Def Jam Fight for NY
Published and developed by EA Games. For PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube. Rated M for Mature.
What if I told you there were a fighting game where you could throw down as any number of big-time rappers, like Ludacris, Snoop, and Ice-T? Sounds pretty cool, right? But what if I also told you that there was a fighting game in which an integral part of the gameplay was stylishly dressing and accessorizing your fighter in order to win over the crowd? Sounds, well, ridiculous, right? Both of these dynamics are at play in EA's Def Jam Fight for NY, a head-to-head fighter that manages to be both brutally violent and brutally stupid at the same time.
Fight for NY is, of course, a sequel to Def Jam Vendetta, a game I somehow missed, perhaps because I got my fill of rapper-on-rapper violence by watching the Notorious B.I.G. episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Fight for NY features a comprehensive story mode, which is always a dicey proposition for a fighting game (remember how the Mortal Kombat series declined in direct proportion to its emphasis on mythology?). The action is set in a world where various miscreants and ne'er-do-wells battle in underground fight clubs, for no reason I could ascertain other than to have something to do. You begin by creating a fighter (I creatively named mine "Mitch"), who ingratiates himself with a crew run by the fearsome D-Mob. D-Mob's main competition for control of the city is Crow, played by the admittedly awesome Snoop Dogg, which leads to the eponymous battle.
The story unfolds via impressively rendered cutscenes, voice mails, and text messages. But there's a certain inexorability to the proceedings that saps the fun from the idea of an actual fight for New York. Often, you're treated to a cinematic of the crews jawing at each other, which segues into a fight. And if you lose, you just try again. There aren't really multiple paths or different ways to advance through the story. You never control your character except during combat, which makes all the other trappings seems like mere window dressing.
There's also a character-building system, which is an interesting feature for a fighting game. Winning fights earns you development points, which you can then take to a gym run by Henry Rollins (what?) and use to build your strength and speed, or learn new moves. It should be mentioned that Henry Rollins is the ultimate personal trainer. He leaves you several threatening voice mails throughout the game telling you he'll beat the snot out of you if you don't get to the gym. I wonder what he charges.
You can customize your character extensively. As you earn cash from fights, you can shop for clothes, jewelry, and even tattoos. The crowd responds well to someone who brings the bling, which somehow translates into your earning more cash when you win. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but what the hell is that? If I'm playing a fighting game, I want to get in there and fight, not play dress-up. I think it proves my point that when my female roommate tried her hand at Fight for NY, she spent several gleeful minutes deciding on exactly the right earrings for her customized thug.