Any game that has a record label name always tends to fill our hearts with dread. It screams marketing exercise and implies a game that would have the same level of game play as 'Barbie's show jumping adventures'. So to say that the Def Jam: Fight for New York (which we will refer to as DJFFNY from now on) came as a surprise, is something of an understatement.
DJFFNY isn't the first game to feature hip-hop artists kicking the crap out of each other. The Wu-Tang clan has the dubious honour of being the first group to release a fighting game, which was very good, and then of course came the Def Jam prequel. Both were solid games that shared the same basic game mechanic: a big brawl featuring 2 to 4 combatants. The closest comparison for these games would be the WWE's many wrestling titles, with a similar control setup. This is where DJFFNY strays from the others however, as it has become much more of a straight out brawler, cleverly using the environment and audience to change the outcome of a fight. Indeed, the game has done a great job of distancing itself from other fighting game rivals; it would be a brave company that would want to go toe to toe with the Tekken, Streetfighter or Virtua Fighter franchises.
In this way DJFFNY has done a great job at creating its own niche, and provides an enjoyable and refreshing alternative to the norm. The basic single player campaign details the life of an up and coming fighter working his way through the fight circuit in New York. It's lightweight stuff but is more than enough to propel you from fight to fight. Besides, who cares about a storyline when you get to fight a host of rappers, including Method Man, Snoop and Redman? Beating the hell out of Bubba Sparx is another great incentive, too. The only disappointing element to the single player mode is the character creation. In this day and age it feels extremely basic, with only a limited toolset available. It's difficult to create a character with any sense of individuality and no matter what you do, there seems to be one basic look. It's certainly possible to make changes as the game goes on, with the ability to buy new clothes, hairstyles and the requisite bling, but the initial creation is still disappointing. The single player mode is also extremely short and something that can easily be completed in a weekend. This alone would make the game not much more than a weekend rental.
'Walls and members of the crowd can all become part of your arsenal.'
This isn't to say that completing it isn't fun. On the contrary, DJFFNY is a joy to play and its clever level structure allows you to use the scenery to your advantage. Walls and members of the crowd can all become part of your arsenal. Throwing an enemy into a wall allows the use of special, and usually sickening, grabs and throws. It's all great fun, and it's hard to argue with a game where you can throw your enemy into the crowd and watch as they get hit with a pool cue.
The real meat of the game though, is the multiplayer, which is very well implemented with a variety of modes. In particular, certain levels are themed, and give you the opportunity to fight in a subway station with rushing trains or an underground car-park providing lots of windscreens to throw your friends through. All very satisfying, and we can guarantee that it'll start some new rivalries and destroy friendships: 'You smashed a car door against my head four times!'
Def Jam: Fight For New York is actually a real surprise. Certainly the length of the single player mode is disappointing, but it does so many other things right. The music works very well, with a number of tracks by Def Jam artists, and the graphics are extremely slick and polished - though neither are outstanding. However, the combination of the brutal sounds and visceral graphics really make you wince when certain bone crunching moves are executed; it is very effective. Overall, it's a surprisingly great package for a game based round a record label and should be regarded as a solid fighter in its own right. It's not going to appeal to beat 'em up fans that live for combos, but for everyone else it's a solid and enjoyable fighting game, which should provide you with hours of fun.