You don't have to be a fan of Batman to enjoy one of the best action video games ever made…

User Rating: 9 | Batman: Arkham City PS3

It is late August of 2009 and Rocksteady Studios have just released their second game; Batman: Arkham Asylum receives universal critical acclaim and, most importantly, I buy the game and I absolutely love it. Two years pass, it's October of 2011 - a sequel arrives - Batman: Arkham City hits the shelves. Questions regarding the new game's quality arise: does it improve upon its already stellar formula shown in the predecessor? Is it the wonder everyone has been waiting for? If you want to find out the answers, then go on, just keep reading…

Batman: AC is set 18 months after the events of the previous game. Following the chaos caused by the Joker's twisted plans at the asylum, warden Quincy Sharp manipulates the current state of affairs and (after pursuing a dark and corrupted path) becomes the mayor of Gotham City. After his great success, he proceeds to close down both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary, whilst buying out a large fraction of Gotham's poorest districts. In a very fascist manner, everyone who opposes Sharp's authoritarian rule (and/or has a criminal record) is thrown into this slum - which is now surrounded by an impenetrable wall and under 24/7 surveillance. This outdoor prison is called Arkham City.

Criminals are allowed to roam free in this mess and prey on those who were unfairly locked up, but any attempts to escape are met with lethal force from "TYGER Security" troops. Furthermore, many of the prisoners are taken away by guards and presumably experimented on, since Hugo Strange - a depraved psychiatrist - is given full control over the whole facility. Everything seems to be going perfect for the mayor, but what Sharp doesn't realize is that he himself is just a pawn in a much larger plot. Bruce Wayne is abducted for speaking out against Mayor Sharp and thrown into Arkham City along with a group of other political prisoners. It doesn't take long for him to break free, don his Batsuit, recover his gadgets and start breaking faces to find out what's really going on behind the closed doors of Arkham.

Playing as Batman, throughout the game you will encounter many famous DC villains that have been captured and moved to Arkham City. What's great about the switch from the asylum's more confined environments to the nocturnal streets of Gotham within Arkham City is that there is simply more to do. Many of the game's main baddies have garnered a strong following during their time in custody, which means that you (taking the role of Batman) are faced with defeating these dangerous crime lords and weakening their supporters. In addition to this, you may also hunt those of Batman's opponents who decide to wreak havoc individually - as well as engaging in other side missions that can be completed at most times regardless of how much progress you have made in the game's main story. These optional tasks (which include the return of Arkham Asylum's famous Riddler trophies, challenges and riddles… but this time there's 400 of them) are fantastic tools for replay value and lasting appeal that also offer some very nice unlockables.

Not only is there a lot more to do in Batman: Arkham City than there was in Batman: Arkham Asylum, everything is a lot more open now. While the plot of the game does create a sense of urgency, especially during the later parts of the story, you can still do all those side missions and grab all those collectibles at your own pace… plus, you have a segment of the whole city to roam free around; this is something that was not present in the last game.

The core gameplay of Arkham City remains the same as it was in Arkham Asylum, but all of it has been refined. The game utilizes Rocksteady's near-perfect "Freeflow" combat system, which revolves mainly around engaging groups of enemies in combat at the same time. Why is it near-perfect? Well, button mashing may get you through some fights on the easiest difficulty - but if you want to go for the coolest combos, earn the most experience points and lose no health at all - you'll have to focus more on timing, countering attacks, dodging strikes, stunning opponents, utilizing Batman's huge array of useful gadgets and generally think about what you're doing very carefully.

Although Batman is a real badass and can withstand more than a few punches or kicks, he is still human and gunfire will rip him to shreds in almost no time. This means that confronting adversaries armed with firearms requires much more tactical thinking, gadget/Batsuit/ability upgrades and overall stealth to succeed and in most cases even survive. Detective Mode (a type of vision that highlights enemies, Riddler trophies, destructible walls and other things) also makes a return here, and it's just as clever and useful as it was before, but less obscuring.

Combat, on the whole, has been improved from the previous game by allowing the player to counter even as many as three enemy attacks simultaneously. Additionally, many new animations have been added as well as more finishing moves and other combo bonuses. On top of all this variety, Freeflow works flawlessly and smoothly, everything looks strikingly dynamic. But most notably, beating up bad guys (without killing a single one of them) has never been this brutally fun before in any game. I'm pretty sure I've missed more than a few things about combat in this game anyway, so don't be surprised to find one of the best combat systems in gaming when you play this.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was rightfully praised for its stellar visuals. Fortunately, the sequel shares the same dark (yet likewise fairly varied and highly impressive) artistic design. The whole game takes place only during the night, which, as you can tell, only helps further in creating a masterfully surreal atmosphere. The fact that all of this is wrapped around technologically impressive graphics is another bonus in itself. Yes, there are some low-resolution textures but they don't stand out in the game's blend of artistic style and technical achievement. When all is said and done, Rocksteady's depiction of Gotham is an amazing combination of classic comic book stylishness, older Batman movies' atmosphere and The Dark Knight's authentic feel. If you have a gaming rig that can run it on the highest settings, I would recommend picking up the PC version of this game to enjoy Arkham City's visual splendour at its best.

There is one other major part of the game's build apart from the visuals that does plenty in order to create atmosphere, and that's the audio design. The music in the game's consistent soundtrack is really astonishing, especially the memorable main theme. Likewise, the voice acting is astounding. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their original roles as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Joker. Among many other outstanding performances, Nolan North (famous for voicing "Drake" from the "Uncharted" game series and taking part in many other projects) plays the Penguin. At the end of the day, most of the performances in this game are unforgettable - regardless of who does what, even though some roles are performed better than others, all of them fill each important character with a unique and influential persona.

If you buy the game new, you get Catwoman as an additional playable character. Although you don't get to spend a long time playing as her in the main story, you can replay her gameplay sections at any time from the main menu and, once the main story is completed, you can switch between her and Batman as playable characters at specific points in Arkham City. She is a really nice bonus for those who purchase a new copy of the game, because she has her own set of combat animations and unique combo specials. However, Catwoman has much less gadgets than Batman. Instead, she is more agile and can even cling to some ceilings. She also gets her own 40 Riddler trophies to collect. All of this is great, but it's a shame that gamers who get the game used must pay extra for it and it's best not to support shady business practices like these.

It's time to sum up everything this magnificent game has to offer:

GAMEPLAY - 10/10 (Marvellous)

The spectacular Freeflow combat system works wonders and it's immensely entertaining; there is pretty much nothing to complain about here.

STABILITY - 9/10 (Outstanding)

For a game of this complexity and scale, there are only a few glitches and most of them have already been fixed by official patches.

STORY - 9/10 (Outstanding)

What you'll find here are tons of interesting backstories, many captivating characters and an engaging and moving plot that takes more than a few unexpected plot twists.

GRAPHICS - 9.5/10 (Incredible)

Some low-resolution textures simply aren't enough to tackle this game's sublime art style, convincing atmosphere and beautiful visual design in general.

SOUND – 9.5/10 (Incredible)

Expect to hear some brilliant music, excellent sound effects and tremendous voice acting from most members of the whole splendid cast.

LONGEVITY – 9/10 (Outstanding)

Many collectibles, clever puzzles and riddles to solve, fascinating side missions, a main story of decent length and lots of awesome unlockables do more than enough to make this game worthy of being purchased rather than just rented.

Batman: Arkham City's best attribute is, possibly, the fact it's so damn terrific that even those who aren't interested in the DC universe of Batman should love playing it. You don't have to be a fan of Batman to enjoy one of the best action video games ever made…

OVERALL RATING – 9.5/10 (Incredible)