If you’re new to the series, Def Jam takes hip-hop artists and makes them have brutal fights. With ‘Def Jam Vendetta’ for the GC and PS2 and the sequel ‘Fight for NY’ released for Xbox, PS2 and GC, it proved to be a successful franchise. Let’s take a look at ICON and see if it lives up to its predecessors.
The main career mode, named Build-A-Label, takes you on a story of a wannabe record producer’s life. Picked up by a successful producer, Curtis Carver sees the potential in you and helps you to make a name for yourself. Apparently in the hip-hop industry this means beating up anyone that gets in your way. Rival producers, paparazzi, they’re all going to cause problems for you so it’s your job to “sort them out”.
Before the story starts you are shown the F.A.C.E setup screen. Here is where you can design your character, similar to sculpting a face out of clay. Cheek shape, ear size, the shape of your head, there is so much which can be customised, it has to be the best character creator I have ever used. There are some slight bugs that need to be sorted out though and my main man Tob3z had seemed to have a massive dreadlock protruding from his forehead in the cut-scenes. It’s nothing major however and can probably be ironed out with a patch. Once you have the main details of your character made, it’s time to dress that dude and get some bling on him. There is loads of gear to choose from with jackets, shirts, hats, jeans, shorts; the list goes on and all with a varied amount of colours to choose from. You can then customise him some more with accessories like watches, necklaces, tattoos and other hairstyles. At the beginning of the game your choices are slightly limited, as you have limited cash, but as you progress in the game and earn more money you will be able to buy pretty much anything.
The controls in Def Jam are very hard to master. You pull off basic light and hard punches and kicks with the face buttons. From there is where things start to get tricky. You can pull off big moves with the right thumbstick. Turning and pushing it in different directions will allow you to throw your characters weight around and pull off a hook or roundhouse kick. Pushing the stick up will grab your opponent allowing you to throw you opponent with another push of the stick. You can also combine a move with the right thumbstick with a press of the D-Pad to perform a takedown. Then you have the ‘Defence Modifier’, which is assigned to the right trigger. Holding this down will allow you to block with the right thumbstick. Time it right when an opponent is going for the attack and you will pull off a counter attack. So far with about eight hours of play I have only managed to pull this off three times. While the controls are responsive the characters are not. Their moves take a while to land on the opposition and you need to be able to plan a second ahead and press the buttons for you to land a punch or kick where you want it, otherwise your opponent will just block it and throw some hard punches back.
The game is obviously very hip-hop orientated. Lots of artists are present in the game. Some will be working with you like ‘Ludacris’ and some against you such as ‘Sean Paul’. Not only do they feature in the game but also their signature tracks play during the battles. Each fight will consist of two songs, one from one of the artists you manage and the other from your opponent. When your chosen song is playing it will give you a slight power boost, so blows to your opponent will do a little more damage. This isn’t the only thing the songs add to gameplay. The environments will move and pulsate to the beat of the song. Big beats in the song will trigger hazards in the levels like speakers blasting to pole dancers spinning around and kicking you. While these sound like a great feature they are let down by the amount of damage they do, and the fact that every hazard seems to throw you over the over side of the level. It looks quite ridiculous and is a let down to the hardcore fighting style. You can use the hazards to your advantage with the DJ controls. These allow you to manipulate the currently playing track and skip to that big beat which will trigger off the hazard. To pull off this technique you use the left trigger and the thumbsticks. Spinning the left thumbstick round twice will change the track allowing you to use that extra power boost. Using the right thumbstick will scratch to big beats in the song allowing you to throw your opponent near a hazard and trigger it.
Xbox Live play allows you to take your fighting skills online and show others what you’re made of. Sadly it is only Vs mode and adds no new modes. Quite a disappointment when I can play Vs offline with an AI opponent. However it is there if you fancy playing against a real opponent as well as leader boards to show who has the most cred points and wins. Cred points are earned by winning ranked matches and more are gained depending on how tough your opponent is. A nice feature is the ‘signatures. These are text taunts sent to your opponent depending on how you won the match. So if your opponent quits he will have displayed at the bottom of his menu “Mad Dog 27: Yeh you run like the baby you are”, and the only way to get rid of this from the bottom of his screen is to fight you again or earn 25 more cred points. You can customise these taunts in the online options menu, but for some reason there is a very strict filter and if you type something “inappropriate” is will pop up with a message “We know it’s lame, but please no profanity in signatures”. Seems a bit odd for an 18 rated game full of swearing in the story mode to not allow profanity, but I suppose it’s for the best.
The graphics in ICON are nothing less than amazing. The detail that has gone into characters and the environments should be a standard for all games. When it comes to hip-hop I’m the last person you want to talk to about the subject, but the characters have so much detail I can easily recognise the big names. The clothing and jewelery will whip and move realistically when fighting, and will get worn when taking damage. Environments will take damage when opponents are thrown into them, sparks flying and flames bouncing, all happening with the beat of the song. The HUD is off by default in ICON, you have to work out your health by how much damage it looks like you have taken. You can see this with bruises and cuts and the way your character will move from exhaustion. When you or your character has very little health left the colour of the game will change with a saturated look. This can make it hard to see what’s going on, as the screen will turn dark.
This game wouldn’t be anything without the music. Featuring over 25 uncensored tracks it won’t disappoint the hip hop fans. The game even features voiceovers by big named artists. They provide the voices for the cut scenes and the voice messages that get sent to your computer asking for your help. Environment effects explode out of the speakers as you opponent taunts you. Music and sound is what the game delivers and it does it well.
ICON doesn’t do anything in terms of a good fighter. Its slow fighting style and complicated controls are a massive let down. However if you’re a hip-hop fan and want to see your favourite fighters battle it out this is for you.
Originally Written By: Toby Bodman