The recent Def Jam: Icon demo on Xbox Live Marketplace really caught me by surprise.
The visuals are truly something new; a heavily post-processed music-video take on the sweaty realism of Fight Night. It’s supra-realistic, like the race from 2D to 3D didn’t stop at photorealism but kept going. There are absolutely no overlayed graphics; no health bars, round counters or anything.
The fighting system immediately brings to mind Fight Night, which is no surprise, since the games are developed by the same EA Chicago team. You control all the action with the analogue sticks. I couldn’t get a handle on it from a couple of sessions, but it sure feels more fun, swinging sticks than bashing buttons. Overall the feel is engaginly between party-game bash ’em ups and gritty boxing action.
In the background, as the music picks up momentum, you realize that something weird is going on. Indeed, the whole arena is one huge visualization of the music that’s playing – roofs jump to the beat, buildings crumble, flames spout and so on. If you know the song and can time your punches and finishes to the beat, you’ll do more damage and cause more spectacular effects. This alone makes the game a worthy addition to the beat ’em up genre.
What’s more, you can fight for control of the music, switching songs and scratching on the fly, fighting for control of the DJ. This could be very intense against real players, rummaging through your virtual vinyl bag, looking for that one bit you could use right now, all the while duking it out in-your-face.
What’s ingenious is that you can play any music you like in the game, and the game uses that as a basis for the fight. If this works well, there’s some serious replayability to be found.