Fighting games -- even great fighting games -- have a habit of doing very little with their sequels. Usually a couple of new arenas are added, one or two new fighters thrown in for good measure, and a few costumes slipped onto beloved characters to make them seem new or different. Maybe there's one gameplay wrinkle added to make the update appear worthwhile, but overall, fighting game sequels tend to be highly derivative. Not so with Def Jam: Fight for NY
, sequel to last year's Vendetta
. EA has added a robust cast of characters, arenas, and an awesome Story Mode along with turning Def Jam
from a strict wrestler into a true brawler. A lot has been done and the sequel is much better for it. If you liked the first, you'll love Fight for NY
That said, I do have to warn that I wasn't nearly as enamored with Vendetta as J Rob, who reviewed EA's previous fighting effort. Fight for NY is a great progression for the series, but isn't quite to the level of a classic fighter. It may get there with the next iteration, but for now gamers will have to be content with a very competent and enjoyable brawler heavy on presentation and exhilarating moves.
Fight for NY is heavy on presentation. Packed with more than 70 fighters, 30 licensed sound tracks, 20 venues, and 10 game modes, there's really little else you could ask for in terms of bulk. The fighter list is pretty impressive, especially considering more than 40 of those fighters are celebrities. Most are hip-hop stars, including the Snoop Dizzle, and a few are just media darlings (Carmen, you are so hot). Better yet, all of these fine video game characters are voiced by their real-life counterparts. That really is Flava Flav talking smack after beating you down and yes, Xzibit himself will pimp your ride with his foot and tell you all about it.
As you'd expect, there are short cut-scene intros for each fighter and also outros for each victory. The cut-scenes use the in-game engine and the outros show off the real-time damage on a character's face. Get punked by Method Man but win in the end and you'll appear with cut lip or blackened eye. It's a nice way to show off the pains of battle, but the use of in-game cut-scenes really shows its stuff in the Story Mode.
In Story Mode, your custom character will get new hair styles, tattoos, jewelry, and clothes. In fact, there are dozens upon dozens of licensed clothes from the likes of Phat Farm and Fila and more than 50 tattoos to apply to every inch of your body -- even your throat. All of these changes are displayed in the mug shot load screen before each match as well as every single cut-scene in the 6+ hour story mode. That helps to make it feel like you are truly progressing through the story. Since the character models are large and detailed, those in-game cut-scenes often look better than the fighting game.
There are a few problems, though, with the presentation -- really just minor things. It doesn't seem to matter what weight and height you pick as every created character seems to have the same relative build, which is unfortunate. And as Jon asked for in his Vendetta review last year, there's still no way to play through Story Mode as one of the fighters from the game, not even after beating the story. Why not let me play through as Slick Rick? That would have boosted the longevity just a bit.
Yo, Tell Me a Story
The Story Mode is Def Jam's greatest strength. What I'm about to say may be shocking, it may be controversial, but damn if it isn't true -- Def Jam: Fight for NY's story is better than Fable's. Yes, the story of a fighting game is actually better than that of Microsoft's excellent RPG. In fact, this is probably the best story ever seen in a fighting game. That's not too hard, since most fighting games feature very bizarre and almost incomprehensible storylines.
Things begin with your rescue of D-Mob from incarceration. Your created character is accepted into D-Mob's crew and your character winds up in the middle of a turf war. D-Mob rules the streets by pitting his followers in Fight Club-style matches against other chumps. He's battling for territory with Fight for NY's nemesis Crow, played by Snoop. Each fight earns you points to improve your fighter's various attributes and allow you to unlock new moves and even new fighting styles. You'll also earn cash to upgrade your wardrobe, place some diamond and platinum on your body, and get some ink in your skin.
While the visual change is a nice reward (you have thousands of different possible combinations), there is an affect on gameplay as well. The crowds watching your fights are impressed by the shine on your fingers and the thickness of the chains on your neck. The more popular you become, the easier it is to use your special Blazin' moves, which are the super moves of Fight for NY. Throughout the Story Mode you'll get text and voice messages from allies and enemies. Some of these are incredibly repetitive, like Henry Rollins constantly reminding you to come to his gym and train, but overall it's a nice touch. By the end of the Story Mode, which will take anywhere from six to ten hours to complete, you'll have fought the majority of Def Jam's characters, earned yourself a girlfriend, and taken control of the streets.
Though I really enjoyed the story, I found that there was a few times where I wished I had a bit more free will. Crow extends the offer to switch sides if you want, but you never actually have the option. While these offers are part of the story, it would have been nice if a few branching paths were added to make the story a bit more dynamic. Other than that, there really isn't much else the Story Mode could have offered. A good story, great voice acting, challenging gameplay, and a hefty length (for a fighting game).
Shut the F' Up and Fight
Story and presentation are fine and dandy, but the true measure of a fighting game is, quite obviously, the fighting. Fight for NY takes the Def Jam series in a new direction by opening up fights to include a mixture of wrestling and fighting. With five different available fighting styles, there's a lot of variety in all of the moves. Each style has its own grabs, punches, and kicks. Character's can have up to three different styles at the same time and the more styles you have the more moves you unlock. You can easily tell the difference fighting a martial artist from a submission fighter and really that's one of the keys to making a fighting game seem authentic.
