Sure, Acclaim's Batman & Robin is the best Batman game in years and far better than the '97 Joel Schumacher film it was based on, but neither of those things really amounts to too much. The game is an ambitious attempt to sum up all things Batman, the iconic comic character whose name is usually followed in the funny books with the title, "The World's Greatest Detective." And he's supposed to be at least one of the world's best martial artists, too.
Probe's attempt places you in a three-dimensional Gotham City, where you must jet around town as Batman, Robin, or Batgirl (each has his or her own respective plusses, minuses, and matching vehicle), gather clues to bring back to the Bat-Cave, and figure out where the villains Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy might turn up, with the aid of the Bat-Computer. What comes next, of course, is getting to those spots in town, beating up the bad guys' henchmen, foiling their plans, and hopefully catching them before they escape.
Time and distance play a big part in this, as Gotham's a big town that can be explored almost ad nauseam. Storefronts often hide clues, gadgets, or power-ups, and the streets are home to numerous minor thugs, who come either by car or motorcycle or on foot. If you take too long dallying with the little bad guys though, you run the risk of, say, failing to stop Mr. Freeze from stealing a diamond at a jewelry store, which would rob you of the opportunity to gather clues necessary to determining where he'd strike next. Since Gotham's so expansive, driving to the crime scenes takes a decent amount of time - almost too much actually, save for the shortcuts provided by places owned by Batman's own company, Wayne Industries.
The game not only covers a lot of miles, it has just shy of two dozen moves, between jumping, aiming, fighting, and using items. While they feel like they're set up in an almost counterintuitive fashion at first, they become second nature after a few trips to the training rooms of Wayne Manor. Getting down the movements really isn't as much of a problem as being able to use them correctly. The camera angles presented in the game generally go the route of Eidos' Deathtrap Dungeon, over Tomb Raider. The character is seen from a number of different perspectives depending on where he is in an indoor environment, instead of from a view generally following from behind the back. This means that sometimes you'll move forward or backward in a fight and be given an outlook that cuts your opponent out of the picture. Death by camera angle is a horrible way to go. Still, even when you can see everyone onscreen, it's hard to tell exactly from what angle you should be delivering your hail of punches and kicks, and while you're busy trying to line your character up correctly, he's likely been beaten to a bloody pulp.
It's little surprise that Batman & Robin's fighting element isn't very fun. For one, it's only one of the gameplay components, and even dedicated fighting games rarely come off very well in two dimensions, let alone three. Secondly, it falls prey to the camera problems that many 3D adventure games suffer from. The difference, though, is that most avoid hand-to-hand fighting, sticking with shooting, which is easier to pull off in 3D but wouldn't fit this particular license (Batman hates guns. Must be something from his formative years).
Meanwhile, as they say, the graphics in Batman & Robin are pretty impressive. The city is visually rich and quite varied. There are many unique locations and not too many repeating store- and building-fronts between them, which combine to make you feel like you're really within a massive 3D environment. The characters also appear much better than you'd expect in such a large game, and Batman's cape just looks great. The only real graphical disappointment is the placeholder-looking confetti burst that accompanies the dispatching of foes and objects.
The game itself feels even bigger than the town, with all the places to go, enemies to beat up, and crimes to prevent. It's just that the flawed combat and perspective problems that accompany these good points mar the overall Batman & Robin experience. Altogether, the game shows what titles for the next-generation platforms might be able to pull off successfully but also illustrates what can't quite happen yet.