Def Jam: Icon REVIEW

Def Jam: Icon Review (PS3)

Typically, when you have a formula for success, you stick with it. Some minor tweaks to gameplay here, an extra game mode there, but in the end, the game plays essentially the same as it’s predecessor. That’s why I was surprised to hear that upon taking the reins of the well-established Def Jam series, Electronic Arts Chicago was planning to stray from the formula that made Def Jam: Fight For New York such a huge hit. Will this strategy lead to continued success, or will it tarnish the Def Jam series’ well-earned reputation?

The main feature mode in Def Jam: Icon is listed as "Build A Label". In this mode, you start as a street-level hustler with dreams of making it big as a hip-hop producer. After creating a character with the extensive F.A.C.E. feature, the game thrusts you right into the action, giving you a chance to impress an investor that’ll help you get your career off the ground. All you have to do is beat up the punk that bumped into you at the club. From that point on, you’re expected to put a beat-down on other rappers, producers, and paparazzi that harass potential clients as you build your label, and take it to the top of the hip-hop world.

Along the way, you’re expected to make a number of decisions aside from who you’re going to fight next. It’s pretty simple; the more fights you win, the more money you make. After that, you’ll have to sign rappers to your label, and keep them happy with some healthy profits from the songs they create. The happier they are, the more music they’ll supply. Once they’re finished with a song, it’s up to you to decide the amount of pre-release spending you want to put behind it. Don’t be cheap; there’s an abundance of cash flow in the game, and the more you spend on a song, the better it will sell. Furthermore, as with any hip-hop mogul, style is important. From the clothes on your back, the jewelry around your neck, or the lady on your arm. Everything matters, so make sure you put some attention towards that as well. Also, as you climb to the top of the charts in "Build A Label" mode, you’ll unlock rap superstars, original fighters, clothing, jewelry, and fighting styles along the way.

Other gameplay modes consist of "Throw Down", which allows you to put any two existing or created fighters in a exhibition fight against each other. The winner is the last man standing. You’ve also got a "Beatings With Bass" mode, which is similar to the "Throw Down" mode, except the game's DJ Controls are disabled. All you have to worry about are the environmentalc hazards triggered by the song’s beat, and your opponent.

As beautiful as Def Jam: Icon is on the surface, I was disappointed to find out how sluggish the character models handle. With the upbeat tracks blasting through your speakers, and the interactive environments thumping with the beats, you’d expect the actual gameplay to follow suit. Unfortunately, it does not. Each brawl suffers from a painfully slow pace, and I had some trouble initiating grabs with the right analog stick, which forced me to button-mash my way to victory with various punches and kicks. A far cry from some of the wrestling tactics that made past versions of this series immensely popular.

Def Jam: Icon does offer a variety of ways to attack your opponent. The face buttons are used for high and low strong attacks, as well as high and low fast attacks. The right analog stick is used for advanced moves. Flipping the stick in a specific direction, or even rotating it, will initiate a more fluid directional attack than you’d see by pressing the face buttons. Pressing up with the analog stick performs a grab, but as I stated earlier, I had some issues with the responsiveness of this move. More often than not, I found myself performing a punch or kick, rather than grabbing my opponent to trigger a take-down with the directional buttons. DJ controls allow you to control the music, and trigger environmental attacks by triggering beats in-song. The L2 button activates the DJ controls. Rotating the right analog stick will scratch the music. The quicker you rotate it, the more likely you are to trigger a "Big Beat Hazard". To switch the song, rotate the left stick until your fighter switches hands, then rotate the right analog stick until the song switches.

Def Jam: Icon features six different fighting styles, listed as:
  • Ghetto Blaster
  • Street Kwon Do
  • Black Panther
  • Muay Fly
  • Beatboxer
  • Jah Breaka
Each fighting style has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Street Kwon Do gives you a boost in scratch skills and all-around grab skills, but your fighter will have trouble countering attacks, and recovering from them. Along with the six different fighting styles, Def Jam: Icon also features eight different arenas to fight in, varying from your neighborhood block and gas station to some upscale clubs and penthouses. While Def Jam: Icon does feature an online mode, it’s pretty bare bones. Online play consists of ranked and unranked matches, and lobbies listed as Hood Hangouts.

Overall, Def Jam: Icon is a mixed bag. The visuals and audio are top-notch for a next-gen title. The character models and environments are beautifully rendered, and the audio, while explicit, will have you bobbing your head from the main menu until you power down your system. Unfortunately, with the direction EA Chicago has taken with the gameplay, Def Jam: Icon feels like a rookie in the fighting genre rather than a polished heavyweight on its third installment. You’ll get some short-term enjoyment out of Def Jam: Icon and its "Build A Label" mode, however, in the end, the game lacks the staying power to make it a truly great title.

Def Jam: Icon Score
out of 10