Def Jam Vendetta Review (PS2)
Rap and wrestling is not an uncommon association, but having rappers as wrestlers is. Bring on Def Jam Vendetta, the newest game in EA Sports BIG library of games that take a slight twist from the norm to try and take a sport to an ‘extreme’ level of play and appeal to the not so typical gamer. NBA Street took basketball gaming to a new ‘extreme’ level and they are looking to do the same with Def Jam Vendetta for wrestling. Developer Aki is well known in the wrestling circles for its WWF No Mercy title for the Nintendo 64, which has been regarded as one of the best overall wrestling games on any system. Aki also has had numerous other wrestling related titles released for various systems through the years, so their association with EA is more than warranted as having that ability to develop a very likable title, even with this interesting combination of elements.
Def Jam Vendetta brings you 44 different wrestlers, 12 of which are actual Def Jam artists (DMX, Ludacris, Method Man, and Redman to name a few), 10 different arenas, and a move list EA boasts as having more than 1,500 that are unique. Some of the artists even offered some inspiration for the moves themselves. Now before I go too far, I am not a fan of rap at all. I was very hesitant in getting this title, but after hearing the praises about it I had to check it out. The current king of wrestling on the Playstation 2 is THQ’s WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth and coming close to the fun and depth of Smackdown is not going to be an easy task. The positive thing about taking rappers and turning them into wrestlers is that you don’t have to worry about hearing that such and such move doesn’t look close enough to the real thing because there is not a real move that the rapper performs to be compared to. Read on to see what Def Jam Vendetta has in its bag of tricks.
EA has always been known for its high concentration on their titles looking very good in the graphic department and Vendetta does not disappoint. Everything from the opening sequence to the most complex moves look and flow at an excellent pace. There is not one iota of slow down anywhere in the game. The max wrestlers on the screen at any given time is four, which is two less than Smackdown, but they are also more detailed, which may be the explanation for being two less in the ring at once. The wrestlers themselves look excellent. As I said before I am not a fan of rap, but I do know a little about a few of the Def Jam artists that are in the game. DMX of course being the most obvious due to his movie roles looks very much like his real life counterpart. The other three that had been mentioned in the overview, Ludacris, Method Man, and Redman also are easily identifiable. The reason I mention these four is that beyond that I have no clue who the rest of these artists are and probably never would if it wasn’t for this game. I understand the segment of gamers that was being aimed for and thousands of other people will know immediately who the others are and should be just as thoroughly impressed with their looks as I was with those I recognized.
The premise of the game, which you are given if you watch the opening video basically says that proving yourself as a street fighter or hustler wasn’t the way to make yourself known, so they (the rappers/wrestlers) became organized, however, they were too ‘gangsta’ for the garden (Madison Square Garden naturally seemed to be the comparison they were aiming for) so they took the matches underground. To go with this setup all the venues have an inner city underground atmosphere look to them. There are actually twelve different looking venues in ten locations. When you start looking at the locations the first thing you will notice are the 3-D crowds. They are animated from the fence surrounding ringside all the way back to the dancing girls dancing on the platforms such as in the Club Luda venue. The crowds however only have one universal repetitive movement and they also do not change locations, but they look good, and left no complaints with me. The ring itself is just that, a ring. Not much in variety there other than the fact that the ring goes with the surrounding location, from the fence surrounding it to the basing at the bottom, as well as each having a different logo on the mat.
If you enjoy rap you will enjoy the soundtrack that has been placed in the game, but don’t let the Def Jam theme keep you from buying this game though, since if you don’t like the music it is really simple to turn it off. I tried my hardest to listen to the various tracks but I just couldn’t keep them on, as I was forced to listen to them as the game played them. I would have liked to have seen an option to pick and choose which tracks I wanted to hear, as I did recognize and actually did like “Fight The Power” from Public Enemy, and also DMX’s “X Gonna Give It To Ya”, but nonetheless I couldn’t pick and choose so I left the music off. There are 18 different songs give in the credits of the manual with only 2 being performed via artists not in the game. Found that a little interesting in that they would have songs by artists not in the game, but then a couple of the artists didn’t have a single song, other than possibly a supporting role in one of them. Also, don’t look for them to be played as is, to keep the Teen rating the rough language has been edited out of the songs.
