A gangsta’s paradise.
When I think business, I think board rooms, white shirts, tightly knotted ties, bad coffee and worse jokes. But that combination sounds as stuffy and unappealing to rich people as it does to me, and that’s why so many deals are done on golf courses, in bars, at strip joints, or even in World of Warcraft. That’s my excuse, anyway.
But according to Def Jam: Icon, music industry deals are settled at gas stations with karate chops, back flips, and explosions. Come to think of it, every human interaction in Def Jam: Icon is settled with copious amounts of ass-kickery, and most don’t even start out hostile, though all of them end with a bang.
The bulk of the offline play is in Build a Label mode, where you create a custom “Suspect” and build a musical empire, Suge Knight style. My first guy was Ivory White, a skinny white scrapper I made to look like myself. It was a pretty good approximation, too, thanks to the hyper detailed face modeling features. The only downside here, and its one that pervades the entire game, is how long it takes everything to load. You have to wait at least five seconds for each pair of eyebrows
The game began with a giant, terrifying black guy bumping into me, spilling my drink, and me saying something macho like “I’m about to spill your face.” Then we fought. Rather, then he fought. I struggled weakly, but just got smashed into a bunch of subwoofers, kicked by a go-go dancer, and slammed by a falling strobe light.
Maybe it was just my hurt pride, but I was surprised the game didn’t, you know, help me. Icon is an unorthodox fighter, yet you have to learn its style before you start playing; there is no tutorial. There is an instruction book, and it tells you how to do most of the moves, just not when to use them, or why.
So I read the book, scrapped Ivory, and made a huge black guy with a full neck beard named Play Money. Play Money and I decimated the bar fight guy, and were asked to join the record label of a guy named Carver as his designated people-hurter.
Perhaps afraid not
to sign with me, I got Ludacris and Sean Paul on my label, which I ran from my dingy apartment. Between meeting people, and hurting them, I’d check my email for requests from my rappers, and manage the finances of my label. All this really meant was spending all the money I had on whatever song one of my rappers just completed. This led to more money, which I took to the clothing store for some awesome pants, and the jewelry store for bling. This, I thought, was the good life, and with that I quit for the day.
When I turned it back on, all of my data was gone. Even though Icon implies it will automatically save everything right when you turn on the game, it’s lying. During play, you have to hit start, go to Save Options, and manually save your game, or turn on the Autosave feature. It’s just another way they try to keep a player down.
So, I made a huge white version of Mr. T named Coors Leet. With this guy I signed four rappers (the limit), made a bunch of money, got myself a diamond-studded, fanged grill, and played through the rest of the story. In the world of Icon, The Man (a.k.a. the government) thinks hip-hop artists are dangerous ideological subversives undermining the fabric of society with their music. As your character puts it, “Man, hip-hop is the new terrorism.”
Now, you probably think that’s the dumbest thing you’ve read all day. But in the context of Icon, where cops always put away their guns to apprehend suspects, Senators begin committees to investigate the deaths of Tupac and Big E., and when an unprovoked assault lands you in a mansion, you realize that your character’s words are intentionally out of touch with reality, because the story is pure fantasy. In Icon, you can get millions of dollars, hos, Escalades, diamond teeth and still “fight the power,” without ever having to acknowledge that you are the man. What better icon than Icon for the hip-hop industry?
Rather than launch into the socio-political spiel that’s tingling on my fingertips, I better get to the gameplay. Light and strong, high and low regular attacks plus a taunt button constitute the usual
fighting mechanics. Less orthodox are the many uses of the R-stick. Press it one way and you grapple, press it another and you launch a haymaker. Pull a trigger and press it to block high and low. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Icon
was developed by the same team that made the Fight Night
games, and uses similar dynamics.
Icon’s musical and environmental qualities, however, are completely unique. Before a fight, each player picks a song, and one of the two songs starts playing when the fight starts (when your song is playing, you hit harder). You can switch between tracks through a complex series of button presses and stick twiddling, but it takes time. It’s usually only worth it if your opponent is down on the ground by a devastating attack.
My definition of devastating, by the way, applies to the fantasy hip-hop realm. Normally, a punch to the stomach can be plenty devastating - just ask Houdini. But in Icon, you aren’t hurt unless you’ve been run over by a car and caught in the blast of an exploding propane tank, repeatedly.
No matter which song is currently active, the background of the level bumps and pulsates to the beats, while hazards (like cars, vault doors, and flaming subwoofers) slam and crash with the base. If you toss an opponent next to something dangerous, you can pull off a “DJ move” to ensure the bass beat hits while your enemy is lying there.
The effect is staggering. Time seems to stand still as your player scratches in mid air, cueing up the beat, and then THWAMMM! The whole screen pulsates and explodes with fire, the beat hits, and your enemy gets launched by the force of your musical mastery. It’s good stuff.
And it looks spectacular. The whole game has a gritty, urban filter, the fighters accrue visible and accurate damage, and every environment is full of little details that match the music, like rising and falling drapes in the penthouse level, or skyscraper windows that jump like equalizers in the rooftop level.
The hip-hop selection that comes with the game is legit and pretty deep, and you can always change your fight song before a battle to keep things from getting too repetitive. If you’re playing the 360 version, you can also access any song on your hard drive and attempt to synch it with the game environments. I say attempt, because in most cases it doesn’t work very well, and it’s always kind of a pain in the butt. Still, you can theoretically kick ass to Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade, and that has to be worth something.
Unless you own a PS3, in which case you’re stuck with just the tracks that came with the game. In either case, you’ll probably beat the single player campaign in five or six hours, dabble online (generic matches) and then mainly play with friends. The weakness of Icon, as compared to Fight Night, is that there are only six variations on one fighting style. One might be better at grappling while another gets off the ground faster, but it feels like there’s only one fighter in the whole entire game. He’s a lot of fun to play, but it won’t take you long to see and do it all in Icon.
Still, the seeing and the doing are well worth it in this unusually polished fighter. Building a Label isn’t deep, but it’s fun and silly, the engine makes for some nail biting fights, everything looks great, and the musically-timed catastrophes are worth the price of admission alone. In Def Jam: Icon, business is violence, and business is good.