Def Jam: Icon Preview

Big Bois N The Hood.

Everybody should experience EA’s forthcoming hip-hop fighter Def Jam: Icon for the first time exactly the way I did. Namely, they should see it with Executive Producer Kudo Tsunoda (replete with gold-bling sunglasses he never took off) piling on a parsec-a-minute in his inimitably enthusiastic way about the eye-goggling events transpiring on the big-ass flatscreen three feet in front of him. And what was on that screen? T.I. and Big Boi, beating the crap out of each other to their respective music tracks, as the world blew up around them, to the beat. 

Even if you’ve never given half a rat’s bzooty about the Def Jam series, Icon is a gin-you-wine eyebrow-raiser: “Music is the weapon,” is the official line here, and so it is: Just as players always pick a particular fighter in fighting games, Icon players get to pick the songs to which they’ll be doling out the beatings. Big fzzuckin’ deal, right? Wrong, homes. It goes way beyond mere musical preference. As an in-game scheme, it borders on freakish brilliance. Expect to see a lot of randy, contrail-sniffing imitation of this approach in the future.
[image1]Each environment/stage throbs to the ‘big beats’ in any given track, making every fighting arena twitch and thrash with rhythmically-exploitable environmental hazards. Ergo, the better you know your chosen beats, the better you’ll be able to manipulate both the environment and the opponent facing you within that environment
Plus, there really is something to be said for the psychic momentum any of us gets from any activity done to motivating music: Try playing a decent rack of pool to George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone” or Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” for example…and then try playing at the same level to, say, “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray. The prosecution rests.
Let’s say your chosen fighter is The Game, and your chosen beat, by convenience or laziness, is "It’s Okay (One Blood)". Your battle-arena is the crappy, seedy yard of a broken-down house that looks like it might be in some really juicy part of Compton or Georgia, complete with a depressing porchfront and a knocked-up muscle car whose wheels are endlessly, fruitlessly spinning. There’s a fire hydrant, ready to gout a massive jet of water up into the air, should you lure your foe close enough to it at the opportune moment. There’s a basketball rolling around at your feet as you and your opponent shuffle back and forth, and we don’t know what, if anything, the hell that does. 
On your song’s first big downbeat—and on countless ones thereafter—BLAMM!, the whole frickin’ world freaks out: The fire hydrant blows its hydrodynamic load, throwing any nearby fighters across the yard; the wheel-spinning, piece-a-shiznit muscle car suddenly swings wildly to one side, pluming smoke, a similar threat to any homeboys in proximity; in fact, the whole arena momentarily judders and flinches as if from a blow; you’ll swear you see foundational geometry changing. Even the clouds in the roiling, gray-marbled sky seem to turntable-scratch. 
[image2]This happens over and over throughout the course of the battle. But it takes two to fight, right? In our continuing thought-experiment example, let’s assume you’re not The Game; you’re Redman instead, and you’d rather be fighting to “Fuck the Security Guards” (evidently, and uncharacteristically for an EA title, the tracks in Icon will be totally uncensored); in that case, you make your fighter literally ‘scratch’ the air (courtesy of the control sticks), as though laying your ghetto paws on invisible turntables, not only flipping the in-game vinyl back to your track, but further scratching the beat back and forth to set off the environmental hazards at your own pace.
The left and right sticks function as turntables, and players can scratch their way through their opponents’ defenses, juggling them from one environmental threat to the next—do a traditional punch-and-kick combo to maneuver the other guy next to a hazard, then set it off (then taunt him and hijack his beat while he’s struggling to get to his feet). Your enemy can do the same, of course, resulting in a virtual, by-proxy scratch-battle in the best tradition of beefing DJs.
And as the battle rages on, even more environmental hazards open up, so there’s always something happening to the landscape—another environment we saw was on a city rooftop at night, with hazards like a hovering helicopter and electricity arcing from a fusebox (while the lights of the nearby buildings jumped to the music, like a skyscraper-scale equalizer).
Are you seeing the utter, in-your-face, adversarial possibilities here? Yes, it’s fun enough just to put da kibosh on an opponent’s beat, but there are wider implications here. Icon will pull tracks from any connected MP3 player, thus allowing any song into the environment-warping scheme. 
[image3]Just imagine: It’s you and Paul Wall stepping up to the ghetto plate, you’re facing your opponent’s scrubbed-up fighter—and suddenly, he’s forcing you to endure “Red, Red Wine,” courtesy of his iPod Shuffle. That could throw your game off, couldn’t it? Or imagine that you’re laying down Clint Mansell’s “We Got the Gun,” and your perverse foe decides to bust out with the Young Guns soundtrack by Bon Jovi. Even if you both decide to stay within the rap/hip-hop realm, just imagine the kinds of things that could go wrong.
The line-up of fighters is slated to include the likes of Big Boi, Ludacris, T.I., Fat Joe, Redman, Method Man, Paul Wall, Ice-T, The Game, and…actually, EA hasn’t kicked down with a complete, confirmed list, so there may well be some surprises (alas, if you want a gangsta’d-up Weird Al, you’ll have to make one yourself).

The notion of gamers fighting not merely to their favorite music but with it is simply brilliant, and the only thing funnier than watching your opponent get thrown across the screen by a scratch-triggered fire-hydrant is mugging for the game-camera as it happens. Def Jam: Icon ships in March, but it’s not too early to start loading up your MP3 player of choice—or finding out which tunes your friends can’t stand.