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Hero worship: “Batman: Arkham City” among the year’s best

Plugged In

Superheroes have proven unexpectedly hard to translate to video games. Superman 64, a disastrous 1999 release, is counted among the worst games of all time, though the list of lousy superhero games certainly doesn't end there. From The Fantastic Four to Iron Man, even the sturdiest super-types have been roughed up on small screen.

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Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive)

But that wasn't true of 2009 hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, which melded a pitch-perfect comic-book tale with fantastic action gameplay, resulting in what most folks consider the best superhero game ever made.

Until now, that is.

Leaving the claustrophobic passageways, cells, and grounds of Arkham's asylum to take on the whole town in an open-world romp, Batman: Arkham City releases this week for the Xbox 360 and PS3. And according to critics, it doesn't just match the original, it surpasses it. With a stunning 95 average at Metacritic, the verdict's in: go out and buy it, because this, actually, is the best superhero game ever made.

It's also Mark Hamill's (yes, that Mark Hamill) final performance as The Joker. Hamill, who first took on the role in the Emmy-award winning 'Batman: The Animated Series', has embodied the character longer than any other actor. No offense to Heath, Jack, or Cesar, but most hardcore fans consider Hamill to be the greatest Joker ever, making his swan song something of a big deal.

And he's going out with a serious bang.

"Arkham City not only lives up to the standards set by Arkham Asylum, it bests its predecessor in every way and stands tall as one of Batman's greatest moments," raves Game Informer's Andrew Reiner in a perfect 10/10 review, adding that it's "one of the biggest and most enjoyable time sinks of the year."

Nearly every critic out there agrees with that assessment. Regardless of how well Arkham City sells, it's already a massive success, and stands a pretty good chance at being among the best reviewed games of the year, if not the outright winner.

Take it from IGN's Greg Miller, who rated the game 9.5 -- "amazing" -- out of 10.

"The voice acting, the challenges, the amazing opening, the unbelievable ending and the feeling of being the Dark Knight -- these are the things that stand out looking back," Miller writes. "I've beaten this thing twice and still want to call in sick and chase Riddler Trophies...Batman: Arkham City isn't just better than Batman: Arkham Asylum, it's better than most games on the market."

But it wouldn't be a Batman game without a villain, right? Destructoid's oft-controversial Jim Sterling weighs in with a conspicuous 8.5/10, the lowest Arkham score to date. (Though, we should note, it's still a very positive mark, especially given Destructoid's comparatively stingy scores.) His chief complaint? It tries to do too much.

"It's just confusing to have so many buttons doing so many things, and so many enemies that require so many different ways of dispatching," Sterling writes. "It's certainly great to have options and variety, but there's an information overload that can drown even the most focused of brains." Though as he notes, there are far worse problems to have than that, as he still calls it "one of the most absorbing and engrossing [products] on the market."

Above all, one common thread can be found in linking Arkham City reviews: this game genuinely makes you feel like Batman. Over the 72-year history of the character, how many fans haven't sat back and dreamt of zipping around Gotham as the Dark Knight? You don't have to be the World's Greatest Detective to know that number's lower than Mr. Freeze's preferred thermostat setting -- and you don't have to be Wayne Enterprise's top scientist to deduce that any Batfan is going to be delighted with Arkham City.

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