Def Jam: Icon

Def Jam: Icon

We take EA Chicago's next-gen brawler for a test-drive. Deets are just a click away.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 19, 2007
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Electronic Arts either did something very brave, or very, very stupid when they decided to part ways with Japanese developer AKI to hand the Def Jam franchise over to Fight Night Round 3 developer EA Chicago. AKI's surprisingly deep rock/paper/scissors approach to a grapple-based brawler showed their roots as a wrestling game developer, but it was also accessible to anyone, and provided one of the most visceral, satisfying fighters in years.


And EA is throwing all that out. Whether or not it will be the series' undoing or whether it actually elevates it to a new level will depend largely on how well the general public receives the new approach to embracing the idea of music coming to the fore of the actual fighting. Rather than having different characters with insanely deep move trees, Icon instead adopts the approach of having one fighter's music be their biggest asset in a battle. The short description goes a little something like this: since the entire game world reacts to the tempo and movements of the song, and since a particular hip-hop brawler fights better to their own music, actually knowing the tunes in the game will play a huge part in how a fight goes.

Let's explain a little more. See, each fighter has the same basic movies; they have a weak and a strong punch and a weak and strong kick for high and low attacks of varying speeds and damage. By using the right analog stick, though, you can pull back and sweep out your own direction-specific moves in a nice nod to Fight Night. Alone, they pack a wallop, but when used in conjunction with the punches and kicks, they can graduate to a final blow that smashes the other guy off his feet for a few seconds. This is absolutely vital to the interaction with the environments, because the music chosen for a level determines when specific environmental effects like water jets or flame bursts or cars doing doughnuts Sideshow-style all make their appearances, and if you know when they're coming up, you can use one of those big blows to add a little extra special sauce to your attacks.

Of course, if you don't know the song, you can force things along by holding down the L2 button and "scratching" out an emergency environmental trigger with the right analog stick. In fact, control of the music is essential to battles, since you want to be fighting to your chosen tune, and just as sweeping the right analog stick around to scratch can trigger an explosion or hit (or, if you're stunned help you get up faster and even cancel out the other persons scratches to start an environmental attack), you can use the left analog stick in one direction to "spin down" the tune and the right stick to spin yours back up. Because the damage from your attacks is directly related to how well you've been fighting and how loud your music is playing, it behooves you to make sure your beats are the ones heard loud and clear. It's actually a really cool experience to start beating someone so well you can kick them halfway across the level.

If it sounds a little weird, well... it is. It didn't take us long to figure the controls out (nor the basic high/low blocking system with the R1 button, nor the reversal system if you time a block just as a hit comes in), but it took a good five minutes of messing around with the grapple system (you tap up on the right stick to grab them, then any direction to throw them, and tapping back-back or back-forward gives you an extra powerful hit) and then learning how to use scratches to properly finish someone off before we were hooked.

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