Say what you will about the movie Batman & Robin. I love it! Mostly for nostalgia reasons, but also because I don’t mind a tongue in cheek, goofy, Adam West type of Batman. What I do mind are nearly unplayable Batman movie games. Batman Forever for the SEGA Genesis and SNES was a massive bomb, but when the first glimpse of Batman & Robin for the PlayStation was revealed, and fans saw just how ambitious the movie tie-in was, it was sure to be a Batman fan’s dream come true. Unfortunately, it turned into a nightmare.
Released: Aug. 7, 1998
Imagine this: An open world sandbox style Batman game where you can tear through the streets of Gotham City in the Batmobile, or even get out and walk the streets and take down thugs. And at any point you can explore the Batcave, Wayne manor, or switch characters and play as Robin or Batgirl. Sounds like the ideal Batman game, right? On paper, yes, but what is an idea without execution? And execution is where game developer Probe drastically failed with this game.
All of the above ideas for the perfect Batman game exist on the Batman & Robin game disc, but sadly actually playing the game is such a frustrating chore. The game begins with you as Batman inside the Batcave, in front of your Batcomputer. You’re encouraged to spend quite a bit of time in front of the computer screen, but there isn’t a great deal of interest here. You can check your e-mail, which never really offers anything worth reading (And plus, who’s e-mailing Batman? Superman? Sending him an e-vite for a BBQ at the fortress of solitude?), and you can examine clues you find for crimes that make up the game’s missions, but the clues aren’t very well thought out, and even acquiring several clues throughout the game tells you little about where or what your next mission is going to be.
The game’s story and missions follow closely to the film, as expected, but Mr. Freeze’s and Poison Ivy’s crimes occur at specific times. At the top of the screen is a clock, and gathering clues are supposed to help inform you of these crimes, but I always just speed up the clock until a prompt on the screen says I need to go to the museum because Mr. Freeze is attacking it.
Getting to your first mission, or just getting out of the Batcave, is where we see one of those Batman fan dream-come-true moments. At any time you can access the Batmobile and go for a spin. You’re dropped onto a road near the outskirts of Gotham and navigate your way into the city. This experience would be mind blowing if the driving mechanic of the vehicles wasn’t so broken. Trying to drive properly is nearly impossible, and it doesn’t help when the streets constantly have speeding police and civilian cars putting themselves in your way, and slowly chipping at your health meter when you inevitably smash into them.
You could ditch your Batmobile, and take to the streets, which isn’t a bad thing, minus the fact that the epitome of human perfection walks like C-3P0, and fights like a Rock-em-Sock-em Robot. Though the graphics aren’t anything worth mentioning, Gotham City is actually designed quite nicely. It’s a decent size, and even has a few buildings to enter and secrets to discover, but not enough to actually spend any considerable amount of time exploring.
If you’re just a Batman fan with absolutely nothing better to do than explore a practically empty Gotham City, then you could do worse than Batman & Robin. Playing as Robin or Batgirl is hardly any different than playing as Batman, aside from the vehicles, which aren’t any easier to drive.
I’ll be honest. I never really got too far past that first mission with Mr. Freeze at the museum. The game just isn’t worth playing beyond that. It’s far too maddening and broken to even bother. And that’s a real shame. This game had great intentions, but 1998’s technology just couldn’t pull it off. Later, Grand Theft Auto III would make the sandbox game popular, but I’ll always remember Batman & Robin as my first experience with it. I’m just surprised it took nearly ten years for fans to see another sandbox Batman game in Batman: Arkham Asylum. And Batman: Arkham City will soon be the game my inner 11-year-old self always wanted Batman & Robin to be.
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