Release Date: April 22, 2014Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros InteractiveGenre: Batman (yes, it’s a genre)
This year has been the year of the Batman origin story. Whether it’s the brilliant Zero Year comic book arc or Arkham Origins, (which isn’t technically an origin story at all, but it does setup the foundation for later events in the Arkham series), we’ve received a very nice helping of early Batman this year. Although Origins is my least favorite entry in the series, there’s no denying that fans love seeing Batman in his early days. They like to see a greener, less refined, more violent Bat haunt the Gotham night. There’s something special about being the monster in the shadows.
As popular as Batman origin stories have become (Batman: Year One is king), so have the origins of his most infamous villains. Classics such as The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and Knightfall have been cemented in our memories as three of the best Batman stories of all-time, which is all the more impressive since villains like The Joker, Two-Face, and Bane need no introduction. As soon as they enter the scene, we love them. The best part about reading a Batman comic is the almost-certainty that the NEXT supervillain will surely crush our hero, which makes it all the more satisfying when Bats finds a way to defeat his enemy.
So when Mr. Freeze makes his Gotham “debut” (not really — he appeared in Arkham City), we pretty much know what this guy is all about. His wife is frozen in a cryo-genic sleep, being kept alive by her love-mad scientist husband until he can find a cure to her rare disease, instantly lethal if she awakes. During a lab accident, Freeze accidentally unleashes chemicals on his body, which turn him into a blue monster who can only survive in freezing cold temperature. It also doesn’t help that people keep stealing his wife from the lab, or that he has to turn to a life of crime in order to fund his research.
There are two things you need to know about Freeze as a character: 1) he’ll always be a compelling villain — less a villain, and more a tragic lover (thanks to Batman: The Animated Series), and 2) it’s damn hard to create a boss fight around him.
Quick note on #1: Yes, this DLC is great at portraying Freeze in that compelling way. As Batman learns more about his newest foe, you begin to understand Freeze’s struggle. The first half of the story is perfect. The evidence stacks up and you begin to understand Freeze’s motives, and you start to feel sorry for the big walking can of ice. But the second half is so rushed that you learn all of the important parts of Freeze’s origin story through one of those long-winded detective sequences. Rewinding and fastforwarding the scene where Dr. Fries is turned into a villain is a lot less gratifying than seeing the scene play out in some other way. There’s so much story squeezed into a couple of minutes that I feel this DLC could have been expanded into a really good full-length game.
There’s a bigger discussion to be had about #2, but first I’ll give you what you want: for the most part, “Cold, Cold Heart” is fantastic. From adventuring through a burning Wayne Manor to taking out thugs with ice guns, this DLC is a lot of fun. I actually enjoyed it a lot more than the main campaign. While the story of Arkham Origins is super bloated with villains, the DLC feels like a really nice self-contained short story that makes enough reference to the main plot to keep it in continuity with the larger narrative. It’s a nice epilogue that ends Arkham Origins on a high note, as we prepare for Arkham Knight. Oh, and Mr. Freeze really fits in with the winter theme that Origins was going for. Makes me wonder if Mr. Freeze shouldn’t have been the main villain in Arkham Origins…
Which brings me to why he probably wasn’t. How do you deliver an awesome final boss battle against Mr. Freeze? You can’t get in his face because he’ll swat you out of the way or freeze you to death. Sneaking up on Freeze (in this specific fight) is useless since he has a kind of ice shield that keeps you from getting to close behind him. All your left with is making things fall on him.
If anyone remembers Batman Vengeance, you have a boss fight with Mr. Freeze in which you have to drop cryo-tubes on top of him in order to defeat him. You do it over and over and over until his health bar is at zero. The boss battle in “Cold, Cold Heart” is almost identical, save for the countless thugs that are standing between you and Freeze — not that they’re much of a challenge once you’ve really got a rhythm going.
The final boss battle feels too ordinary, identical to the set pieces throughout the rest of the adventure: baddies crowd a room, you have to take them out one by one, using your gadgets to outsmart them. Of course, once you get your thermal XE suit and batarangs, there really isn’t much need for anything else to combat the the ice.
The mediocre second half of the DLC leads to an all-too-familiar and unsatisfying end. We’ve saved Gotham once again, but we’ve missed out on getting the compelling story we deserve from such a well-developed character as Mr. Freeze. I’ll make due, though. That first half is awesome.