When Def Jam Vendetta hit store shelves last year, it could not have been called anything but an out-of-left-field success. EA's seemingly unholy marriage of Aki Corporation's highly regarded wrestling-game engine with a hip-hop-themed street-fighting game featuring some of the rap business' top talent seemed like, at best, an oddball combination. But, somehow, the game not only worked, it worked extremely well, managing to create one of the most unique grapplers of this console generation. Unsurprisingly, EA Games has followed up the success of Vendetta with a sequel, Def Jam: Fight for NY. More hip-hop stars, more fighting styles, a much deeper story mode, and a big, fat M rating are the name of game in Fight for NY. No doubt, this is a more brutal, bloody, and foul-mouthed effort than last year's game, but this emphasis on mature content is backed up by great gameplay and an incredible atmosphere, effectively trumping Vendetta in every way that matters and making for a game that should appeal to hip-hop fans and fighting-game players alike.
Many of the top names in hip-hop have returned yet again to beat one another to a bloody pulp in Def Jam: Fight for NY.
While last year's Vendetta may have been solely a wrestling game in the eyes of most, Fight for NY takes the Aki engine and tweaks it quite a bit, speeding up the pace of the action and putting more focus on unique fighting styles than the standard strikes and grapples of old. Essentially, each of the fighters in Fight for NY draws his or her individual move set from one to three of the game's five fighting styles, including kickboxing, street fighting, martial arts, wrestling, and submissions. All these styles are translated through what is, in essence, the same basic gameplay engine Vendetta used, but with a much, much higher emphasis on learning the styles and moves of your opponents. The varying combinations of each style of fighting make trying to predict how each fighter will attack fairly difficult for at least your first couple of fights, thus forcing you to observe each fighter and how he or she works.
Likewise, as no two fighters fight exactly alike, the controls from fighter to fighter vary a bit. Fundamentally, fighting is still rooted in the same weak and strong strikes and grapples of last year's game, but the way each attack works depends entirely on your fighter's style. If you have a guy who has a background in kickboxing and wrestling, and you've put your opponent into a grapple, you'll perform some manner of slam move by pressing one of the attack buttons and unleash a fury of grappling strikes with the other. Similarly, if you switch out kickboxing with submissions, that second attack button will throw your opponent into a submission-type maneuver. This same methodology translates into strikes, as the kind of striking styles your fighter uses will directly affect how strong his or her strikes are, as well as how lengthy his or her combos will tend to be. Plus, allotted styles dictate what kinds of moves a fighter can use to KO an opponent, so a fighter with a wrestling background will be less likely to KO an opponent with a strong kick than he or she will be with, say, a strong power slam. There's a surprising amount of depth here, to be sure.
Another layer of depth is added to fights thanks to the in-game environments. Each and every environment features at least a few interactive elements, including the crowds. If you whip your opponent into the crowd, one of a couple of things will happen. Either the crowd will shove your opponent back at you, giving you a shot at an easy attack, or they'll hold onto him or her, letting you come in for a couple of quick strikes or a special grapple attack. They'll even crack a weapon over your opponent's skull, if they happen to be holding one at the time. Crowds aren't the only portion of the environments you can interact with, of course. If there's a solid wall or an object in an environment, you can slam your opponent into it any number of different ways, resulting in some pretty hefty damage.
The variance in fight styles between each fighter is surprising, and it will take some study to get a feel for each fighter's strengths and weaknesses.
However, while the game's fighting system definitely has depth, it also suffers from a bit of repetitiveness too. This is basically the result of the game being as fast as it is--which is to say, very fast. It's rare that you'll ever have much time to really plot out your attacks beyond the basic decision to use a strike or a grapple, so it's likely that you'll find yourself using a lot of the same moves over the course of a match. Of course, thanks to the sheer brutality and entertainment value associated with the game's action, it's also pretty likely that you won't care much about the occasional repetitiveness. Just about every single punch, kick, slam, crack, and smash in the game looks and sounds incredibly painful, and the healthy spurts of blood that come spewing forth from your opponent further add to the brutality of it all. This game has a mean spirit to it, but that spirit definitely works to its advantage.
Following the same formula as Def Jam Vendetta, Fight for NY's roster of combatants is largely made up of a list that, despite a real lack of Bay Area artists like E-40 or Too Short, looks like it could easily be the performer list for this year's Source Awards. Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Method Man, Redman, WC, Mack 10, Ice-T, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Slick Rick, Erick Sermon, Flava Flav, Warren G, Lil' Kim, David Banner, Ghostface Killah--these are just some of the roughly 40 hip-hop artists who make an appearance in the game. And they're not alone, either. Along with a healthy smattering of generic characters, other celebrities such as Dracula 2000 and Juice star Omar Epps, Dave Navarro arm-candy Carmen Electra, renowned tough-guy character actor Danny Trejo, and modern-day renaissance man Henry Rollins all make appearances as well. Fight for NY features what is easily one of the most bizarrely eclectic mixes of real-life personalities ever to be found in a game, but somehow it manages to make it work. However, even better than the characters already available in the game are the ones you can make yourself.
Def Jam: Fight for NY's story mode gives you the opportunity to create your own brand of street thug, thanks to a myriad of creation options ranging from simple body and facial features to gear, hairstyles, and jewelry. But let's not get ahead of ourselves--before you can get iced up, you'll have to begin the story. Last year's story mode left a little something to be desired. It was a well-told tale about an up-and-coming fighter in the Def Jam-themed New York fighting circuit, but it was a little too short to make any sort of real impact. Fight for NY's story mode happens to pick up right where Vendetta left off, with the figurative king of New York, D-Mobb--the same malicious fellow you dethroned in the first game--being arrested by the boys in blue. As he is being carted off to the station house, a mysterious car comes out of nowhere and blindsides the cop car, providing D-Mobb with a method of escape. As it turns out, the driver of that mysterious vehicle was none other than you.
At the beginning of the story mode, the only things you can edit on your character are facial features and body build...
In the aftermath of D-Mobb's escape, the officers involved are left to try to describe the perpetrator of the accident. Through the magic of sketch artistry, you create the basic features of your fighter, including body type, eyes, nose, ears, skin tone, hair, and even voice type. Once that's out of the way, you'll see your character for the first time as he and D-Mobb enter his gang's hideout. You experience a brief exchange with some of D-Mobb's posse, and then faster than you can say "Because he kept me out of handcuffs!" you've joined up with D-Mobb's set and are on your way to becoming a top combatant in the New York underground fighting circuit.
Most of the actual plotline revolves around D-Mobb's boys going up against an evil crew run by Snoop Dogg's character, Crow. That's right, Snoop isn't actually playing his usual pimped-out self. Rather, he's taken on the persona of a mean, nasty gang leader who is trying to take control of New York's fight scene from D-Mobb. In fact, every personality in the game is playing some manner of character. Some keep their stage names, and others, such as Snoop, Method Man, and Busta Rhymes, take on character names. Some of the characterizations, such as Busta Rhymes' sneeringly evil character, are a tad more of a stretch, whereas Redman's Doc character, who spends the first third of the story sleeping on a couch, seems pretty true to life. In any case, having the rappers play characters rather than weird amalgamations of themselves and sort-of characters like in last year's game has definitely made for a more interesting story this time around.