Few years back Def Jam came out of nowhere with its first came Def Jam Vendetta. It had all the music and stylings of Hip-Hop, with the fighting mechanics of a wrestling game. Surprisingly this vinegar and water mixture actually worked out. Now we come to their latest Opus, Def Jam Icon.
As I have said in the past and as you will hear me say in the upcoming podcast, what is it about EA and taking a giant leap forward in game innovation and then taking two giant leaps back?!? For instance SSX3 was a great game, SSX On Tour-.not so much. Everything or Nothing was a great example of James Bond done right. From Russia with Love had all the things to make it great but somehow just ended up being mediocre. So it is we come to the Def Jam series.
As I said above the first Def Jam, was great. Developed with the help of Aki, who is famous for their WWE games? It seamlessly blended the two worlds of Hip-Hop and underground fighting. With the sequel they bumped the volume up to 11. Fight for New York added a deeper story mode and different fighting techniques. It took all the pluses from the first incarnation and added more great things to go along. With Def Jam: Icon, EA has definitely tarnished the platinum album just a bit.
This edition of the Def Jam franchise defiantly aims to please with its very diverse array of playable and non-playable characters. The game includes Big Boi, The Game, Ghostface Killah, Lil Jon, Ludacris, Method Man, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Redman, T.I., just to name a few. A few Hollywood actors make appearances as characters in the story mode, including actor Anthony Anderson, who does an excellent job as playing the main villain Troy Dollar.
The first thing that you tend to notice when looking at the rather diverse line-up is that it is comprised of mostly people who are not affiliated with the Def Jam Label. Where is Run- DMC, or LL Cool J, and for that matter where is the Def Jam president Jay-Z?! So since it is ok not to aid Def Jam rappers why not add ones that we all know have beef right now. 50 cent and The Game, Jay-Z and Naz, or dare I say Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac? Adding these little things would have made a welcome addition.
In Def Jam’s story mode you play as an average guy, who ends up helping out a record executive. Once you talk to him for a while he makes you his vice president in charge of talent and recruiting. Once you are a part of his empire you will find yourself recruiting talent. Most of the time this involves you going to take care of some rival rapper, or knocking out some paparazzi trying to get some incriminating pictures of your client. I personally had no idea that all of that was involved with signing a rapper to a label, but hey whatever.
Once signed you will handle most of your business on your computer, You will converse with your artist via email, as well as any girlfriend you decide to have at the time. You will also be responsible for handling your artist’s release of new albums. It is here that I think the game really shines. You will have to decide on a budget that you think you should spend. The overall number is broken down into Marketing, Price of Goods, Appearances, and Radio Air time. You must decide how much to spend in each area to nab that much sought after platinum record. But not only do your artist want you to make em famous, but any other bills they experience along the way they want you to take care of.
Be it a new video game system with every game for Ludicris, to bailing Mike Jones outta jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can of course decide which of these expenses you want to foot the bill on, but if you say no too many times to a particular artist you will find they will decide to jump ship with you and join Troy Dollar’s organization.
As you make a name for yourself and your boss Mr. Carver you will gain more and more money, and attract more and more attention-the wrong attention. Everything from threats, to dirty cops planting evidence will befall your hero before the end of the story. When it’s all said and done with the story you feel a little rushed, it could have used a few more cut scenes to flesh everything out, but in the end it is very good.
Sadly it is the fighting that seems to unravel what was otherwise a pretty good game. Yes, I know that is said to say since this game is about 95% fighting, but allow me to explain. When you start each fight you will have to choose “your song” as you play through the level you will notice the environment jumping in beat to the song you selected. You still have different fighting styles as in Fight for New York, but this time around your control of the music could give you a victory just as much as the combo you landed. In this edition you can hold down the left trigger and activate your turntable. With this you can scratch the record and cause the environment to react if successful.
In all of the eight wonderfully detailed and destructible environments you will find hot spots that if used correctly will send your opponent flying across the room. In one level you will do battle at a rundown gas station, on this level you can throw your opponent into the pump and see it break apart. If you are able to use the turn tables to scratch the song you choose you will witness the hole environment break apart and bump with the bass, as the pump explodes and sends your opponent flying causing major damage. There is also a pimped out SUV you can slam his head into, as well as a store to through him into. As you destroy the environments the game will give away where the hotspots are.
Def Jam Icon changes the tried and true fighting formula of the past games, by adding a totally unique and different fighting mechanic. The game was developed by the team who did the phenomenal Fight Night Round 3 games and it shows in how you pull off some of the advanced moves. You make use of the right analog stick for your grapples and throws. You also will need to treat the stick like the total control stick in Fight Night if you want to pull off fancier moves. If successful you are rewarded with a loud crack of your opponent’s skull as well as a huge depletion in his health.
Sadly it is when you have to fight that the game takes a turn for the worse. When dropping bows on your opponent, you will become frustrated. Not only because he seems to know where you are going to place your fist, but because he moves so slow when doing it. More than once I found myself losing a fight just because my guy’s reaction time was just so slow. Essentially you find yourself trying to fake your opponent out so you can grapple him and throw him around the environment. It quickly becomes tedious and very repetitive.
The Xbox 360 version of the game lets you import your own music, but besides only being able to use your music in one game mode, the game just doesn’t do a very good job of bumping the background to your music. It try’s more to time the explosions with the beat of the song, and that is even not done all that well. So I’m sorry for those of you that wanted to beat Mike Jones unmercifully while jamming to the Titanic soundtrack, maybe in the next Def Jam.
The graphics in the game sport some of the best visuals seen. The artists come off looking exactly like there real life counter-parts and because the game has a slower pace you get better animations and a smooth as butter frame rate. The level effect with the pulsing to the music also is very cool, and adds that hip-hop feel to the game.
So as you can see this edition offers a lot of new and exciting features that seem to work better on paper then when actually implemented. If you are a fan of Hip-Hop, and don’t mind the slower pace of the fighting compared to the last Def Jam games then definitely check this one out. But if you prefer the lovely ladies of DoA 4 and nice soft polka music then stay far, far away from this one-ya heard?!