|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Chicago||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 6, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by D'Marcus Beatty
When Def Jam Vendetta was announced, many gamers were skeptical. The idea of rappers as fighters or wrestlers seemed hokey at best. However, for the most part, the game was well received, and the sequel made strides that made the game even more accepted, so its next-gen iteration was highly anticipated. Def Jam Icon has finally arrived, and while it has made some great improvements in some areas, it has also made some serious mistakes in others, making a game that shows, but doesn't fulfill, its potential.
Icon puts you in the shoes of a fighter/future record label exec as he climbs the ranks of the record industry. Initially, you can create your fighter, customizing his appearance, fighting style, height, and weight. After finalizing your character you can use him in the Build-A-Label mode, which is basically the story mode. Instead of the fairly far-fetched story of rappers fist-fighting for territory, Icon has you assuming the role of a "hands-on" label exec that deals with problems personally, whether the problem is a fan harassing an artist, overzealous paparazzi, or rival labels antagonizing your prospective artists.
During the course of the Build-A-Label mode, you'll fight different opponents to deal with the aforementioned threats. You'll also manage the Record Label by assigning the royalty rate for your artists, choosing which artists to pursue, and even allotting money to different departments such as marketing and PR for your artists' tracks. You'll occasionally get requests from your artists for additional funds for everything from lawyer fees to personal transportation, and you must strike a balance between keeping them happy and managing your own bankroll. In addition to this, you also have a girlfriend that makes monetary requests as well and must be attended to if you want to keep her.
The bulk of the game lies in the combat. Most of the combatants are rappers and utilize one of six different fighting styles with different strengths and weaknesses. The unique thing in Icon is that music actually factors into the combat. First, if a rapper's song is playing, he gets a significant power boost that gives him an advantage. However, each fighter can switch the song to his own by miming the manipulation of a turntable. Also, a lot of the environmental hazards in the background of each stage move in time with the beat, which can also be manipulated by the turntable move. This means that you can throw your opponent towards hazards like a spouting fire or an abruptly moving car and activate the hazard as the opponent lies near it, increasing the damage received by their foe. While this is an innovative way to try to incorporate music into the fighting, a lot of the hazards' ranges are far reaching, usually hitting both fighters. Also, a lot of hazards launch the fighter back towards the other fighter, causing both fighters to stumble and take damage. This often negates any advantages the fighter might gain by using the hazard.
Another problem lies in the combat. The previous Def Jam games used a lot of over-the-top special moves and powerful attacks that made gameplay fun, albeit unrealistic. Icon eschews everything established by the former games for a more realistic, but far more bland fighting engine. The fighting just isn't as deep or as fun as the previous Def Jam game, especially since all the fighters move sluggishly. Grab animations all seem as if the fighter is attempting to move through water. Even the evade movements and the throw animations seem a little too floaty. The game also lacks a run button, which is sorely missed, especially when your fighters walk towards each other from across the stage. It also seems odd that, with all of the items and objects littered around each locale, the developers decided against allowing you to use weapons, another element that is sorely missed. The developers also took out the ability to fight as the females, which was a guilty pleasure from the last Def Jam.
One area where the game definitely shines is its visuals. Def Jam Icon looks great. The character models all look like their real-life counterparts, and even your created character looks like a real person. All of the backgrounds and environments are all highly detailed as well, although some of the floaty physics detracts from the realism. Also, occasionally, articles of clothing or jewelry will float up from a fallen character, seeming like a weightless object tethered to the body. Despite these shortcomings, however, Def Jam Icon is an undeniably pretty game.