The progression of Fight for NY's story mode isn't too complex. Once you've completed a short training sequence, you'll find yourself inside the apartment that will serve as the hub area for your character. Your crib features several sections that you can access, including a cell phone for checking messages, a closet to manage your wardrobe, a trophy case to display your accomplishments in the game, and a map of the city. On the map you will see where active fights are set to take place. The progression of the story through the map system is somewhat nonlinear, in that you can choose to fight at any active location. However, only specific fights will trigger cutscenes and other bits of the storyline, so in that sense, the story does lean more toward linearity.
...but once you have a few fights under your belt and some cash, you can deck him out in an incredible number of ways.
Aside from fights, you can also access a number of shops from the map, as well as your training gym. Shops include a barbershop, a clothing store, a tattoo parlor, and a jewelry store run by none other than the ice specialist to the rap stars, Jacob the Jeweler. With the money you earn from fights, you can purchase anything available from these stores, and there is quite a lot to choose from. The clothing store alone is packed with name-brand gear from companies like Sean John, Ecko, Fila, and a host of other clothiers. The interesting thing about the character customization is that it actually plays into your character's charisma rating. Jewelry pieces purchased from Jacob especially fall into this category, as your charisma rating essentially gets jacked up with every piece of flash you show off. The more money you spend, the more the crowd will eat it up. The best part about all the gear you get is that it fits onto your character perfectly. So often in games of this type, the clothes and accessories you add don't look like a good fit for the character, and rather just look badly pasted onto the model. Here, the accessorial changes are seamless.
The gym is the other area where you can make purchases, albeit completely different sorts of purchases. Managed by Henry Rollins, the gym is where you'll be able to upgrade your character's physical attributes, including upper-body strength, lower-body strength, speed, toughness, and health. These attributes are upgraded via points you also earn from fighting, and as you boost them up, the cost for each attribute bonus gets higher. You can also purchase new "blazin' moves," which are over-the-top finishing maneuvers that are equally hysterical and brutal. There's a whole mess of moves to choose from, and as you work your way through the fighting circuit, you'll unlock many of your fallen opponents' moves, which can then be bought at the gym. The gym is also where your character will develop new fighting styles. At the outset, you'll have only one style chosen, but once you earn enough points, you can learn a second and finally a third style to give your character a nice variety of attacks.
All in all, Fight for NY's story mode is a whole lot of fun. It's a reasonably lengthy affair (it'll take you roughly eight hours to get through the whole thing), and it's entertaining throughout. The only real complaint about the story is that it doesn't always make a ton of sense. For starters, the game never really explains why D-Mobb has suddenly gone from the brutal tyrant he was in the first game to the streetwise but respected gang leader he is in the sequel--in fact, he actually borders on being one of the good guys. The game also never really pays any heed to who your character actually is, or where he came from, nor does it provide any satisfying conclusion once it has played itself out (in fact, the ending is more than a little anticlimactic). Furthermore, the story has just a few too many convenient changes of heart from various secondary characters to really be at all believable. But, plot holes aside, the point of the story is not to be some gritty, hard-nosed, realistic drama about street fighting. This is a campy, over-the-top thug story with a lot of celebrities voicing some pretty stereotypical characters, and in this sense, the game succeeds wonderfully. Plus, when you factor in the sheer number of fights to participate in, and the insane amount of character customization available to you, these quibbles can be easily ignored.
There are more than a few different fights to choose from in Fight for NY, including the always amusing subway match.
Once you've had your way with the story mode, you'll find yourself turning to Fight for NY's multiplayer matches, of which there are plenty. Every type of fight you can participate in from the story mode is available in the game's battle mode, ranging from simple brawls in basements and bars to cage matches, subway matches, demolition matches, inferno matches, window matches, and beyond. Just to give you a couple of examples of what some of these crazier matches are like, the subway match challenges you to fight inside a subway station and beat your opponent either by knocking him or her out or by throwing him or her in front of an oncoming subway train. Demolition matches take place inside a parking garage, and within your fight area are two SUVs. You can use these as weapons by throwing your opponent through the windshield, tossing him or her onto the hood, or smashing him or her in the door. The game also features two-on-two team battles, as well as a free-for-all match for up to four players. The only feature missing here (on the PS2 and Xbox anyway) is online connectivity, and this is disappointing. However, there's more than enough offline multiplayer variety to keep Fight for NY entertaining, so long as you have some friends who are willing to come over and play along with you.
Graphically, Fight for NY is a pretty significant step up from Def Jam Vendetta. The models for the various celebrity characters are extremely impressive, highly detailed likenesses of their real-life counterparts. Sure, some of the body builds have been beefed up here and there to try to make them look more physically intimidating (sorry, Ice-T, you're not that cut), but really, who cares? The game's variety of battle arenas is also very impressive. Each area is quite distinctive, ranging from a Rasta-themed Jamaican bar and a deserted scrap yard to a Fight Club-style basement, complete with cardboard tossed about the floor to try to soak up some of the spilled blood. The crowd models aren't especially detailed, but they animate well enough and react to the action accordingly. The little sections of each environment that are destructible also come off nicely, breaking beautifully on impact. A fair portion of the game's move animations are holdovers from last year's game, but there's also a huge variety of new moves (especially in the blazin' move category), and they all look great.
There are also some really nice technical touches you'll see throughout the game, as well as a couple of technical annoyances. Most noticeably, in the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game, you'll notice something of a soft light-blur effect that permeates each fight. This little touch of haze really gives each fight a slick, smooth look to it. It's unfortunate that the GameCube version of the game lacks this, but it isn't really much worse for the wear without it. The only issues that really plague the game are an occasionally annoying camera and an unfortunately erratic frame rate. The camera problem is extremely infrequent, but if you get too close the bottom of the screen, the wall or crowd of people standing there sometimes won't become fully transparent, which obscures your field of vision. As for the frame rate, it's basically all over the place on all three consoles. The number of fighters in a fight at once seems to have no bearing on this problem, as even a two-on-two fight produces a fair amount of frame drop at seemingly random intervals. It's really unfortunate that this occurs, as it does mar what is an otherwise superb visual experience.
Def Jam: Fight for NY is just plain impressive, both as a sequel and stand-alone game.
Audio is another category where Fight for NY excels. Def Jam Vendetta managed to elicit some surprisingly competent and enjoyable voice acting from the cadre of rappers hired to perform in that game, and Fight for NY is no different. Though many of the rappers are relegated to speaking only an intro and an end-of-match line, quite a number of the hip-hop artists have significant roles in the storyline, and they do a very good job with the dialogue handed to them. The dialogue itself is well written and rarely ever seems forced, despite the fact that it's quite profane in nature. However, the profanity always fits into the context of the situation, so it's not like people are just dropping "F" bombs every six seconds for no good reason. The soundtrack is a fantastic mix of old and new hip-hop, and much of it comes from the artists featured in the game. During a match, you'll hear instrumental versions of the songs, but the menus feature full tracks. Many of the game's sound effects seem largely lifted from last year's game, but it all works excellently and is hardly anything to complain about.
Def Jam: Fight for NY is a great sequel. It would have been easy for the developers behind this game to just crank out an incremental upgrade, but Fight for NY is anything but incremental--it feels like a whole different brand of game altogether. What worked in Def Jam Vendetta has been expanded and improved upon in almost every way, and the new story mode, complete with its character creation and customization element, is simply a joy to play through. If you like wrestling games, fighting games, or even just the world of hip-hop, Def Jam: Fight for NY is a game well worth owning.