Fighting games have always been a big part of gaming, and in fact we have seen so many over time that it is hard to differentiate at times between them. However EA has been working on a series that for the past few years has really tried to give a new look on the fighting genre by mixing up wrestling and street brawling gameplay mechanics with some pretty tight hip-hop music. The series is the Def Jam series and it is currently making its first appearance on the next generation consoles with Def Jam Icon. Today we are looking at the PS3 version, which hopes to further catapult the new console forward in the console race. How does the game end up performing? Read our full review to find out.
Throughout this review I will be using the word "stylized", which in essence is going to refer to the game’s heavy use of, you guessed it, style. The Def Jam franchise series has never been known to make over the top wrestling moves, or even over the top opponents. The game however has used all of the other elements like sound, visuals, and style to make for a great fighting game. Now on the next generation consoles and with the skilled developers over at EA Chicago who were in charge of the great Fight Night Round 3, the stars seemed all aligned for Def Jam Icon to make a big showing on the PS3. So did the game measure up to our expectations?
Let’s first talk about the different modes in the game, and then we will get more into the fighting. You start the mode by creating your own character in a very solid character creation tool that will remind you of what you saw in Fight Night Round 3. The tool allows you to customize everything that you could think of, and works well enough. Right when you get past the character creation tool you are entered into a beautiful cut scene that opens up the game’s story. I really don’t want to give the story away, because the opening cut scene is actually very powerful ands sets up for the rest of the game very nicely. In fact, its a shame that with such a great introduction the game’s story couldn’t continue the pace. But fret not, because you’re still in for an interesting ride nonetheless.
So a lot of what you’re doing in the Build a Label mode will be taking place in the fighting arena. However you will go to your place where you can check e-mail, go to appointments, change your clothes, and other things of that nature. The mode itself is actually pretty deep and offers up a lot of different things that keep you interested for a good deal of time. The mode isn’t what I would consider the longest, but it manages to wrap everything the game has together in one nice neat package.
The rest of the modes in the game are pretty standard, with a quick match mode as well as online play, which once again is pretty basic. I attempted to go online a few times in Def Jam Icon and got a few matches, but the servers didn’t seem overly crowded yet. The games I did get into were pretty good though, with smooth gameplay and no noticeable lag, which is always good for any online experience.
So the modes are all there and my overall impression of them were good, but of course the majority of the game was going to be left up to the fighting. Well remember how earlier in the review I brought up style, well now is where we are going to get into that. One thing I have noticed on the next generation of consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Wii), is that developers are going for more style, or in other words boosting the polygon count or using nifty special effects instead of focusing on the core gameplay. Def Jam Icon is a perfect example of this, as the fighting mechanics in Def Jam Icon is actually painfully basic. It has a simple grappling system, with the face buttons controlling high and low kicks and punches, and a few music mixing tools that are used during a fight. The actual fighting however is extremely slow paced, probably one of the slowest styles out of any fighting game I have played in years. With a slow fighting style you usually have a massive countering system, which is partially in Def Jam Icon, but once again isn’t as bold as you would expect.
The fighting mechanics on Def Jam Icon end up being much too high on style and a bit low on substance. What this in turn does for Def Jam Icon is make for a game that just isn’t as enjoyable as the rest of the game sets it up to be. The music combination with the fighting starts out good, but the more you play the game the more you realize how shallow the gameplay can be. This in turn makes for a game that is severely hampered by its fighting mechanics, which lose their flavor much too quickly. This effectively makes Def Jam Icon a lot less of a fighting game, but more of a music experience that is complimented by a simple fighting game.
Let me tell you one thing, EA Chicago certainly knows how to do graphics, and they continue to show off their talents in Def Jam Icon with one of the most beautiful fighting game since Fight Night Round 3. What Def Jam Icon does differently from Fight Night Round 3 is the use of color, which is much more apparent in this brawler than in a boxing game. The way that EA Chicago managed to incorporate their visual style with the music in the game is by far the most significant accomplishment of Def Jam Icon. Also the fact that the game moves at a slower pace allows you to really dissect the animations, which are fluid and realistic. The entire games looks gorgeous; and if it wasn’t for some small hiccups and a few weird animations here and there, this could be the perfect game to showcase the power of the PS3.
What is so unfortunate about Def Jam Icon is that it has all of the underlying layers of a great fighting game ready. It has the deep game modes that include a good storyline, which is rare for a fighting game, and then you have some of the best fighting visuals on the next gen consoles. However the slow paced over stylized gameplay ends up making too much of a problem to make the final product as much fun as it could have been. I thought maybe the fact that the environments were destructible would make for even more action, but it is so staged and so repetitive that even the environments can’t manage to squeeze more fun out of the game.
You look at the final product of Def Jam Icon and you see a game that has such great style and such a great atmosphere to it that its so unfortunate that the gameplay couldn’t be better. You will start to see the shortcomings of the game rather quickly, with a much too simplistic countering system, a slow fighting style that makes the fights lackluster. In the end, the game could be a classic case of style over substance, as the developers focus more on the bling-bling rather than having a fun (or at least decent) fighting game for fans.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.