Review: Def Jam Icon
September 28, 2007
EA Chicago / Xbox 360, Playstation 3 / Mature
Anyone who’s ever witnessed a scuffle outside a trendy nightclub, taken a look at DMX’s arrest record, or sat through any number of movies where ass is kicked in a club setting knows that Hip-Hop and violence seem to find each other quite often. So, it was no great surprise when EA started making hip-hop fighting game series in a partnership with the Def Jam record label. It was surprising, however, that the series was actually good, thanks to the use of the developers behind the N64’s superb wrestling games. The Def Jam series has since evolved from wrestling game to brawler, to a stylized hybrid the likes of which we haven’t quite seen before known as Def Jam: Icon.
As with the previous games in the series, you make your own character with one of the better create-a-player modes you’ll find in any game. You’re a random dude who, after beating the crap out of a meathead in a club, is invited to work as an enforcer/producer for the record label owned by Curtis Carver, a once prominent force in the industry that has fallen on hard times. You’re soon introduced to the competition, Troy Dollar, played, in a downright confusing casting choice, by funnyman Anthony Anderson. You’re put right to work as a type of hired thug, and that part of your job doesn’t change at all as you progress up the ladder at the label. Even when you become a big-name producer, you’ll still be slapping around people to build your business. That’s right kids, every conflict in this game is solved by beating the holy hell out of those who would dare oppose you.
The fights themselves are set under a colored haze in environments that literally bounce to the beat. Each fighter picks a song from the licensed soundtrack and whoever is in command of the fight has their track of choice controlling the movements of the level. Using the environment’s movements and surges is essential to wining fights. Each stage has a number of points that make a dramatic movement at high points in the beat and can be used to deal a big blow to opponents. You also have some control over the environment as you can use a turntable-scratching gesture to trigger a high point and cause the stage to surge, hopefully hitting your nemesis. While this dynamic is certainly interesting for a time, you’ll need to pull it off over, and over, and over again to win all your fights, and there aren’t enough levels to keep it interesting.
The between fight setup is pretty much the same as last time with your guy being quickly told who he’s going to fight and why before being simply let loose like a bull in Pampalona. However, there is something new to do betwixt slobber-knockers besides shopping and playing dress-up with your hard fighting, hip-hop doppleganger, run a record label. Yes, your character is given control of a hip-hop label and, as a music producer, your primary duties are to sign artists, release albums, and beat the giblets out of people who get in the way of those first 2 activities. The music part of those duties are accomplished using the computer in your crib between fights. You will release albums from your stable of rappers, determine the marketing budget, then watch them shoot up the charts as you rake in the profits. You will also have to keep your artists happy by shelling out money for private planes, video games, and, occasionally, legal fees(seriously). As interesting as this may seem there isn’t all that much to do in running the business and what there is to do is generally idiot-proof.
If the career mode and straight up fighting isn’t so great how about online play? Alas, the game gets so unresponsive online it’s hardly worth the trouble. So much for that.
Even if the gameplay isn’t so great there are some positives here to keep people interested through the mediocre parts. The game looks great and has the same level of quality character models and graphics as Fight Night 3 with a sense of style that few games can match. Also, the soundtrack is great, if you’re into that sort of thing, and is completely uncensored. Every dirty word is there to make your pugilistic experience that much better.
If you like rap and fighting games and wish they could be somehow combined, then this is your game. It’s worth a rental even for fighting fans who are looking for something a little different. Just be warned that the experience looses steam quickly.
By Zack Rovinsky