STAFF REVIEW of Def Jam: Icon (Xbox 360)


Monday, March 26, 2007.
by Adam Rivard

Def Jam: Icon Box art I love seeing a game franchise evolve from one title to the next. When the developer can take the game in bold new directions without discarding the meat of the game that originally made it fun, I more often than not applaud their efforts. With this in mind, EA deserves a standing ovation for the continued evolution of the Def Jam series.
Def Jam: Vendetta was an interesting, if not perfect, title on its own. Def Jam: Fight for New York took the concepts and formula (Hip-Hop stars like Ludacris, DMX, and others beating the snot out of each other with a mixture of fighting styles) and improved upon them immensely by removing the reliance on a wrestling theme, adding a slew of new characters and content, and providing interactive environments for the rappers to mix it up in. Now Def Jam Icon has refined the formula even further.
Even if you?ve never given half a rat?s booty about the Def Jam series, Icon is certainly a eyebrow-raiser: ?Music is the weapon,? is the official line here, and so it is: Just as players always pick a particular fighter in fighting games, Icon players get to pick the songs to which they?ll be doling out the beatings.


Each environment/stage throbs to the ?bass? in any given track, making every fighting arena twitch and thrash with rhythmically-exploitable environmental hazards. The better you know your chosen beats, the better you?ll be able to manipulate both the environment and the opponent facing you within that environment.

Let?s say your chosen fighter is The Game, and your chosen beat is "It's Okay (One Blood)". Your battle-arena is the crappy, seedy yard of a broken-down house that looks like it might be in some really juicy part of Compton or Georgia, complete with a depressing porchfront and a knocked-up muscle car whose wheels are endlessly spinning. There?s a fire hydrant, ready to shoot a massive jet of water up into the air, should you lure your foe close enough to it at the opportune moment.

On your song?s first big downbeat?and on countless ones thereafter?BLAMM!, the whole frickin? world freaks out: The fire hydrant blows its hydrodynamic load, throwing any nearby fighters across the yard; the wheel-spinning, muscle car suddenly swings wildly to one side, pluming smoke, a similar threat to any homeboys in proximity; in fact, the whole arena momentarily judders and flinches as if from a blow; you?ll swear you see foundational geometry changing. Even the clouds in the sky seem to turntable-scratch.


This happens over and over throughout the course of the battle. But it takes two to fight, right? In our continuing thought-experiment example, let?s assume you?re not The Game; you?re Ludacris instead, and you?d rather be fighting to ?Move Bitch? in that case, you make your fighter literally ?scratch? the air (courtesy of the control sticks), as though laying your hands on invisible turntables, not only flipping the in-game vinyl back to your track, but further scratching the beat back and forth to set off the environmental hazards at your own pace.

The left and right sticks function as turntables, and players can scratch their way through their opponents? defenses, juggling them from one environmental threat to the next?do a traditional punch-and-kick combo to manoeuvre the other guy next to a hazard, then set it off (then taunt him and hijack his beat while he?s struggling to get to his feet). Your enemy can do the same, of course, resulting in a virtual, by-proxy scratch-battle in the best tradition of beefing DJs. And as the battle rages on, even more environmental hazards open up, so there?s always something happening to the landscape.


Are you seeing the utter, in-your-face, adversarial possibilities here? Yes, it?s fun enough just to put da kibosh on an opponent?s beat, but there are wider implications here. Icon lets you pull tracks from any connected MP3 player, thus allowing any song into the environment-warping scheme.


Just imagine: It?s you and Ludacris stepping up to the ghetto plate, you?re facing your opponent?s scrubbed-up fighter and suddenly, he?s forcing you to endure some Hillary Duff, courtesy of his iPod Shuffle. That could throw your game off, couldn?t it? Even if you both decide to stay within the rap/hip-hop realm, just imagine the kinds of things that could go wrong.

Def Jam: ICON?s main gameplay mode is the Build a Label mode. In this mode, you can create a character using EA?s extremely deep facial customization features, and have him build his own hip-hop empire. You begin by busting heads for your boss and working as an enforcer. However, you soon will gain hip-hop artists and gaining control over the distribution of the songs that they release, budgeting the marketing, radio play and PR appearances for each track. Depending on how you handle them, they?ll garner you money and keep your artists happy. You?ll also have to distribute funds for handling certain damages that they make, greasing the proper palms to keep them out of trouble.

Obviously the biggest departure from the pervious Def Jam games is the control scheme. Characters have a few basic attacks: high and low kicks and punches which are delivered via basic button presses. If that was all they could do the game would be very limited. Instead of using a scheme that combines presses of the buttons and triggers, etc. to create moves (as in a game like Mortal Kombat or Tekken), EA has borrowed from its Fight Night series, mapping various attacks and defensive manuvers to the analog sticks. Once you familiarize yourself with the controls, the game gets cooler and cooler.


Graphically, Def Jam: ICON is a fantastic looking game. The fighters bear the official likenesses of their real-life counterparts, and look eerily realistic. The environments steal the show, though as they pulsate with the music, breaking down as the beats literally rip them up.

The game?s music system puts game audio in a brand new light, making it an integral part of the action. The whole game seems to course in line with the music in a synergy that hasn?t been done, but definitely should be replicated. The soundtrack consists of a veritable who?s who of hip-hop all-stars, with cuts from heavy-hitters like Ludacris, E-40 and T.I., and the voice acting is also very well done.

The line-up of fighters includes the likes of Big Boi, Ludacris, T.I., Redman, Method Man, The Game etc. A very impressive line up to say the least. On top of all that you can battle it out online in ranked and unranked matches if you truly want to put your skills to the test. The character creation mode is also very deep. You can map your face to a fighter and customize all of his body parts to make him look like you. You may purchase tonnes of accessories for your custom player as well?such as BLING BLING.


Suggestions:
The notion of gamers fighting to their favourite music is simply brilliant, and the only thing funnier than watching your opponent get thrown across the screen by a scratch-triggered fire-hydrant is mugging for the game-camera as it happens. Def Jam: Icon is in stores right now, what are you waiting for?


Overall: 9.4 / 10
Gameplay: 9.4 / 10
Visuals: 9.6 / 10
Sound: 9.6 / 10

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