About the only part of this game that doesn't feel authentic is the general lack of guns, but they'll show up too.
The Xbox 360 version of the game lets you import your own music, but imported songs don't seem to work quite as well as the songs on the soundtrack. It feels like the game is trying to detect the beats of your music and time the explosions accordingly, but it doesn't do a very good job of it. Also, to do it, you'll have to rip music to your Xbox 360's hard drive and put it in a playlist named "Def Jam Icon." This isn't all that convenient. Also, the "my soundtrack" mode is the only place you can do this, so you can't bring your music into the rest of the modes unless you override the entire soundtrack from the guide menu, which prevents the pulsating backgrounds from working properly. The PS3 version lacks this feature, but because it wasn't implemented all that well on the 360, you aren't missing that much, which is unfortunate because it's a really neat idea.
All in all, the fighting system is unlike anything you'd expect to see in a fighting game. Even though it feels balanced and, on paper, looks sort of complicated, it ends up feeling a bit too simple in the end. Every single move is a guessing game, and you rarely get a free second hit or any kind of real combo opportunity. All that guessing can get a bit tedious. Additionally, the computer-controlled fighters are quick to grab you the second you block and seem almost inhuman when it comes to blocking your attacks. But they've got a weakness that's just shy of being a full-fledged exploit. If you back away a few steps, you can usually taunt your way up to them and tap down on the right analog stick twice, which unleashes a straight, low attack. The CPU player usually won't block this attack, and the taunts ensure that you'll knock your opponents down if you make the hit, giving you time to back off and set up for another one. In a lot of cases, you can ride this tactic for the entire fight, but it isn't 100 percent effective, especially on the harder difficulty setting.
The solution to dealing with the spotty AI is, as always, playing with another person. Def Jam: Icon has a local versus mode, as well as online multiplayer. The online works as you'd expect, with ranked and unranked games. The game has a series of text-based taunts that are sent to your opponent, depending on what happens. For example, if a player disconnects on you, there's a specific quitter taunt. You can customize these taunts, though the game blocks you from using profanity in your taunts. Considering how uncensored and full of cursing the rest of the game is, that's sort of lame. And sure enough, the message that pops up when you try to swear says, "We know it's lame." Great. Good to know that everyone is on board with its lameness. The online game isn't quite as responsive as the offline is, which can make blocking a flurry of attacks a bit problematic, but since the other player is also saddled with the same lag issues, it doesn't seem to give one player an advantage.
Most of the game's cursing comes from the music itself. There's a lot of fantastic, uncensored music on the Def Jam: Icon soundtrack, including songs from almost every one of the rappers in the game. There are also a few other classics, such as "Ante Up" by M.O.P. and "Hate Me Now" by Nas. But there's one really weird case of censoring in E-40's "Tell Me When To Go." The word "Hebrews" is chopped out of the line "imagine all the Hebrews goin' dumb/dancing on top of chariots and turning tight ones." Perhaps this is not the preferred nomenclature these days, but it's hardly worth cutting out in this context, particularly when you take into account the sheer number of times that the infamous "n word" turns up, which creates a very creepy double standard. The rest of the audio is really great, with plenty of flavor-filled quotes from the rappers themselves during fights and taunts. The game really manages to capture the larger-than-life stage personas of the rappers. Hearing E-40 scream "bitch" in his own special way in a video game might be reason enough to buy it. It definitely earns its M rating for lyrics alone, with all of the cursing, misogyny, and needless glorification of marijuana you'd expect to hear.
That helicopter likes to swing around and hit you in the back of the head.
The graphics back up the audio quite well. The rappers look a lot like their real-life counterparts, and they get beat up nicely as the fights progress. The game's slow pace leaves plenty of room for good, smooth animation, though some of the transitions that hook the animations together still look a little off at times. Also, the animation for different characters is dependent on their fighting style. So everyone that fights in the "ghetto blaster" fighting style moves the same, and so on. That means you'll get a little tired of the movement fast. Characters even share taunt animations. The backgrounds also look really awesome, and the colors of the level change slightly depending on which song is playing. The effect of the backgrounds moving and pulsing in time with the music is very cool, which overall makes it a great-looking game.
The pace and style of the combat in Def Jam: Icon clearly shows that it came from the guys and girls who worked on Fight Night Round 3. Yes, this is technically a 3D fighting game, but you wouldn't call it competition for the Virtua Fighters and the Tekkens of the world. The lack of a real combo system and its heavy emphasis on move/countermove gameplay make the game more suited for players who like fighting, but can't be bothered to learn any special moves. But that's not to say it has no depth at all. On that note, it's likely to appeal to players who liked Fight Night Round 3 as well. But there's much more to Def Jam: Icon than its gameplay. The way it handles the rappers and the way its story mode plays out make it a must for hip-hop fans...unless you're still waiting for some sort of Lupe Fiasco/Common backpacking simulator.