Def Jam Vendetta

User Rating: 8 | Def Jam Vendetta PS2
For over a decade, the rappers at Def Jam have been looking for a fight. From Fight the Power and Fight for Your Right to Party, to Bring the Pain and Mama Said Knock You Out, the label's twisted rhymes of boasts and bravado into a multi-billion dollar industry of beats and beat downs. But how would these same rappers fare if they had to put down their mics and put up their dukes? That's the concept behind EA BIG's bangin' new brawler, Def Jam Vendetta.

At its core, Vendetta's a wrestling game without the wrestlers. It's Fight Club without Brad Pitt. It's Redman picking his opponent up by the throat in the middle of the ring and punching him in the nuts so many times you need to drop your controller and grab your sack out of some remote fear the pain actually translates to your testicles.

It's also the best wrestling game to slam these current-generation consoles to date, no doubt.

Welcome to the Terrordome.

Designing an original wrestling game without a traditional wrestling license (WWE, NWA) has proved to be a process full of ups and downs, or smackdowns as the case may be, for veteran wrestling game designers Aki (WWF Wrestlemania 2000, WWF No Mercy). To Aki's benefit in Def Jam Vendetta, it wasn't ever restricted to merely imitating exactly what's seen on TV in terms of presentation or even move sets. In a WWE game for instance, if during the course of a People's Elbow, The Rock doesn't remove his elbow pad and deliver his signature raised eyebrow to the camera, wrestling fans across the globe would (and have in the past) shriek louder than Mick Foley rolling around on a mat full of thumbtacks.

But by creating a world of underground fighting where the wrestlers (44 in all) are a mix of fictional fighters and superstar rappers who put the hip in the hop, Aki has designed each character and fighting style the way that suits gameplay best and never once was forced to cater to preconceived notions of what a specific wrestler needs to fight like in the ring. When Spider delivers his version of the Rock Bottom, he doesn't just pick his opponent up and slam them to the mat, a la The People's Champ. Instead, Spider picks his man up like a traditional Rock Bottom, then spins them around two times before dropping his opponent straight down on the back of his head and neck. A move so painful, so nasty, it must bring a tear to The Rock's eye to think he can't match the jaw-dropping awe a move like this inspires.

This theory of starting from scratch also plays to Aki's benefit outside of the ring as well as the arenas and fight locations (12 total) are some of the coolest in any wrestling game. Each rapper has a venue that matches his persona to perfection. So while Ludacris fights in an arena full of distractions including scantily-clad ladies sliding down stripper poles, DMX is gonna give it to you in The Junkyard, complete with old tires beneath the ring.

But while character and arena design work in Aki's favor, it's the lack of overall features and match types wrestling fans have grown accustomed to that serves to suplex the game back down to the mat. Sure, Def Jam Vendetta sports a scintillating Story mode (more on that later), as well as Singles, Tag Team, Handicap, Survival, and up to four-player Free For All bouts, but that's absolutely nothing compared to the countless match types found in WWE Smackdown!: Shut your Mouth. There are no Battle Royals to be found. No Table matches, no Ladder matches, and for a game that shoots for the hardcore, there are not only no Hardcore matches, but there are no weapons to be found in any match type, period. No chairs, ring bells, mics, or platinum records to smash over your opponent's head. No Spanish announce table to piledrive enemies through.

Again, Def Jam Vendetta is not a traditional wrestling game, so you can't expect every type of match, but at the same time the game's still grounded in the roots of wrestling, and fans of the "sport" will be disappointed that more was not done to blend the two together. Another disappointment is the omission of any type of Create-A-Wrestler mode. The Create-A-Wrestler mode has traditionally been one of the most popular features in recent grappling games and would've been a welcomed addition to Def Jam Vendetta.

