And I thought that Arkham Asylum was the best game ever made.
This time, its sequel hits stores with tons of hype and anticipation. But even with the spotlight shining brightly, Batman: Arkham City proves to be another fantastic Dark Knight adventure.
Arkham Asylum saw Batman thwart the Joker and Harley Quinn after they take over the legendary loony bin. For the second game, Batman enters the maximum security metropolis Arkham City -- a prison for Gotham City's most notorious criminals -- to restore order and halt devious plans set by the Joker and scientist Hugo Strange.
Rocksteady has upped the ante in Arkham City in several ways. The environment players explore is much bigger, and more open. Players can follow the primary story arc, but there are several side missions ranging from rescuing political prisoners to solving murders, such as the case of the Identity Thief.
There are far more villains as well. Along with The Joker and Hugo Strange, famous bad guys such as The Riddler, The Penguin, Solomon Grundy, Catwoman and Mr. Freeze all make appearances.
Writer Paul Dini, the scribe behind Batman: The Animated Series, handles the plot exceptionally. The story maintains cohesion and focus while giving each villain the appropriate attention.
There's Penguin fighting to claim a piece of Arkham City turf, Dr. Freeze getting sucked into the chaos as he continues his never-ending quest to save his wife, and The Riddler, who continues to torment Batman with puzzles in an exceptional side mission.
Arkham City features many of the same mechanics and controls of its predecessor. For those unfamiliar with the formula, it captures each facet of Batman's character: a detective, a fighter and a gadget lover. During some sequences, Batman will enter Detective Mode to investigate crime scenes or assess combat situations.
Combat consists of stealthier scenarios where Batman must hide in the shadows from armed gunmen and quietly take them out, or larger brawls where Batman wipes out groups of enemies using FreeFlow combat. He also has an impressive assortment of gadgets, such as the BatClaw, Batarangs, explosive gel and more.
Arkham City adds a few new tools to Batman's utility belt, such as freeze grenades that incapacitate enemies, disruptors that jam guns and smoke pellets in case Batman needs to make a quick escape.
The open brawls are much bigger this time around, with Batman going up against 20-30 enemies at once, some of whom may carry weapons such as shields or Tasers. Each battle and completed mission nets experience points that earn gadget or armor upgrades and new combat options.
Since players now explore a larger city, the experience is more open, so it's very easy to zip or glide across the metropolis and find more thugs to beat down or hidden Riddler trophies to acquire.
However, with all the new villains, gadgets, enemies and the bigger world, Arkham City accomplishes exactly what Arkham City so deftly pulled off: making Batman feel like the baddest superhero ever.
A perfect example during my play-through takes place at the Gotham City Police Department, where Batman goes to find Mr. Freeze. About five armed gunmen are guarding the place, as Batman watches from atop a gargoyle. After studying their movement patterns with Detective Mode, I quietly drop down and silently take down one enemy and slip into a vent.
I find some dilapidated walls and spray them with explosive gel and jump inside another vent through a floor grate. One gunman walking by one of the walls goes down following an explosion, then I leap out of the vent to put down the third. Showing their nerves, the final two gunmen split up and frantically search for me, allowing me to quickly take them down with glide kicks.
Players have so much creativity they can use to take out enemies from the shadows, and it gives them an incredible sense of power.
The simpler FreeFlow combat does this, too. One button handles attacks and another executes counters. In many ways, players work less as a crimefighter and more as a choreographer, thinking two to three steps ahead as they string together strike after strike. This becomes especially important when dealing with special foes sporting armor or carrying shields.
Like the first game, there were moments where I relied on Detective Mode a lot during combat. However, because players spend a lot of time just exploring the city, it doesn't feel like players will be stuck using that alternate view the entire time.
Between the main story and all the side missions, there's roughly 25 hours of gameplay available. The arcade-based Challenge Rooms return, where players gain points by pulling off attack combos or clear a room of gunmen in the shortest time possible. The Riddler factors heavily here as well in an additional campaign-style mode where players must complete a trio of challenges.
Players can also don the costume of Catwoman for a series of missions in the main play-through and the Challenge Rooms. Although she has a limited set of gadgets, she makes up for it with speed and agility, crawling on top of ceilings to get the drop on unsuspecting foes.
There are more gadgets, villains, enemies and challenges for players to enjoy, but it's Rocksteady Games' unwavering faithfulness to Batman and his portrayal that makes Arkham City one of this year's best games.