The 20 unique arenas each have a different personality. The subway, for example, is pretty open with no spectators, but has train tracks at the back of the arena. Get your timing right and you can knock your opponent onto the tracks just as a train passes. Go to the Foundation and you'll find yourself fighting in a basement, surrounded by enthusiastic spectators who push, grab, and offer weapons throughout the fight. Or perhaps you want to check out Club-357 for a classic ring match.
A few of the arenas, like Foundation, have some camera problems. In one-on-one matches, the camera -- which cannot be manually adjusted -- can sometimes get in too close behind the crowd or wall. Sometimes these obstructions go transparent, but not always. Even transparent, it's a bit difficult to see the action. That's troublesome first because the moves look so cool I don't want them getting obstructed, but also because it makes it more difficult to time your reversals. A manual camera switch would have solved this easily, but that's not an option in Fight for NY.
While the camera can sometimes be a pain, most of the fighting is fantastic. This is a modification of the same ol' grapple system developer Aki has been using since the N64 days, but it's still arcade-solid. You can do simple combos with punches and kicks, pull reversals if you can time your blocks properly, and grab your opponent.
It's the grabs that remain the center of the battle and lead to the best-looking moves. Once grabbed you can use the punch, kick, or grapple button in combination with Left Thumbstick directions to pull off a variety of punishing moves. A lot of these are context sensitive and if you are near a "sticky zone", you can slam your opponent's head into a wall or try to split them in half with the help of the crowd.
There's a large variety of moves involving the crowd and environment and just when I think I've seen them all, I stumble across another one. They look great and are easy to pull off. However, since they are so devastating and effective, experienced fighters will begin to focus on these moves. It's too easy to dominate fights after a while. Just grab your opponent, throw then against a wall or other structure, then grab them again to do a powerful move using the environment. This often leaves them stunned, allowing you to pick them up and repeat the move. Yes, your opponent can push you off him, but it's not easy and often a couple of these environmental attacks will leave an opponent with half his health left. Still looks great, though.
The animations for the moves are great, but some of the grapple and punch animations are a bit clunky. When you grapple and miss it can look like a robot trying to snatch a cookie. Weapons, which can be picked up off the ground or taken from the crowd, are sometimes snatched accidentally when you are instead intending to go after your enemy. This leads to a moment of confusion ("How'd this get in my hands?") and often a successful attack from your opponent. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. When the computer takes over to execute grabs and Blazin' moves, the game if perfect, because you're not in control, but moving around the arena does feel a bit robotic -- which is often a problem for wrestling games. It's not a major point or a big issue, but it certainly keeps Def Jam: Fight for NY from perfection.
Overall, Fight for NY is an attractive game with big characters that fill up a lot of the screen. The face-modeling is solid with every licensed rapper looking equal to his counterpart. The framerate, an important aspect of fighting games, is spotty at times. A fighter needs to be able to hold at least 30 frames consistently and Def Jam can't manage that in several arenas. Though the framerate isn't enough to hurt the gameplay, it certainly detracts from the experience.
The true gem of Fight for NY are the Blazin' moves. As you beat on your opponent, you fill your Blazin' meter. Once full you can go into your flambé mode. Grab your opponent again and hit up, down, left, or right on the Right Thumbstick to unleash one of your four preset Blazin' moves. These creative and brilliantly choreographed moves are simply amazing. There are just so many cool and painful moves, it's hard to believe so many are offered in Def Jam. There are a total of 82 to unlock and once purchased in Story Mode, you can set your favorite four before any fight.
Though the Blazin' moves may seem unbalanced, they actually aren't as devastating as some super moves in other fighting games. And you can avoid them. The Blazin' mode lasts for only a short while and can be taken away if you can wallop on your opponent or simply run from them long enough. To be honest, it's really not so bad to be snatched and Blazed by another fighter, because it's cool to watch these awesome moves in action. Every wrestler in the WWE has his or her own signature move. Well, that's what the Blazin' moves are, only completely ridiculous and filled with over-the-top brutality.
You Want a Piece of Me?
Along with Story Mode, there are numerous multiplayer modes as well. Though there's no online or LAN options, there are ten different gameplay modes. Some of these are really just normal fights in a specific arena, like Inferno Match, which has you battling inside a ring of fire. Other modes, though, are true game modes, including the four-player Free-For-All and Team matches. These have a more distanced camera but allow four players (or any mix of players and AI fighters) to duke it out in one arena.
The modes are good and with so many characters to choose from, Fight for NY will stay fresh and likely remain in your console for a good long time. There's no mode that isn't enjoyable and really no fighter that you can't win with. Sure, Snoop is the best fighter in the game, but most of the other's are well-balanced to make for some pretty intense matches. Online would have sent this over the top, but for those with three friends, you'll have no problems getting into Fight for NY's battles.
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