There's no doubt about it, you take a lotta hurt in this game...
Another oddity is the actual lineup of fighters. While there are 44 wrestlers total, there are only 12 Def Jam artists. Not that that's completely outrageous, but the 12 aren't exactly the 12 you'd expect from a label like Def Jam. The game features Method Man, Redman, N.O.R.E., Capone, WC, Scarface, Joe Budden, DMX, Ludacris, Keith Murray, Ghostface Killah, and Funkmaster Flex. But that begs the question, where is LL Cool J? He's been the most recognized artist on the label for years and he's nowhere to be seen. Also MIA are Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Cam'ron, and old school rapper Slick Rick.

Speaking of old school, while a Public Enemy cut is featured on the soundtrack, there's no P.E. representation in the ring. No Chuck D., no Flava Flav smashing fools with his clock, not even Professor Griff or an S1W in the crowd saluting. While certainly not a gamebreaker, the exclusion of these artists is a bit perplexing. It's like creating a WWE game without Stone Cold. Gameplay
If the lack of features forces the game down to the mat, it's Vendetta's brilliantly smooth gameplay that picks it back up and flexes its muscles as it struts its way along the road to the title. Take the N64 classic WWF No Mercy, replace all the wrestlers with silly names like Mr. Ass with, well, rappers with silly names like Ludacris, and you pretty much know how Vendetta plays. Simply tapping the grapple button performs your basic set of moves like slams, suplexes, and headbutts. Hold the grapple button down to perform an entirely new set of more powerful moves from choke slams to the good old Stink Face. Fighters can launch themselves off the top rope, dive through the ropes onto an opponent outside the ring, and lock adversaries in a variety of bone-breaking submission holds.

Anything you've ever wanted to do in a wrestling ring can be performed in Def Jam Vendetta, and like I said before, the moves you're accustomed to seeing on shows like Raw and SmackDown are delivered with such force and flair, Def Jam Vendetta makes the real thing look somewhat tame in comparison.

As you work your way through a match, the more variety of moves you utilize, the more the crowd gets behind you. The more the crowd adores you, the more your Momentum meter begins to fill. When your Momentum meter is completely full, you're able to deliver one of two (one from the front, one from behind) "Blazin'" finishing moves. Moves such as Redman's aforementioned Balls to the Wall and Method Man's Methalize, where the habitually high prankster from the slums of Shaolin picks his opponent up in a Lex Luger-like Rack, cracks the spine a few times for good measure, then drops him head first into a modified brainbuster. These are devastating moves that wrestlers could never pull off in real life for the simple fact that real people have real bones that would snap in two (if they are lucky). In a videogame, you can just hit reset.

In addition to the basic moves and finishers, each fighter features a unique set of three combos. When these combos are completed, not only will your opponent be left flattened, your momentum meter will fill up extremely fast, enabling you to move from combo to finisher in no time. The combos aren't your basic punch, punch, kick, either, as you'll have to experiment with each brawler to see what moves link into others. For example, one of Joe Budden's combos is The Focus. To perform this move you need to get in close to your opponent and hit him with a soft strike. Follow this up by grabbing him in a rear hard grapple and send him down to the mat. Once your opponent is down, run toward him and strike him one last time by pressing up and punch. May not be as simple as 1-2-3, but it will lead to many pin-falls throughout the game.

Like all wrestling and fighting games, Def Jam Vendetta works best as a two-player contest. But as a single-player game this is deep, engaging and not only refreshing in its originality, it's terribly rewarding with a great many unlockable characters. As the story goes, street fighting was too gangsta for the Garden, so a local crime boss named D-Mob decided to take the conflict underground. At first, you're simply trying to do a homey named Manny a favor by taking his spot in a few fights, simply trying to earn some scratch to pay the bills. But once you realize your former squeeze Angel now lays down with the enemy (D-Mob), you take to the tournament to try to take the big man and his band of Def Jam fighters down while in the process proving to your former honey who the man really is. As you progress through Story mode, every fighter you defeat becomes playable in other modes like Single and Free For All, and as you defeat all fighters from the same area, that area's venue also becomes unlocked.

