"Batman: Arkham City" has been out for a week and a half now, and it was something I was worried I  wouldn't get to play until I MAYBE got a copy of it for Christmas this year.  Luckily, Best Buy has an amazing buyback program for old computer equipment, and after trading in an old laptop I haven't used in a year, I had well more than enough to pick up a copy of the game.  After playing almost non-stop with only breaks for food, bathroom, and nookie, I couldn't be happier.

Taking place a year after the conclusion of "Arkham Asylum", Bruce Wayne is arrested and sent to the new maxi-prison, and "Escape From New York" knock-off,  Arkham City.  His capture was arranged by Arkham warden Dr. Hugo Strange, who has learned Batman's true identity.  Now trapped inside the walls of Arkham and being hunted by both Strange's army of guards and the various warring factions of prisoners, Batman is forced to find who is pulling Strange's strings before his time literally runs out.

If you're experienced with "Arkham Asylum", this will feel amazingly familiar while still new.  The basic fighting controls are still there, but feel more fluid and responsive.  In the first game, you could jump across the room to attack someone, but your reversals were limited to attackers within arms reach.  This time, you can reverse the attack of any thug you are fighting no matter how far away they are.  Also, if attacked while reversing another attack, you can start another reversal and flow seamlessly into a double reversal.  Fighting controls are still tight, and includes updates to the silent take-downs.  When sneaking up behind an enemy, you still have the ability to do a silent take-down that will not alert those nearby.  If you don't have the time to do the full take-down, which can feel like an eternity when you are surrounded by 10 armed guards, you can now turn the silent take-down into a brutal strike that immediately knocks out the enemy.  Its quicker, but does alert those nearby.

One criticism I've heard was the inclusion of too many villains which results in not enough time spent on each.  While I can understand that frustration, I didn't have a problem with it.  In the first game, you come across Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Victor Zsaz, Scarecrow, Riddler, and Clayface (who was in his cell looking like different characters).  This time around players get to see all of the villains from the previous game (except for Scarecrow so far) as well as Hugo Strange, Black Mask, Penguin, Two-Face, Ras Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, Catwoman, Solomon Grundy, Mr. Freeze, Calendar Man, Dead Shot, and The Mad Hatter.  Some of the villains are part of the main storyline, while others only show up in the multitude of side missions.  I believe that the characters who warranted more screen time got it, while others who weren't necessary for more than a scene or two were used accordingly.  My desire to see more of these characters was not from a limiting of screen time, but because this game was so amazing I wanted to see more.

The best part of this game, much like the previous game, is Mark Hamill as Joker.  Joker shares his role as main antagonist with Hugo Strange, thus limiting his time compared to the last game.  Even so, Mark Hamill still stole the show in every scene he's in.  After being dropped into Arkham, Batman finds that the Joker is dying after his exposure to the Titan formula in the previous game.  After some events, which I will not divulge here, Batman finds that it is in his best interest to help Joker find a cure.  Hearing Kevin Controy and Mark Hamill going back and forth was brilliant and a terrific reminder that this Batman story is a much darker version of "Batman The Animated Series".  After the already amazing end to the story, there was a surprise in the end credits that was so funny, creepy, fitting, and overall amazing that I had a tear in my eye.

A great addition to the previous game was the challenge maps where you could test your free-flow combat skills against four waves of increasing numbers of enemies, or replay a silent predator section of the game where you have to take down several enemies in one location while not being seen.  As I have a Playstation 3, my copy of the original allowed me to play those challenge maps as either Batman or Joker.  This time around, there is no console exclusive characters, but store specific access to maps and characters before they are available for everyone.  Buying this from Best Buy, I also received redemption codes to download Catwoman (something with all new copies of the game regardless of where it was bought) Tim Drake as Robin (which is not currently available for general download).  Both characters are available to be used in the large amount of challenge maps including the new campaign challenges and modifier challenges.  In downloading Catwoman, players also get four story levels to play as Catwoman that will pop up accordingly during the story mode.  Over the next few weeks, more DLC will be released including alternate Batman costumes that can be used in challenge maps and story mode, more Catwoman levels for the main story, and Dick Grayson as Nightwing for challenge maps.

Overall, Rocksteady took everything that was great about the first game and made it better.  The control is amazing, the difficulty isn't too hard or too easy, and the story is better than most comic books in publication.  The story mode goes by a little quickly if you focus just on the story and avoid the side missions.  If you do that, you're kind of missing out.  The inclusion of all side missions, which include over 400 Riddler challenges/trophies, will make a 100% play through a long task.  After finishing the story mode, you have the option to play through again with all hints shut off, and increased AI difficulty for all enemies.  If you found even a little bit of enjoyment in the first game, you need to own this game.  Don't rent it, buy it.  This is something you have to have in your collection.  Though the game ends on a pretty definite note, there are hints throughout the game that lead many to believe a follow-up game is already being planned.