Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 20, 2004
Rap artists and underground fighting leagues go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Okay, that may not be altogether accurate, but apparently no one told Aki and EA, because the two unlikely elements have come together for a second time in Def Jam: Fight for New York, the sequel to Def Jam: Vendetta. A huge amount of customization options, upper tier presentation, dozens of celebrity fighters, and brutal gameplay make this vulgar sequel a bone-crushing good time.
Fight for New York is not a fighting game in the traditional sense. Obviously, there are brawny men beating the living bling-bling off of each other, but the button scheme is much less complex than Tekken, Virtua Fighter, or Mortal Kombat. To put it simply, it controls like a wrestling game. This makes sense, because developer Aki is known for some great wrestling titles such as WCW/ NWO Revenge for the N64. The Xbox version of Fight for New York uses the X button to deliver kicks, the Y button for punches, the A button to grab, and the B button to run. Players can use the right trigger to block and counter opponents (countering is extremely helpful once you get the timing down), and the left trigger, in conjunction with an attack button, unleashes more powerful moves. To say the gameplay mechanics are relatively simple is not a knock on the game by any means. Fight for New York's fighting engine is easy to learn, but you have to put time into the game if you want to become a true kicker of rap star ass. You can get away with a fair amount of button mashing, but you can dispatch opponents more quickly and easily if you master all of the moves. Environmental factors such as crowd participation (they can help you or help hurt you), crowbars, jukeboxes, pool tables, turnbuckles, and walls are used heavily in bouts. These factors make fights much more interesting, and much more savage than a typical wrestling game. From a gameplay perspective, Fight for New York uses variation and jaw-dropping brutality to keep things fun and addictive.
The single player story mode boasts high production values and many customizable features. The premise for the story mode is basically a New York City turf war centered around illegal, underground, no-holds-barred fights. You've won the respect of the ringleader D-Mob, and become his protégé. Snoop Dogg plays the main antagonist, Crow, who condones violence in and out of the ring. Players (or, ahem…"playas") begin the story mode by either selecting a pre-rendered fighter or creating their own via a slick police sketch artist interface. The initial customization options are fairly sparse, but once you start winning fight purses, you'll be able to pimp out your fighter with the latest Phat Farm, Reebok, and Sean John apparel, among other brands. You also have the option to cover your fighter with tattoos, style and restyle his hair, and of course, drape him with inappropriate amounts of bling-bling.
Customization doesn't end with aesthetics. When you're creating a fighter, you can choose from five different fighting styles: street fighting, kickboxing, martial arts, wrestling, and submissions. Once you earn enough development points in story mode, you'll be able to assign up to two more styles to your fighter. More styles means more moves, which means a better chance of being the last fighter standing. Development points can also be spent on increasing your fighter's strength and learning the ultra-stylish "Blazin'" special moves (there are dozens of these special moves that you can unlock and assign to the right analog stick). The fighter customization in Fight for New York is deep, and helps keep the game fresh, even in the lengthy (for a fighting game) single player story mode.
Although the gameplay is above average overall, there is one nitpick. The "stunned" effect seems to be overdone, which sometimes works out for you, and sometimes against you. When your fighter has taken a significant beating during the course of a match, he or she will become stunned and completely vulnerable, which is a common gameplay element in fighting games. However, when your energy is getting low, you sometimes stay stunned long enough to allow your opponent to knock you down and pick you back up three times in a row. This is perhaps more realistic, as the worse you get pounded, the more disoriented you should become, but in terms of balance and pace, this flaw hurts Fight for New York just a little bit. Of course, you can avoid this flaw completely by making sure to effectively beat the living daylights out of your opponent.
Fighting games were created for more than one player, and Aki kept this in mind. Battle mode allows you to quickly start up a one to four-player match using your created fighter or one of a few dozen available unlocked fighters. The choices include celebrities such as Method Man, Henry Rollins, Fat Joe, Ice-T, Lil' Flip, Mack 10, and Busta Rhymes. Battle scenarios are consistent with the barbarous nature of the gameplay. One-on-one modes include a subway match where you try to throw your opponent into the path of an oncoming subway train, a demolition match in a parking garage where you can win by smashing up your opponent's SUV (using your opponent, of course), and a window match where your goal is to toss your enemy out of a window. If you're Mr. or Ms. Popular and can coax three friends to huddle around your Xbox in your dark, dank room, you'll be able to play a four-player free-for-all (every man for himself), or a two-on-two team match. Points are awarded during battle mode, which can be spent unlocking fighters and venues. The multiplayer modes are chaotic, hilarious, and fun. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer over Live.
The graphics for the Xbox version of Fight for New York are crisp, well-lighted, and exploding with style. The celebrities are basically digital caricatures of their real-life counterparts, and most are instantly recognizable (although Carmen Electra and Omar Epps look quite a bit off). Textures and lighting look very good at the different venues and on the fighters. The cut scenes look nice, and the lips stay pretty close to the sounds that are coming out of them. Body gestures are realistic, and aren't overexaggerated. In-fight animation is over-the-top and quite cinematic, especially when performing the awesome-looking Blazin' moves. Sometimes the movements get a bit choppy, but nothing occurs that can be considered slow-down. The individuals in the crowds are made up of considerably less polygons than the fighters, but you don't notice that too much, except when they're standing right in your line of sight. At times, you'll find yourself mashing buttons blindly until the action moves back into view. Visibility is also an issue during matches with four fighters, as the camera has to zoom way out, making the fighters not only smaller, but also more susceptible to being blocked out by the rabid crowd. Sometimes objects and people that are in the way become transparent, but many times, they do not.
The audio in Fight for New York is excellent. The Xbox version supports Dolby Digital, which delivers clear voices, sound effects, and music. Voice acting is excellent, especially Snoop, who delivers his familiar "I'm-mellow-but-entirely-capable-of-backhandin'-yo'-ass-back-to-the-stone-age" tone. Profanity abounds in this game, so parents need to be aware that this is no Pokemon. The soundtrack consists of old and new hip-hop by artists such as Busta Rhymes, Ice-T, Volume 10, and LL Cool J. There are no customizable soundtracks, but the default tracks complement the game's concept perfectly.
Def Jam: Fight for New York is a game with depth and replay value, both of which are wrapped up inside of a carefully prepared, impressively executed package. The gameplay is easily accessible to newbies, but also is deep enough as not to bore seasoned players. It looks good, sounds incredible, and plays mercilessly. There are many moments where you may find the game catering to your instinctual lust for blood, sex, control, and rap music, but don't let those dirty feelings scare you away from this well-rounded, brutal brawler.