And like all winners, the ladies flock to your side, even fighting each other for the rights to be your "girlfriend." When two girls are about to fight for your rights, you choose the one you want to win, then you actually control her in the match. If your woman wins the fight, not only will she become a playable character in other modes, but you will unlock a piece of her Gallery, a Maxim-esque photo spread of the real woman the videogame character is based on, bikinis and all. Throughout Story mode you will also earn money for every match that you win and you can in turn use the money to either increase your character's attributes or to buy more photos of your girlfriends in other outfits like nightgowns and other assorted evening wear (use your imagination).

Speaking of spending money, if you do decide to actually get your skills working instead of your imagination, you can increase everything from your character's speed and strength to his charisma. And while it may sound silly to spend money to increase your fighter's charisma, remember, this is a game based on the entertainment industry where image is everything, and Def Jam Vendetta is no different. The more charisma you have, the more the crowd pops to your every move and the faster your Momentum meter fills, making the charisma attribute actually one of the most useful in the game.

One disappointing feature of the Story, however, is the fact that you can't play through the mode as any of the Def Jam rappers. You are given four of the fictitious fighters to choose from when the story begins, and while it's always thrilling to take an unknown underdog through the ranks of the underground fighting circuit, it would've been even sweeter if the game also included some kind of storyline that enabled you to play as one of the maniac musicians.

It's not kick-boxing, but that is a kick in the face. Ouch...
From the homies to the hotties, Vendetta delivers some of the best-looking fighter models ever to grace the squared-circle. You can spot the definition in DMX's abs, the ice on Redman's ear, and the gold around Ghostface Killah's arm. Each rapper's face and trademark look is instantly identifiable for fans, and non-fans will get a kick (sometimes in the balls) from the unique styles and profiles of the men behind the mic. The game isn't meant to look realistic, but rather adapts a stylistic look, with a cartoon affect that blends in hints of realism with some very artistic techniques. The game's look works extremely well.

The atmosphere surrounding Story mode and the cinematics that push the storyline forward are also top rope. We're talking two-way pagers, arenas with DJ's and dancing girls, and a bad-ass boss looking to intimidate your every move. And the character models, especially the female ones, are dope. These are sexy, fine-looking videogame examples of the female species.

If you're a fan of rap music, Def Jam Vendetta's soundtrack is laced with the mix of old school and fresh cuts you've been waiting for. There are 18 songs, including Nothin' - N.O.R.E., Smash Sumthin' - Redman, Fight the Power - Public Enemy, Buck 50 - Cappadonna, Method Man, and Redman, X Gonna Give It To Ya - DMX, Bring the Pain - Method Man, Uh Huh! - Method Man, Focus - Joe Budden, In Cold Blood - Scarface, Do Sumthin - Comp, Throw Ya Gunz - Onyx, The Streets - WC featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, Oh My Goodness - Keith Murray, Yeah Yeah You Know It - Keith Murray, Intro - DMX, Party Up - DMX, Stick 'em - Comp, and Stomp - C-N-N.

The only downer is that a bunch of the lyrics have been edited out for obvious reasons. Too bad there wasn't a version for sale with a Parental Advisory sticker and all of the swearing left intact. Oh well, maybe next year.

For those who love the super slick stereophonic high-fi connections, Def Jam Vendetta supports Dolby Surround Pro-logic II. So if you hook up the system you're going to get a clean, smooth, and big sound, and given the level of bass in the game, that's a good thing.

Closing Comments
If you bought Wu Tang: Shaolin Style and have been scared off of rapper fisticuffs ever since, don't worry, Def Jam Vendetta represents both the culture and the clash to the highest degree. Besides, word on the streets is that Method Man himself thought the Wu-Tang Clan game was whack, so you're not alone.

When it comes to two-player action, you'll be hard-pressed to find a smoother, slicker slobberknocker than this wrestler. It's the game that makes The Rock look like a pebble and is a must-buy for all fans of the genre. And, as you can see by the score, it's the highest rated wrestling game on the site.