Sequels are always an interesting challenge in gaming. They usually don't have the same spark of creativity as their predecessors, but the gameplay tends to be a lot more polished.

Batman: Arkham City is definitely a game that falls under the "more polished" category. The sequel to 2009's surprise hit is a noticeable improvement in every way. This is a hell of a feat considering that Arkham Asylum was a lot of fun. So how do you top something that's already good?

Batman takes on
a whole city of
The city looks
fantastic. Character
models are
top-knotch as well

Mark Hamill is the
only person who
can voice act. Everyone
else is awful 

Excellent, especially
the new quickfire
Works, but no
advanced sliders
to adjust graphics.
Also, Games for
Windows Live. No. 
I'd be shocked if
anyone finished this
game quickly 

Rocksteady's answer to that was to add even more awesome content on top of everything else we already loved about the first game. The gameplay and experience is essentially the same, there's just more of it, and it looks cooler.

Take the change of scenery. In the time since the first game, Arkham Asylum closed in favor of Arkham City. The Gotham city government basically cordoned off a section of the city and turned it into a free-for-all playground with some seriously homicidal villains locked inside. Things go about as well as you'd expect. By the time Batman arrives, Arkham City is a warzone of competing factions and serial killers and psychopaths.

The prisoners' bad luck is the player's good fortune though as Arkham City is a massive open world ready for exploration. Using the grapple hook and glide abilities, you can navigate the city and explore its many nooks and crannies. I haven't seen a game world this detailed since Grand Theft Auto IV's rendition of Liberty City.

The city is packed with things to do. You can hunt a sniper, try to stop Zsaz from killing civilians, or save political prisoners from the more violent thugs. The biggest sidequest is the Riddler challenges. The Dark Knight's green-clad enemy scattered hundreds of trophies across the city. Collecting all of them requires solving a number of surprisingly creative puzzles that should prove to be a challenge for even the most experienced player.

That's not the only challenge returning Arkham Asylum veterans will face. Even if you were good at stringing together combos in the first game, new complications like knives and riot shields will present a challenge. At least enemies are a lot easier to take down with the new group counters. Try countering four guys at once, it's awesome.

The other awesome addition to combat is the ability to quickfire gadgets. Instead of digging through the d-pad menu and selecting the right tool (nigh impossible in the heat of battle), you can press a trigger and a button to quickly drop some explosive gel or disarm an armed enemy with the Batclaw.

What hasn't changed since Arkham Asylum is the core gameplay of combat. Fighting thugs is still about mastering a rhythm of attack-counter-gadget. Rocksteady did well not to change something that worked. Fighting groups of thugs as Batman is still incredibly cool.

Even cooler are the sadly infrequent stealth sections Taking down a room full of armed thugs without being seen is the highlight of this game. I loved stealthily taking down thugs because it really made you feel like Batman. Setting off a detonator while jumping out of the floor to take down a guard nails the immersion of being a superhero like few other games do.

Unfortunately, the immersion is completely broken when the Dark Knight opens his mouth. For the second game in a row, Batman sucks. Either make him silent or give him some genuine personality. As it is, he's a boring cardboard cutout and a poor excuse for a character. He barely shows emotion and never breaks from a grating monotone.

Catwoman isn't any better. Instead of suffering from a lack of personality like Batman, she falls victim to overwriting. Lines like "This kitty's got to pur" are painfully bad. Please, Rocksteady, just stop. 

It's a shame the two protagonists are so dismal, because the general story quality in Batman: Arkham City is quite high. This is a game made by people who dearly love the comics. The whole city is steeped in Batman lore. Look at the villains lineup. In addition to the usual cast of Mr. Freeze and The Penguin, there are a few obscure names like Deadshot and Calendar Man.

The strangest part is that the villains are great. Rocksteady's renditions of Batman's foes perfectly toe the line between the new gritty theme and their comic book origins. Hell, they even make Calendar Man intimidating.

Don't let my complaints about the poorly-executed protagonists put you off this game. Batman: Arkham City is a ton of fun. There are so many cool things to do that it's hard to list them all here. Exploring the city, beating up endless waves of thugs in challenge mode, taking down guards in extra-difficult stealth missions... the list goes on.

Batman: Arkham City is a great sequel. It takes everything the first game did well and improves it. The only real flaw from its predecessor (not enough to do after the main campaign) is totally obliterated in this game. Batman fans will probably be playing this for a long time.

If only there was some DLC where you got to fight Calendar Man, this game would be perfect. Kidding. Sort of.