Def Jam FIGHT For NY Review (Xbox)

My hip-hop “career” started and ended in 1986 when my posse, The Brookview Boyz, performed a less than flattering little ditty at a Junior High talent show that scored rave reviews from the crowd and a six week string of detentions. Sure, we were forced to do “hard time”, but how do you hush cutting edge lyrics like this:

“Have you ever seen Rehberg…he is gigantic…they call him Iceberg…cause he sank the Titanic.”

With my “thug life” almost 20 years behind me, I was ready to dust off my Pumas and Adidas tracksuit and give the rap world a try again with EA Game’s new "Def Jam: Fight for New York", developer AKI’s sequel to last year’s solid, yet somewhat shallow, "Def Jam: Vendetta". With AKI’s famous fighting engine, and a roster full of hip-hop legends and some of today’s hottest artists, does this title have enough juice to punch and kick its way to gaming gold? Word to your mother.

If you played the original title, "Def Jam: Vendetta", you got a taste of what the EA and the brilliant team at AKI were trying to bring to the table. A slick fighter that combines the worlds of martial arts, wrestling, street fighting, and UFC into one “bling” covered package. While the basic premise remains the same, the depth in this year’s title crushes what they did in the rookie release.

The phat Storyline Mode in "Def Jam: Fight for New York" picks up where its predecessor left off. D-Mob, the Boss from "Vendetta", has been arrested and carted off for hard time. As the cops, who hit the stereotype that you hear in every rap song, transfer D-Mob, a mysterious vehicle comes out of the shadows, T-bones the pigs, and helps D-Mob escape. That’s where our story begins.

You start off in the Create-A-Fighter mode to choose whom you’ll be navigating through the story. You can choose a generic model for your Hip-Hop warrior, or build them from scratch. While the initial creation isn’t the deepest, it’s certainly nice to have it included this year. Plus, all the customization comes later.

From there, D-Mob introduces you to his boys and sets you up with a place to live. He’ll need your skills in the fight to take the streets back from Crow, voiced by (and looking just like) Snoop Dogg. Crow and his gang of fighters have taken advantage of D-Mob's unfortunate incarceration. It’s time to take it back, one club at a time.

Now it’s all about fighting and money. Fight and win, and you'll earn money. Earn money and you can head up to the business district to pimp out your fighter. Need new clothes? There is a store chock full of the latest licensed merchandise. It's all real gear here, and you can spend hours trying out different combinations. Need a tat? Need some “bling bling”? Yes, you do! The better your fighter looks, the more the crowd at the fights will respect you. Use that respect to earn the crowd's support for double-teams and help.

You also can use it to learn new moves and update your move list by visiting your personal fight trainer, Henry Rollins. You can also learn new fighting styles. Each fighter can learn three of the styles (street fighting, kickboxing, martial arts, wrestling, and submission) and what you know directly affects your ratings, moves types, and execution. This is a great addition because it adds replay-ability. I’m making my way through Storyline Mode a second time right now, just to try different style combinations.

From your home base, you can check your T-Mobile Sidekick for voicemails and text messages from friends and enemies. Ludacris, Method Man, Fat Joe, Ice T, Busta Rhymes and a number of other of superstars and legends are included among the roster of characters you’ll either fight with or against.

Fighting itself, in a word, is brutal. Standard matches are bloodbaths that are fought to a knockout, although some matches do have special parameters. Using the very simple control scheme that has become synonymous with the AKI engine, you’ll use a combination of punches, kicks, grapples (strong and weak), and running moves to pulverize your opponent. Use the environment to mash your opponent as well. Ram his head into a cage. Toss his noggin through the window of an SUV. Bounce him off of a concrete pillar. If it’s there, use it. The crowd that surrounds most fights will even offer you weapons from time to time to add to the carnage.

The beat down is all fine and good, but KO’s don’t come easy. Pay attention to your opponent's fighting style and use it against them. There really is a method to the madness here. It’s far from a button-mashing game. It’s all about moves and countermoves. Like a blood-soaked chess match.

Let’s have a little visualization exercise. For those of you old enough to remember it, picture Barry Bonds in his early Pittsburgh Pirates days - kind of lanky; kind of skinny. Now picture Barry Bonds circa 2004. Buff. Ripped. Three hat sizes larger. That’s kind of what they did to the character models in "Def Jam: Fight for New York". Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, and the posse all get BALCO’d to the max and come out as rock solid versions of their real life selves. They are all near flawlessly rendered to match the look of the real rapper to startling detail.

The animations are tight and silky smooth. They look crisp and clean as the character models interact with their environment. Players even display facial emotion and effort during the course of the match, as well as real-time damage induced cuts and bruises. The ultra detailed “gear” and “bling”, for the most part, move and react in perfect sync with the player movements. By far, this is the best total package for player models that I have seen produced in a fighting/wrestling game.

Environments also add a dark, dank, NYC feel to the game. They really pull off the right look and attitude with the locales in this title. You can tell that extra time and effort was spent giving each venue just the right look and feel.

The audio does nothing but improve the overall feel that the visuals do so well. This game deserves a look solely on the amount of great voice acting they used in the Storyline Mode. Wrestling game fans have been crying for this in their game for so long. If they can do it here, that should open the door for the rest of the genre.

The soundtrack of the game is riddled with both old school and the latest Hip-Hop beats. And the beauty is you don’t really need to be a Hip-Hop fan to enjoy it. They really blended the music into the game nicely. It doesn’t wash out the brutal grunts, grounds, snaps, cracks and crashes of the fight itself. It’s just enough to keep your toe tappin’ to the rhythm.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, "Def Jam: Fight for New York" is a great title! It wouldn’t be fair for me to penalize a game for not having online functionality, but I must say that I am very disappointed. With EA’s venture into the world of Xbox Live, it is a shame that they couldn’t put at least a Free-For-All mode out there for us to play with. Some programmers have told me in the past that a fighting/wrestling game is the toughest to build online because even a hint of lag can really affect the experience. But, come on, give it a try and let us be the judge!

Offline multi-player modes are pretty standard fare. Up to four “Hip-Hop Soldja’s” can take to the streets in Battles with various parameters. Plus, the further you get in Storyline Mode, the more venues, fighters, and match types that you can unlock to raise the carnage level. All in all, it's a nice multi-player experience, if you have the friends around to try it.

What can I say? I love this game! As a guy who still breaks out the N64 for my wrestling fix, seeing the AKI engine in living color on my Xbox is a treat. Wrestling fans, fighting fans, UFC fans, Hip-Hop fans - just gaming fans are going to love this game. I’ve played hours and hours of this game - and there's no end in sight. Easily a candidate for “Game of the Year”, "Def Jam: Fight for New York" is “all that and a tube of Pringles.”

Def Jam FIGHT For NY Score
out of 10