Using music as a weapon is nothing new. Westlife songs regularly cause us agonizing pain, while Radiohead makes us want to slit our wrists in despair. But never have we seen music used to such brilliant effect in a fighting game, and after the series' more typical PS2 entries, we really didn’t expect the latest Def Jam title to be so amazingly inventive.
When you select your character, you also choose a song to represent them and play over the top of fights. Environments now contain plenty of interactive hazards that pulse in time to the beat, and if you smack your opponent into one of them at the right moment, you create even more damage. This includes exploding pumps at a gas station, the blast from a broken fusebox on a rooftop, a hefty kick from an annoyed pole dancer in a club, and a swinging light rig inside a TV studio.
If a hazard isn’t triggered by the song, you can go one step further and add your own beat. By holding a button and moving the Right analog stick in a circular motion, you “scratch” the record and inflict incredible damage. Of course, your opponent can also deploy strategic scratching while he’s on his feet to stop your scratch attack and send you flying, or to dodge his way out of grabs and escape being trapped in a tight corner.
On the whole, it’s all good violent fun, if a little repetitive, aided by a new control system that wisely copies Fight Night. The face buttons perform basic kicks, punches, blocks and taunts, but it’s the Right analog stick that performs the crucial grabs, throws and directional strikes needed to direct an opponent towards a hazard. Every move is superbly animated, and the game revels in showing bleeding, burned and battered faces in comic, gratuitous detail.
The Story mode is still as far-fetched and ridiculous as ever - but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. Now, you’re a budding hip-hop star who starts out at the bottom doing laughable jobs like beating up a crazed stalker on behalf of Ludacris until you eventually become a mogul and start releasing records. A remarkably detailed create-a-fighter option and a customizable wardrobe help overcome the awkward plot-based fighting.
Def Jam: Icon is a fun slap-happy alternative to the more hardcore Virtua Fighter 5. Even if you don’t know your Method Man from your Redman, you’ll be a gangsta-fried convert by the final punch.