Batman: Arkham City Review: Why this game should be on your holiday wish list

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

(CBS) - As was the case with nearly all of his superheroic brethren, Batman had a dark, tainted history in video games ranging from the mediocre to just plain terrible.

It seemed that super heroes were destined to forever suffer from the curse of lousy games, but this changed in 2009 with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game set a new standard by which future games based on comic books would be measured.

Arkham Asylum captured the essence of what it was to be Batman. Combat was fluid and creative, exploration made wonderful use of the Dark Knight's gadgets, and there was even the interesting inclusion of Batman's detective skills. Relying on the experience of comic book and television writer Paul Dini to handle the script didn't hurt, either, with a dark story that explored the motivations and psychology of many members of Batman's rogues' gallery. 

With Arkham City, Dini takes the tone to even darker depths and tackles some really intense character-defining concepts including Batman's secret identity and the lengths he's willing to go to to save Gotham.

Arkham City manages to weave an intricate plot that involves over a dozen villains and heroes from the Batman mythos. The number of cameos and guest appearances can become a bit overwhelming. Characters like the Riddler and Zsazs - who don't tie directly to the main plot - add depth and flavor to the world of Arkham City, while others feel like they've been shoehorned in to the story - that means you, Azrael.

But the only real complaint to be had with the otherwise rich story is the limited exploitation of Dr. Hugo Strange. The mastermind behind Arkham City and catalyst of all of Batman's problems, Strange's true threat potential - as revealed in the opening moments of the game - is that he knows the Dark Knight's true identity.

While Batman fights all night for the fate of Gotham City, he's never put in a position where he has to really protect his anonymity. The story does such an otherwise wonderful job tying up dozens of plot threads, it seems a shame to introduce such a loaded piece of information so early in the game only to leave it largely unexplored.

Speaking of exploration - Batman: Arkham City will feel immediately familiar to fans of the original. Developer Rocksteady takes the same Metroid / Legend of Zelda style of exploration from Arkham Asylum and lets you loose in a much more expansive playground - and this playground is fun.

Combat is as fluid as ever, if only a little slower than the previous title. This time around, Batman also gets a few new combat tricks up his utility belt. In addition to new area attack and disarm moves and an awesome speed combo beat down, nearly every one of his gadgets - new and old alike - is mapped to a face button for quick deployment mid-combo.

Putting all of these new abilities into practice is particularly fun in the Riddler's combat and stealth challenges. Earning high scores on the leaderboard requires a lot of variation and devotion in each arena. The fact that fighting or stalking waves of enemies over and over never really gets old is a testament to how great the formula really is.

Arkham City is one of those rare gems that really gets it right. The people at Rocksteady Studios seem to get Batman. Everything from the expansive environment, amazing story and tons of extra content makes you ask just one question - how do they top this?

Batman: Arkham City is rated T for Teen by the ESRB. It is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.