Speaking of the Teen rating, throughout the game you will hear a couple of lines from each of the different wrestlers, normally before and after the match and sometimes during. Consider yourself warned that the language does get rough on occasion, but on the plus side the “F” word is not used which is why the rating I assume stayed at Teen. That minor warning is for the parents who may consider letting their kids get this game. If they were already listening to the music then I wouldn’t even worry about the Teen rating. If foul language is completely against your better judgment than you might want to rent first.
While wrestling there are plenty of sounds to be heard and they are done very well. You will hear all sorts of sounds, as the moves are being made via either wrestler contact or contact with the mat and surroundings. These will be slaps, hits, thuds into the fence railing, and basically anything else related to what you would expect to hear why the wrestlers are flying in and around the ring taking their bumps and bruises. Also, the crowd is very into the matches as they cheer as the wrestlers start building momentum, you were hear sympathetic noises when the wrestler is given a low blow, and a ton of booing if the action doesn’t stay at an entertaining pace. There is a ring announcer somewhere in the arena as you will hear him holler things now and again related to your momentum building, or missed opportunities and the like. Thank goodness it is not done in annoying nature as in NBA Street. Sound overall is done very well and if you like rap music you will even be happier with the sound than I was.
If you purchased Def Jam Vendetta thinking you were going to get something similar to Smackdown forget it. Vendetta has its own unique style of gameplay that is within the lines of Aki’s past projects. Punching and kicking is done by the Square button with a tap giving a quick effect soft strike move, and actually pressing Square has you performing a slightly more powerful move, which leaves you more vulnerable for a counter-attack, you also can press Square and X together for a really powerful strike, but these are simple to counter unless you opponent has been worn down. Grapple moves are started by pressing or tapping X to grab the other wrestler, once this is done than a combination of a tap or press of Square or X alone or with a direction performs a grapple move which in normal wrestling terms would give you body slams, power bombs, pile drivers and so on, but in Vendetta they have different names for all these common moves, which some of them are Say Your Prayers, Black Widow, and Harlem Whirlwind to name a few. Majority of these are easily recognizable moves just done in a slightly different manner and called something completely different than what you would see in the WWE.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what each wrestler is capable of doing and there is not any massive memorization needed to try and remember the combination you need to perform a move. You will also be able to do running moves, rope and turnbuckle moves, and many more. Some of the moves look very similar but just called something different so the 1,500 could be a bit exaggerated in an overall sense but even so you figure 1,500 plus moves and 44 wrestlers gives each wrestler the average possibility of at least 34 different moves. All of the wrestlers have a momentum bar which when full gives the wrestler access to one of two (front or back of opponent causes the variation of the move) special finisher moves. To start the finisher move process you flick the right analog and then once you grapple your opponent you flick it again to get an extremely wild looking finisher move. If your opponent is in the ‘danger zone’ on energy the special move will normally knockout your opponent giving you the easy win. This is also the only way to knockout your opponents, the other ways to win are from a submission move or a 3-count pin fall. You cannot be disqualified from the match in any way and if you so choose you could spend the entire match fighting outside the ring and still be awarded victory eventually, via a knockout or submission. To accelerate the learning process of all the different moves and how to use them there is a 10 step tutorial option that is choose able from the main menu. This shows you how to get started with all the main buttons and the ways to press them to perform all the different actions during the matches.
