I’m not the biggest fan of Russell Simmons these days (it’s pretty easy to sit on a moral high horse when you’ve already made your money and gotten out of the game) but I’m still cool with Def Jam, the company he and Rick Rubin founded over 20 years ago which has been responsible for the careers of everybody from LL Cool J to Redman to Ludacris. Looking to expand their empire Def Jam got into video games as well, starting with the popular hip-hop meets pro wrestling Def Jam Vendetta and continuing the series all the way through Def Jam Fight for NY: The Takeover. Now they’re back to do it again, but this time they’re taking it to the next generation of new consoles, making Def Jam Icon exclusively for Playstation 3 and X-Box 360. This review covers the PS3 version, so somebody holla at me if there are significant play differences or game options between the two.
Things start off simply enough with a title screen where a non-descript van pulls up on a neighborhood block. A song from the game’s soundtrack is chosen at random and as soon as the bass beats heat the buildings behind it vibrate. This reflects one of the new selling points of Icon, which is that in theory if you do combination attacks in time to the beat you’ll get bigger bonuses and/or special moves. If you wait long enough before pressing start a demo mode starts up to demonstrate this feature, demonstrating the unreal video game physics where men are tossed long distances with ease and explode into fire immediately after crashing into a gas pump. After all, what fun would a fighting game be if it didn’t let you do shit you couldn’t do in real life? Pushing start pulls up the option THROW DOWN first, and the scroll through reveals more: BUILD A LABEL, F.A.C.E., ONLINE, GAME MODES and OPTIONS. Let’s start with THROW DOWN and see what the fuck is up – selecting this option opens up a submenu with SOLO or VERSUS. I’m rolling for delf this time.
Immediately a versus screen pops up and Atlanta’s hard-hitter T.I. has already been picked by default as my opponent. Obviously there are more characters to be unlocked the longer gameplay goes on but the options at the start aren’t bad: Bun B, E-40, Ghostface Killah, Paul Wall and Young Jeezy among many others. I’m feeling the idea of Port Arthur versus Atlanta, so Bun B it is. Selecting my character gave me the option to change my opponent but I’m going to leave it as T.I.P. Next you get the option of the venue to fight in, starting with THE GAS STATION seen in the demo mode and including everything from THE CLUB and THE BLOCK to BET’s 106 & PARK. Holy shit, if you’ve ever wanted to see two rappers throw blows right in front of Rocsi and Terrance J live on TV, this is your chance. I can’t resist the opportunity to throw blows here. The game even lets you select your theme songs for the fight, but annoyingly there are no Bun B songs unlocked or available. To keep it appropriately Southern I’ll go with Paul Wall’s “Sittin’ Sidewayz” featuring Big Pokey, and keep T.I. with “What You Know.” After all of these choices it’s finally time to GET IT ON!
Unfortunately just guessing with buttons did what combos got my ass kicked pretty quick. When T.I. was on offense for long enough the music switched from mine to his and the lights on the 106 & Park stage got brighter. On the rematch I pummeled him from start to finish, eventually high-kicking him into a set of pyros and watching his ass get smoked as they went off. Sadly the “What You Know” music stayed on the whole time although it could be “reverse scratched” with the L2 button. Checking the manual for the game confirms this is the “DJ control” and that I actually triggered the pyros by hitting it at the right time. When the L2 is held down you can also use the right directional stick to scratch or do combos moves in time to the beat, and apparently if you rotate the left stick fast enough the DJ will switch from one 1200 to the other and put your record on. The manual refers to this as a “Song Switch bonus” and confirms my suspicion that T.I. got extra lethal combos when it changed to his music in the first round. Post-match you can also get fight stats, which gave me credit for using the hazards and for taunting the Atlanta resident 6 times. What’chu know about THAT Mr. Clifford Harris ha?
To summarize the other options, the F.A.C.E. mode is where you create a character and outfit him in the latest wears ‘n styles. BUILD A LABEL mode is how you become the “Icon” in Def Jam Icon, much like the aforementioned Russell Simmons. Basically you take a character and use a story mode loosely based around releasing songs, keeping artists happy, and building up your street credit with fights. Once I get better hang of the controls in the story mode I’ll dip into ONLINE, but for now I figure it’s better to get my skills up before facing the experts who’ve been playing the game since it dropped. The nice thing about playing on a next generation console is that online features are built in and games are coming with support from them from jump, which is a far cry from the days of PS2 when you had to buy and install your own broadband adapter or X-Box when you had to buy a wireless gaming adapter and sign up for Microsoft’s online service first. If you already have the internet, you’re In Like Flynn, at least on PS3. It’s also nice that once you create a character and play the game mode all your data is saved directly to the hard drive, making memory cards a thing of the past. In short my experience with Def Jam Icon is nothing short of satisfying, and I am already looking forward to playing it some more. Electronic Arts and Def Jam have got a good formula and they know the most important rule of all – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!