Electronic Arts – Def Jam: Icon review

Hip-Hop combat, bling and more
Photo of Electronic Arts – Def Jam: Icon

No diggity, word, peace out… and so forth. Okay, so this reviewer isn’t really all that hip. And not particularly hop either. But – and it’s a big but (invariably the case with hip-hop videos) – you don’t have to be a rabid fan of the music genre to appreciate Def Jam: Icon, a hip-hop oriented beat-’em-up from the EA stable.

Though it certainly helps, as you’ll recognise that EA has secured a host of top names from the contemporary hip-hop world as characters in the game. And naturally, if you detest the music, Def Jam is obviously less appealing, although you can turn the beats down and the sound effects up. That would be a shame, however, as the selection of bass-thumping tunes is excellent.

If the music quality is the first thing that strikes you, the second is the quality of the graphics. Ludacris, the Game, Sean Paul and cohorts are all rendered photo-realistically, complete with gold chains that swing around their necks as they kick and punch the crap out of each other. The environments are also impressively detailed, and Def Jam is most certainly a looker. But is it a player?

The gameplay revolves around the fighting engine. You can engage in one-off scraps or practice bouts, but the main meat of the game is the “Build your own label” mode. This is a career style campaign in which you sign up artists and try to promote their records as best you can, making stacks of cash in the process.

Looking after your acts basically boils down to a series of fights: you’re not so much a manager as a bouncer. Someone isn’t happy because a paparazzi photographer is bothering them? Off you go with your knuckle duster to snap a leg or two. A rival promoter is moving in on your boy? Off you go with your knuckle duster…

The combat engine is fairly standard stuff in some respects. You have basic punch and kick attacks, with fancier and more powerful versions initiated by moving the right analogue stick in a circle. However, the developer has tried to inject some originality by tying the music into the fighting action. Basically, hazards in the background go off in time to the beat, and you can hold a trigger button down and “scratch” with the analogue stick (DJ style) to set off explosions and other damaging effects on your opponent.

Sadly, this works better in theory than it does in practice. It’s difficult to tell when the environment is going to erupt with some nastiness, and the scratching attacks are quite tricky to land, which can lead to frustration. Even so, the attempt at innovation is appreciated.

What really lets Def Jam’s combat system down is the speed at which it runs. The characters amble around like they’ve been smoking one too many wacky baccy roll-ups, to the point where it almost feels like the game is being played in slow-motion. Timing your moves and blocks is difficult because of this sluggish and unresponsive nature, and that rather taints the whole game.

Alongside the scrapping, the career mode also features some simple business mechanics – you have to decide how much to spend on promoting your records and suchlike – plus you can also spend cash on customising your character with clothes and “bling”, of which there’s tons to choose from.

Def Jam is more than solid on many fronts, but ultimately the combat engine is poorly implemented.

Company: Electronic Arts

The visuals and sound track are top-notch and there are some interesting ideas here regarding the fight mechanics, plus it's great fun customising your character with ludicrously expensive watches and grills (gold false teeth-fronts for the uninitiated). But (there's that big but again) the combat speed makes Def Jam feel like you're playing a 45rpm vinyl at 33rpm speed. And whichever way you cut that mix, the result isn't good.