Reviewed: November 8, 2004
Released: September 20, 2004
So here I was sitting thinking what could be cornier, a game where rappers beat the living bejesus out of each other or two Batman films directed by Joel Schumacher? I thought, ah what the hell, Iíll pummel a few of these guys to get it out of my system and then throw up a review saying something along the lines of Def Jam: Fight for NY being a thinly veiled marketing ploy and to avoid it like a bargain bin title.
I was wrong. While this game is mostly an advertisement for the Def Jam label and their lesser-known artists, in addition to various clothing labels, there is actually a pretty good fighting game at the core of it. Throw on some pretty good tunes, a very in-depth fighter creation interface, some RPG elements, urban attitude, and enough bling to satisfy even the gaudiest of tastes, and you have a surprisingly addictive game with enough content to keep you coming back.
The fighting interface is at once simple and quite in-depth. You get your basic block, kick, punch, and throw buttons to pitch opponents around the ring or just beat the stuffing out of them. Then you also have all the special moves in the game, such as crowd combos, environmental attacks, weapons, or my favorite, the blaziní move. In addition to all of these moves being spectacularly brutal, they are the only way you can KO an opponent. So, sure you can beat him to hamburger and keep tenderizing, but without a finish heíll take it just like John McClain and keep coming back for more.
Iíll admit, from what I described above this doesnít sound too interesting. Itís just a fighting game thatís fun but a little light on content. Well hold on, as I mentioned before there are some RPG elements. First off your fighter is, in story mode at least, your fighter. The story begins with an unknown man (you only see his feet) ďreleasingĒ the leader of a street fighting gang from the police. By releasing I mean hitting the cop car heís in with an SUV. After that one of the detectives is sitting before a police sketch artist who asks him to describe his assailant.
What follows is you can either customize your own fighter or select one of the randomly generated ones. Not only are there a whole slew of options at this point (including hair, beard, eyes, skin color, ears, head shape, voice, nose, and height and weight) but as you progress through the game you can unlock more ways to individualize. What is really impressive though is that after youíve created your fighter he then appears in every cinematic in the game as you either created or altered him, and with the voice you gave him.
So you have a fighter, but you canít fight yet. What to do but prove yourself to the crew in the gym. First pick a fighting style (kickboxing, street fighting, martial arts, or submissions), and donít worry about it you can have up to three, then finish the quick tutorial, get paid by the boss and then itís time for some fun. There are basically two different things to do in the game: go fight in bars and clubs, cleaning out all the fighters and then challenging the ďbossĒ of the club Ė you beat him, you win the club for your side Ė or go shopping.
The fighting aspect as pretty much already been talked about, but there are more than just one on one fights. There are tournaments that happen throughout the game, either free-for-all four-on-four matches (yes, if you have a multi-tap that does mean you can play four on four PVP), some team matches, and also special events such as the catfight, the subway fight, or the demolition match. While they all operate under the same fighting engine there is enough variation that you donít get bored.
The shopping is where you get to have some fun after beating a manís head flat with a lead pipe. Here you can get tattoos and haircuts, buy clothing and jewelry, and go to the gym and get yourselfÖ ďdieselĒ, Iím told is the correct word. As mentioned above the new you is used in every following movie, and the options to buy arenít just five t-shirts of the same shape but different colors. You have a full range of hair and clothing and chains, from the Kid n Play Eraserhead to the zebra print Capone hat with feather to the diamond-studded ankh you can be dressed to kill in no time. Also you do have a wardrobe that holds all your old clothes and things for those times when youíre looking for that retro style.
The gym is where you spend the development points won from your matches. You have five stats to work; upper and lower body strength, speed, toughness, and health. The point costs get pretty prohibitive in the upper ranges (15,000 for that last block) but they keep you in enough points that you arenít often overmatched, that is if you spend wisely. Also you can buy your two additional styles and more blazin moves (these last are mostly ďflavaĒ but after you see ďFoot for BreakfastĒ youíll understand the temptation).
As far as plot goes, itís pretty loose. The scripting for the cut scenes is pretty good, but the little nooks and crannies just arenít filled in. This is the point where most reviewers will go into their closet, get out their soap box and start going on and on about disparaging racial image of the game, etc., etc., and bore you senseless with their preaching. All Iím going to say is yeah; you could see it that way, objectification of women, gang activity, and vilification of blacks. If you want to see that you can. However Iím only going to say three things.
