Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Review: Def Jam Fight For NY (PS2)
Posted by Anthony :: 5:12 PM

Review: Def Jam Fight For New York (PS2)

Rated: M for Mature
Released: 09/20/04
Retail Price: $49.99

Note: This review is for the PS2 version of this game. Def Jam Fight For New York is available for all 3 home consoles.

EA Games returns with the sequel to last year’s sleeper hit Def Jam Vendetta, with Def Jam Fight For New York. Over 50 hip-hop artists, and various other musicians and actors, flesh out one of the most diverse rosters in fight gaming history. While last year’s entry into the EA Sports BIG line-up was primarily a wrestling title, this game is much more focused on the many fighting styles your character can acquire. The matches have been taken out of the wrestling rings (for the most part), and onto the club floors. The result: one of the most enjoyable fighting games of the year.

Background: D-Mobb, the main antagonist of the first Def Jam game, has escaped police custody, and is back on the streets. This time around, he serves as your ally, in the fight to control New York City. Your opponent: Crow (voiced by Snoop Dogg), and his gang of fighters. Battle in the various locals to win clubs for your group. It all ends with a climatic showdown, against Crow himself.

Modes in this year’s edition have expanded somewhat. There are still the old standards for fighting games (Story Mode, Exhibition), which include Tag Team and 4-way Battle Royals. But there some new inventive contests you can try your hand at. Inferno match let’s you set your opponent on fire, and Demolition match has you trying to beat up your opponent’s car to win. Both of these modes have to be unlocked though, which adds incentive to the Story mode.

The story mode of the game entails you to create your own character, who will become D-Mobb’s right-hand man. At first, all you can create about your fighter is his facial features. But as you win matches, you will earn cash, and attribute points. You can use cash in the shopping centre, to customize your fighter to the hilt. Shops include:

-SUS, A clothing store (featuring lines such as Ecko, Sean John, and Zoo York),
-Stingray’s Barber Shop, for all the latest styles in cuts,
-Jacob & CO, jewelry store where you can buy ‘Bling Bling’ to your heart’s content,
-Manny’s Tattoos, borrowing from the newest feature in GTA San Andreas.
-Stapleton Athletics, featuring trainer Henry Rollins (more on this later)

The great thing about customizing your character with these stores, is that it’s not just a visual treat. The better your man is dressed, the more the crowd will react to him and cheer him. This means you’ll be able to build up momentum easier, and make a faster trail to your Blazin’ move. As you win matches, more new items will be unlocked in these shops.

As said before, Def Jam Fight For NY is much more of a fighting game then it’s predecessor. Rings are found in only a handful of levels. Caged rings also appear as well. The majority of the matches are fought in an open environment, with only a human ring holding you back. These environments are extremely interactive, as anything and everything can be used. Even the crowd is interactive, as double team moves can be pulled off with them. Weapons have entered the fray, as a timely shot can bring a quick end to the match.

The fighting mechanics have received a slight overall this year. Each fighter has their own style to work with, ranging from kickboxing, to submissions, to wrestling. You can also acquire more than one style, to flesh out your moveset. This would mean, in the example of wrestling/submision, that one attack grapple would bring you a piledriver, while the other brings a viscous arm-bar. Also, this means that gameplay is much faster this time around. This will leave little time for thoughtful decisions on which moves to use, one of the negatives of the game. But still, these styles add a ton of depth to the game, making this game more than just a mindless button-masher.

The makers of this game are AKI, known for their amazing series of N64 wrestling games. The learning curve is just right. It’s definitely not a pick-up-and-play title, but it’s not a ridiculously hard system either. You can use either a weak, or strong strike or grapple. But keep in mind that if it’s still early in the match, or your opponent is not hurt, the chances of hitting a strong move are slim to none. This adds a level of strategy as well, because now you have to make sure your opponent is weak enough to go for the kill. In short: this is not your average fighter.

Graphics in this game are extremely well done. Each fighter has incredible detail, it’s scary how much the rappers in this game look like their real-life counterparts. The environments are nicely done, with attention to details. The lighting in the club levels really give off an underground feel to the whole game. There is blood in the game, but it’s not over-the-top crimson masks like you would see in pro wrestling. Instead, the blood and cuts are much more realistic here. Fighters bleed from the mouth and nose (especially visible during the after-match taunts), and blood splatters all over the floor. This game is a visual treat.

But one negative from the graphics is the camera angle. The human wall at the bottom of the screen will often block the view of your characters. And in 4-man matches, the camera zooms out to capture all the fighters in the screen. Unfortunately, this also means the fighters become almost specs on your screen. It can become difficult to keep track of where your fighter is in the arena.

Of course, sound is this game’s highlight. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with hip-hop & rap tracks, featuring many of the artists in the game. You can also customize which songs you want to listen to, and how often. The sound effects in the game help bring home the impact of the moves, from the bones snapping to the bodies slamming onto the floor. Artists such as Snoop Dogg, Method Man & Redman, and actors like Omar Epps lend their voice talents to their characters. The script is well written, and provides interesting cut-scenes between fights.

Overall: Def Jam Fight For New York is a worthy sequel to it’s predecessor. The addition of interactive environments, the expanded shop section, and the different fighting styles create a satisfyingly deep playing experience. The only things keeping this game from a perfect score is the blinding-fast gameplay, and a sometimes-annoying camera angle. Other than that, this game is a must-buy.

Of course, readers (and fellow reviewers :)) may disagree with me, so post your opinions in the comments section.

I was going to review this game (or counter-review it, more appropriately), but I think my divide on whether this is a good game or not boils down to this: You viewed it correctly as a fighting game. I was thinking as a sequel to Def Jam Vendetta, which I did like. But as a sequel to that game, it's a horrible, horrible "wrestling" or even "wrestling-style" game. The game turned more into a street fighter, and as such, I suppose it was pretty good. I would issue a word of warning that if you're going into DJFFNY expecting a worthy sequel to the wrestling in DJV, run away. :)

My other issues with the game were that the finishers would get very close to, but not completely finishing off your opponents far too often. I felt cheated during most matches because I would hit the finisher and then not actually finish the guy off. I wouldn't really be all that annoyed with it if it didn't seem to happen an inordinate number of times. Did you have a similar experience? Made things sort of anit-climactic. Also, as a kickboxer, you're pretty much limited to strikes and grabs, through which you strike more. Which is fine, but it doesn't put a lot of variety or spin into what you can do. Am I correct in that the only expansion you can get moves-wise comes when you learn another style? Every extra move I'd purchased was just another finisher. Other issue was that the fights seemed a bit cheap and random- sometimes I'd completely kill a guy who had just completely killed me.

On the plus side, the game is totally immersive and well-written. The create-a-wrestler thing you go through at the beginning was a stroke of genius (your character commits or is accused of committing a crime, and your facial features and body type are determined by the description "you" give the police about the guy, up to and including the voice.). The finishers are absolutely devastating, as well, and well done with lighting effects and graphics (which is why it annoyed me when the guy would just get up afterward with a tiny sliver of health left). I don't really want to play it again, and I think I should before I give it a score, but I'll definitely recommend that you rent before you buy, just to see if it's something you'll dig.

- Dan
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