Types of play start with Battle mode which includes the choice of a 1-on-1 match, tag team, free for all (up to four wrestlers vying to be the last one standing for victory), and handicap where it is one wrestler against up to three different wrestlers (Mutli-tap can be used for four human players to play in the tag, free for all, and handicap modes). Another mode of play is Survival where one person constantly faces wrestler after wrestler until you lose. As you win each match your current stamina carries over to the next match, which eventually makes it harder to win for a long period of time. Also you will only face wrestlers that you have currently unlocked. I am not completely sure of the length of survival mode, but the first time I tried it I had defeated 19 wrestlers when it had ended. The next time I tried Survival mode, I had defeated over 30 and was still going when I decided to stop (time involved continues to count up and I was well over 90 minutes when I stopped at 30 victories). I am guessing that if you have all 44 wrestlers unlocked you may have to face all 44 wrestlers to complete the Survival mode, as it was when I defeated all 19 and ended the mode that was all I had available for competition that had been unlocked. All the opponents you face are chosen at random and I did once see repetition in that I faced the same wrestler twice in one continual segment. In all the wrestling match types you earn points for not only moves, but also for variation of the moves, how quickly you end the match, and for how much of your health bar is remaining. Once the match is over and if you have won you will earn money for the points you received, with bonus point being received for a knockout or submission win, the money you earn than can be used in the last mode of play, Story mode.
Story mode has the most longevity and the biggest variety of the different modes. To start Story mode you have your choice of four newbie wrestlers. Once a wrestler has been chosen you need to start proving yourself that you are worthy of being an underground wrestler. Along the way you will find yourself facing every single wrestler in the game one way or another. You will progress along the way competing in mostly single matches and occasionally a few tag matches, along with a couple other surprises. One of these being five different women vying for your attention, and as you unlock them there also will open up a gallery of the real life inspirations for these women with each of them having 24 photos for your viewing pleasure. To all you horn-dogs don’t get your hopes up as all of the photos are of the clothed nature. There is nothing revealing in any of the photos, but regardless the models are extremely easy on the eyes. You still earn points and dollars at the end of each match and what you win here along with anything you win during the other single and multiplayer modes of play can be used to improve your wrestlers performance stats. The more you improve a particular performance stat the costlier it will be to take it higher towards its maximum level.
Now while I enjoyed the modes of play and the gameplay itself there were a few problems that appeared. First one being, during any match where you are against more than one opponent you can become quickly frustrated when it comes to trying focus on one opponent. There are three levels of difficulty in the game being easy, normal, and hard. On the easy and normal level you can deal with this once you get used to it, but on the hard level unless you are really focused on what is happening you will be swearing right along with the game characters. Not only is focusing a problem but actually seeing who you are focused on becomes an even bigger problem. The only way you know for sure who you are going to be hitting is watching where your wrestler is looking and hoping that there is only one opponent in that direction. Also when making the switch from one opponent to the other you cannot be pressing any direction or any other button which can kill your momentum.
Another problem that isn’t as big of a deal is I cannot find any reason to play a different difficulty level than just to make it challenging for the user. I beat story mode with one character on easy mode, the next character on normal mode, and I am very deep with the third character using hard mode. Other than the difficulty there doesn’t seem to be any extra rewards for accomplishing the goal via the different levels of difficulty. The next problem resides in playing with other humans. In any mode where you want to save your progress and accomplishments you must create a user profile. The problem lies in that only one person can pick a profile to be used. The problem this creates is that if you have three others ready to play, but you only have one profile with wrestlers unlocked, only the one human player can use all the wrestlers. The others only can choose from ten starting wrestlers that are available from the first time you turned on the game, unless you have more than one profile with wrestlers unlocked created. One exception to this is if you are playing as a tag team with one other human the first player does get to choose three of the wrestlers so the opponent can get a choice of one of the unlocked players when normally they wouldn’t get this opportunity with a new profile. Lastly, the biggest thing lacking when in comparison with Smackdown is the different types of matches available is very limited in the fact there are not any specialized matches such as ladder or cage matches or even the ability to use weapons of some variety during a match.
Def Jam Vendetta thoroughly surprised me in being an immensely fun title. The very minor problems do nothing to take away the fact that Def Jam Vendetta gets my early vote for surprise game of the year and currently is my front runner for the fighting game of the year. While it does lack the variety of match types that Smackdown offers, it I believe is just as much fun, if not more fun than Smackdown. If you like wrestling games, do yourself a favor and get this now. The single player modes are fun and have quite a bit of longevity while playing against your buddies is even better yet. The gameplay is a nice, refreshing change from the mainstream realistic replica wrestling titles that most are used to seeing. Some gamers that even like fighting games but not necessarily wrestling games may find a lot of fun here as well, as it is not the typical wrestler that most are accustomed too.