Licensed games, as a general rule, aren't normally anything to write home about, but they've been especially cruel to Batman in the past. Then, in 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum came along and, against all odds, revolutionized the licensed game. Taking place in the developer's own version of the Batman universe, Arkham Asylum proved all it took to make players feel like they were Batman was a good combination of brutal combat and stealth, with a healthy respect for DC Comics lore thrown on for good measure. It was, without a doubt, the best Batman gaming experience there was. Until Batman: Arkham City came along.
The sequel is an improvement over its predecessor in just about every way.
Those who played Arkham Asylum should be familiar with the basic gameplay, divided between free-flow combat and stealth, or "predator", tactics, enabling Batman to take out throngs of thugs head-on and pick out armed enemies from the shadows with equal ease. Free-flow combat is mainly accomplished by alternating between an "attack" and "counter", combined with a direction, to move from on enemy to another, breaking necks and cashing checks (in for upgrades).
Predator tactics come into play when entering an area filled with armed foes. For the most part running into the line of fire leads to a quick death, but the game gives you enough freedom to feel like Batman, hiding in the shadows not out of fear, but in order to strike fear. A large variety of "takedowns" allows Batman to take advantage of elements in his environment such as ventilation shafts, gargoyles, and plywood barriers to pick off stragglers and watch their allies grow progressively more terrified.
The biggest improvement between games is the massive open-world that provides the setting for the game. Although some building can only be accessed as the story and your inventory allows, for the most part, Arkham City is your oyster from the moment you enter. Using a combination of gliding, diving, and grappling, you can battle random clusters of thugs for XP, follow up on various side missions as you discover them, or just admire the scenery. It's tempting to just spend hours gliding around the city, eavesdropping on crooks and occasionally swooping down to put the fear of God into them. Now this is what it's like to be Batman.
While there were Easter eggs referencing just about every character in the Batman universe in the previous game, here just about all of them appear. To provide a list is to spoil many of the surprises, but to name a few there's fan favorite The Joker, Harley Quinn with a new (and, in my opinion, improved) costume, and my all-time favorite Batman villain, the Penguin, here reinvented as a racketeer with the hint of a London accent and a cigar and broken glass bottle to replace the old cigarette holder and monocle, respectively. Chances are, between the main story line, the Easter eggs scattered throughout the city, and side missions, if you've got favorite Batman characters, they're in this game, and they're done justice.
The only way this game isn't for you is if you absolutely hate Batman, great gameplay, and stunning graphics.