Whilst this is only a slight disappointment, it's a shame to also see this new suit isn't available to use in the external challenge maps, nor are any of the new locations available as said maps outside of this DLC. It's a flaw that Arkham City's 'Harley Quinn's Revenge' also had, and one that will hopefully be fixed third time around for the upcoming Arkham Knight.
Unfortunately this isn't the only deja vu you'll notice in this DLC. In the free roam sections of the game (notably reduced down to just the South District of Gotham, giving you a much smaller environment to play with), you'll have the chance to take out some Anarky thugs in order to earn yourself some upgrades. Whilst this could have been an interesting side quest to tie in with the main narrative, it's evident some of these sections were taken directly from gameplay shown at Origin's E3 preview last year - which didn't make the final cut of the main game. Interesting really, when you think about how developers Warner Bros. Games Montreal stated they wouldn't be releasing any more patches for the infamously buggy Arkham Origins to focus on this DLC, yet they merely added unused elements into the latter. Sheer laziness, or severe pressure from Warner Bros? That's an answer to decide for yourself. Regardless, the Anarky missions are few in number and are basic combat encounters that are brain-numbingly simple to beat.
What is a challenge however is the several Silent Predator encounters you'll face. Multiple enemies, a whole lot of guns, hostages to boot - you'll need to think your way through these ones. The boss fight is, again, suspiciously similar to Arkham City's Mr. Freeze showdown, but incorporates these stealth elements to the point where you really have to be on your toes to avoid getting spotted. Combat remains the same, and offer less of a challenge if you're an experienced Arkham gamer. However the introduction of enemies with cryogenic equipment is a nice little addition that is a neat aesthetic touch, but can become tedious to avoid.
 Another disappointment is the laggy graphics. There is a distinct difference between the CGI cutscenes and the ones rendered in-game, and the lip sync is frankly embarrassing. It's a shame really, as many of said computer rendered cinematics are stunning to look at, and a lot of the new locations such as Wayne Manor and Nora's containment unit are great setpieces to admire. You'll find yourself sitting through many black loading screens in order to transition into a dialogue driven encounter, and then grimace your way through dodgy lip movements. It's a problem I certainly never noticed in the main game itself, so it's a pity to see it show up here when several elements of this DLC seem lazily strung together as is.
At its core, A Cold, Cold Heart is a neat little extra to add to the Arkhamverse lore, but fails to add any original gameplay aspects that'll make you get your money's worth. Thankfully, its clear love for Batman: The Animated Series saves this DLC from freezing solid in the ice cold blizzard of unoriginality, and is sure to warm true Bat fans' hearts.
Score: 5/10

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