One, this is a video game, not reality and itís only social message is that Iím a bigger nerd because I can kick your ass at this game. Second, the whole game is advertising for Def Jam Records and their artists who already portray that image. Third, just get off it. If this were held in a fantasy setting with the exact same story no one would say word one about it, even if all the characters were black.
As mentioned this is an ad for Def Jam records, so as you would expect there are plenty of famous faces around. There are more than recognizable renditions of Snoop Dogg, Ice T, Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim, and so on down the list. Some faces you might not expect that do pop up (and kudos for including them) are Henry Rollins as your trainer and Danny Trejo in his typical role as henchman.
Yourself, you look pretty good in all of your various incarnations, and there are plenty. You can be anywhere between 6í6Ē and 250+ lbs. and 5í10Ē 180 lbs. Not only that there are about eight variations at least for any particular body feature that all come together really well. The clothing, jewelry, tattoos, and hairstyles all look pretty good together though some hairstyles do have a bit of a clipping issue with some clothing options but itís nothing too glaring.
While the main characters are very well fleshed out the crowds tend to be a little flatter and more geometric. This isnít too terrible because most often theyíre in pretty deep shadows, but at the beginning of any fight they do a few establishing shots of the bar and then itís very noticeable.
The bars themselves are very individualized. Youíve got wrestling arenas, cage matches, strip club, a biker bar, and a rooftop lined with barbed wire just to name a few. What makes them stand out though is the environmental attacks you get. Most often you just get the usual ones, but slamming a guy into a jukebox and having it shatter is most pleasing.
So the characters and the settings look good, but this is a fighting game, and the most important thing is the fighting. The animation is right up there with not only smooth motion and a vast array of fighting styles (watch out for Flava Flav), but more importantly a good understanding of wind up and of when to stop the action to make things look like they hurt.
There arenít really a whole lot of effects in the game aside from camera work and throwing a color wash over the image. Those that are included work well though. When you bend a wrench on someoneís head it looks like you hurt him, as when you pound someone through a wooden wall or break a fluorescent light on them. There is a fire match, but thatís nothing too special as far as looks go.
The only real complaint I have about all of this is the camera. With the way this game is set up you get basically a bottom to top view of the arena that only really changes centering and zooms in and out. It works almost perfectly except for two things. First if youíre at the top of the ring and your opponent is near the bottom (heís nearer the camera and youíre behind him) itís nearly impossible to judge distance for you while the computer just makes that neat calculation and you end up on the ground.
Second, the free for all matches, because you can potentially have four people playing at the same time, set the camera a little too far back so the whole ring is always in view. In the regular matches you get a much closer view so itís easy to get a little distracted and again distance judging kind of goes out the window. I donít see how they could have fixed these issues based on what they were trying to do, but it doesnít make it any less annoying.
So if you are going to produce a video game to showcase your talent (as a record label) you need two things: to get the talent in the game and to have some good music. Check and check. Nearly every character in the game is voiced by themselves. So when Ice T lays you out and starts talkiní smack about your family, thatís Ice T talkiní smack about your family. Not only that but all of the voice talent puts out some pretty good work in this game. Which is especially nice as it pertains to your character. You have several choices for a voice (including a clean cut one which never ceases to amuse me), and they all are true to the kind of inflection and tone youíd think from the characterizations given.
The music is light on the big names, I think only one track from any big name (Snoop, Ice T) and then one or sometimes two from the little guys. You only get a clip of any one tune that really captures the groove of the song, but itís enough and they rotate them often enough that you donít get bored with any one track.
The effects also come through well, mostly to emphasize brutality. There are a slew of crunches, smashes, shatterings, and other various impacts that most often just make you shudder in sympathy pain. The crowd usually makes a good amount of noise and any random lines thrown out during the fight are usually audible in the surrounding din.
This all comes together in a pretty obsessive little package. All told, story mode took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 15 hours to complete, but thatís not including two character restarts, nor completing the bonus matches after the story is complete. Also, for replay they gave you a trophy corner that includes a bunch of things you probably wonít get the first time through. Throw on versus mode (including a four player free for all), and a few fighters that I havenít unlocked yet and youíll easily get your money out of the title.
Yeah, this is a bit of a button masher, but there is enough style to the game and depth to the system that you can get beyond this. If youíre a fan of rap music in general, or any of the artists involved, youíll probably enjoy this title. If youíre not and youíre just looking for a fast and loose beat fest youíll love this title. This may not be the prettiest game on the shelf, but it sure will rock you.