[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/defjam/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Long have I awaited the return of the AKI wrestling engine. Ever since THQ ran off with the WWE license every wrestling game that they tried to put out has sucked. I figured that since WWE wasn’t dishing out any new licenses, and the thought of THQ and AKI joining up to do another game seemed pretty far fetched that video game wrestling’s glory days had come and gone. License? We don’t need no stinkin’ license. AKI’s engine is just to damn good to let die, and thank god that EA had the sense to realize this. EA Sports Big, which is known for it’s over-the-top presentation style, and AKI teamed up for the development on Def Jam Vendetta. Fans of the NWO vs. WCW series have been anxiously awaiting the release of Def Jam Vendetta, but with that comes some pretty high expectations. Will the engine port well to next-gen consoles? Will the substitution of rappers for wrestlers be a success? Why on earth didn’t they make this for the Xbox? Hopefully I’ll be able to get to all this questions and more in this review.
First of all I would like to discuss the graphics. Here is where the difficulty lies in reviewing this game. Do I base my opinion of the graphics on what they are like compared to the N64 games with this engine, or do I judge it compared to other PS2 games? Something that always bothered me was the polygonal appearance and the EXTREME amount of clipping that took place on the character models in the N64 games. Def Jam Vendetta actually did a pretty nice job on the character models. The characters look pretty smooth without looking strange like the models in THQ’s Smackdown do. Of course, EA Sports Big did make the characters look gigantic and flashy, which they are known to do. For some reason though they made all the character’s hands enormous; if you pay attention to the hands for a few minutes while playing you’ll start to notice how funny they look. The movements of the characters are very natural and smooth looking. Overall clipping of the fighters wasn’t a problem, but there was a couple of times when I caught someone’s foot going through someone else; it hardly enough to be noticeable though. The worst part of the character models is that the lip-sync is terrible. None of the character’s lip movements ever look like they are saying what they are supposed to be saying, it’s pretty bad. Another part of the N64 games that was just god-awful was the crowds and backgrounds. Def Jam Vendetta’s developers did a really great job on the backgrounds in the game. One level in particular that I remember well had a couple of girls dancing in the background and every time they caught your eye’s attention their movements were really fluid and created a cool environment for battle’s to be raged in. All in all I feel good about the graphics in Def Jam Vendetta. I think the developers did a good job, there are some areas that I would like to see improved, but hey, this is the PS2 I’m talking about.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/defjam/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatright]Since this game bore the name of a Rap label, I figured beforehand that sound would be its strong point. Instead it turned out to be the most irritating, skull cracking part of Def Jam Vendetta. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I don’t like Rap music or the tracks they selected for the soundtrack. Imagine with me if you will a 15 second loop of “DMX – X Gonna Gonna Give It to Ya” over and over and over and over. It’s not even a good loop either; you can hear where they looped it. That’s basically what you have to deal with every single time you fight a match. After a few hours you want to beat your head up against the screen or mute the game. The sound effects aren’t bad; they are almost exactly the same as the N64 games. This game is better played on mute than anything else.
The controls in Def Jam Vendetta are exactly what you will remember from the N64 series. Anyone who spent a significant amount of time playing any of those games will have the controls mastered seconds after picking up Def Jam Vendetta. Surprisingly enough the PS2 control actually is pretty easy to use. I was a little bit leery about how the shift from the N64 controller to the PS2 controller would be, but all the buttons are where you would expect them to be. What I never realized is how hard the controls would be to master for someone who had never played any of the N64 games. I had a friend over for a few hours and it was really difficult to explain to him the strike, grapple, and move progression. For him it turned into a button mashing fest, so much so that his thumb got so sore he had to quit playing. It was frustrating for me to watch because I’ve played this type of game for so long that I know exactly what to do and when and he had no clue. After awhile he was able to master some aspects of the controls, but there is so much you can do with every single move and reversals that it would take a long time for him to totally get the hang of it. For you AKI engine veterans you’ll find the controls very responsive and you feel like you’re in complete control of you character.
It’s tough to decide how to rate how challenging this game is. Def Jam Vendetta is designed to be a one-player game and the game’s main feature is the story mode. I played through most of it in one night, and it does a pretty decent job of progressive difficulty, as you get further into the story. Having played past AKI games as much as I have makes this game extremely easy to me. I played it with the difficulty set at medium and I was tearing through the matches like butter. My friend who had never played before could barely beat anyone. I would say that the most challenging part for any newcomer would just be mastering the controls. Once you have that down you can pretty much sail through this game. Def Jam Vendetta also has a “Survival” game mode, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The only problem is that I think I’m too good at this game and it just gets boring. I beat about 6 guys in 15 minutes and got bored and turned it off. I’m defiantly going to have to jack the difficulty up a bit. Personally my favorite part of the games using this series was the multiplayer, so I can’t get myself too worked up about the difficulty of this game.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/defjam/ss05_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]When thinking about the fun factor and replay ability of Def Jam Vendetta it’s impossible to separate my feelings for the N64 games. There are so many things that I wish they would have included that were some of my favorite parts of the old games. My favorite feature was always the Royal Rumble. We used to have 10-15 people crammed in Pickle’s tiny room all fighting over who gets to be the next character that runs in. The multiplayer was so much fun, I don’t understand why they would stray from that and make it primarily a single player game. There are some multiplayer aspects in the game, but that is pretty difficult to deal with. The camera angle is a little bit low and when you get involved in a tag-team match or any type of match with four people you spend a lot of time complaining about not being able to see anything that’s going on. The other thing that’s frustrating is that the story is very linear. In No Mercy the story would branch out a lot and you’d have people running smack and run-ins. It was great. But no matter what character you play with in Vendetta you always progress from match a to b to c, with the same cinematics every time. Speaking of character selection, this games big draw is that you can be these cool ass rappers. Strangely enough you can’t use any of them in the story mode though. Most of the guys you would want to play as don’t even start as being unlocked. All I wanted was to be Redman; I spent 3 hours trying to unlock him only to find out that I couldn’t use him in story mode. And why no create-a-fighter?
The previous paragraph is mainly for people who have played AKI wrestling games before. For those of you who never have, the AKI wrestling engine is like Mecca. All other wrestling games are nothing compared to the greatness that this engine is. If you are just getting started playing you are soon going to find yourself spending hours trying to memorize and master ever single move with every single wrestler, and than you’re going to want to get yourself a tag-team partner and master all the tag-teams moves. Pickle and I are a dominant tag-team; we used to do some of the coolest things in Revenge. If you are a fan of wrestling or fighting games at all you need to check this game out.
Although I have some complaints, it is so good to see the AKI engine back in action. Maybe I’ll have to wait for Ultimate Muscle: Legends Vs. New Generation to get some of the features back that I used to enjoy so much, but Def Jam Vendetta is defiantly something that can hold me over for now. If you have played the N64 games before than I would probably recommend renting this game prior to buying. It’s defiantly worth playing, but odds are you are going to be too good at it if you are a veteran to get the replay ability out of it you are looking for. I actually purchased Def Jam Vendetta instead of renting because I want to support AKI and I hope their engine never goes away.