Def Jam Vendetta finally ushers in AKI’s true re-entry into the wrestling game market in the United States. Makers of such great wrestling games as No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge, they have a lot to live up to. THQ has gone around saying their WWE licensed games have the AKI engine in them (Wrestlemania X8 for the Cube, although this is false) or have former members of the AKI team on them (the Smackdown series). Do we finally get the wrestling game we have been waiting a long time for? In many ways, Def Jam Vendetta is a dream come true, it is just too bad there are no real wrestlers and only rappers in this game. We may never have another perfect pure wrestling game again, but this should suffice.
It is quite interesting that EA are the ones that have brought AKI back into the fold and put it under their EA Sports BIG label with such great games as SSX, SSX Tricy, NBA Street and the highly anticipated NBA Street Vol. 2. In many ways, Def Jam Vendetta shares a lot of things with the SSX line, but we shall get into that later.
The graphics in Def Jam Vendetta has obviously seen an improvement since the last wrestling game AKI made, No Mercy. Gone are the blocky character graphics and the slow, meandering movements. In their place are beautiful character graphics with quite a bit of lighting effects on their faces and bodies depending on which arena you are in.
Of the rappers I know, DMX and Redman look a heck of a lot like their real-life counterparts. Each wrestler is a different height and weight and they move realistically based on their measurements. The arena graphics are very static and do not have any particle effects or anything in them. The audience is actually done in 3D this time around, and although it is relatively sparse except for the final Def Jam Tournament arena, they are done pretty well. The graphics never slow down other than when it does the multiple slow move stuff when executing a nice move. Unlike No Mercy, you cannot turn off the replay stuff in this game.
The only thing to really complain about in the graphics side is that the clipping issues that were present in other AKI games are still present here, but not nearly at the same level. You can still see parts of the body lying outside a rope instead of the rope stretching sometimes. You can also see a wrestler’s hand go clear through another wrestler’s body. I am not sure if clipping issues will ever truly be fixed in any wrestling game, but I certainly do not notice them as much as I used to.
The only other thing I can think of is that the action seems a little to close for me. The characters are really larger than life in a 1-on-1 battle. When you get into a tag battle the camera is far away, but in the single competition things seem a little too close in the ring itself. The framerate does not suffer at all because of this, but I certainly do not remember being up this close in other AKI games. It was just something to get used to.
Your score will all depend on your liking of rap music. I am not generally a fan of it, but the songs presented here were pretty good. Basically there is a song from every one of the 12 Def Jam rappers that appear in this game. I enjoyed ones I had heard before and I even enjoyed some of the new ones as well. The songs are constantly on…soft during the matches and great background music during the time in-between matches in the Story mode.
Sound in this game is pretty good as well. You get the generic grunts and yelps, but each wrestler (minus the 4 you can control in Story mode) has at least one spoken line in the game. The problem is that most of the spoken dialogue is taken up by your friend Manny and the boss of the whole show, D-Mob. The minus with the voiceovers is that there are just too few lines spoken by the whole crew. Overall it is great, but once you go through the Story mode once you probably will not want to hear the voices again.
Once again, your enjoyment with this section is based entirely on your tolerance for rap music. If you do not like it you can turn the music down all the way and not listen to it at all.
This game controls like a dream. After a long absence, the AKI engine is back in full force. For those not familiar with the engine, you have a plethora of moves at your disposal using just 2 buttons and the control stick/pad. The B button is your attack button. If you press it softly you hit with a weak attack, if you press it hard you do a medium attack. If you want to do a hard attack you press both the B and A button. The A button is mostly used for grappling. If you lightly touch it you do a light grab. From there you can use the A or B button to do a maximum of 10 moves: one for each of the 4 directions and one for neutral on both buttons. If you hold down the A button you do a strong grapple. From here you also have a maximum of 10 moves to choose from using the buttons and stick. When I use the term “maximum moves”, it means you can have that many moves possible, but for the most part the pushing left and right on the control stick and one of the buttons does the exact same thing. There are a few wrestlers that do have different ones though.
In addition to these forward attacks you can also pick up your opponent from the ground using the R trigger and then you can grab them from behind and have another possible 20 moves. You can also grab your opponent and Irish whip them using the X button. From there you can also do moves with different directions of the stick and one of the two buttons. You can also climb the ropes using the Y button and pushing the control stick in the direction of the turnbuckle. Hold down the Y button and let go when you are ready to do your move. It is difficult to pull off, but it can do some major damage.The other thing with the controls is the finishing move and how to beat your opponent. The top bar is the key to the finishing maneuver. As you keep doing moves it goes up. When it hits the top it flashes. At this point you want to move the C-stick in a direction for your wrestler to go into “Blazin'” mode. From here all you have to do is grapple your opponent in front or back and hit the C-stick again to do the finishing move.
The control is just beautiful in this game. It is nice and fluid, the sign of great AKI game.
The gameplay is generally good. First we shall talk about the two bars below your wrestler’s name and the different ways you can earn a victory.
You have two bars under your name and your opponent’s name. The top one (the momentum meter) was explained above in controls. The bottom one is the health bar, it goes down as you take damage. When it is in the “Danger” zone, you better not let the opponent do a finishing move or you have lost. You can gain health back as long as your opponent does not hit you with a move. The shady bar is the maximum amount of health you can have. As you keep getting hit by moves, the maximum goes down along with your actual health.
The key to a match is to fulfill one of 3 outcomes: knockout your opponent, pin them or make them submit. Knocking them out is the easiest of the 3. Once your opponent gets into their “Danger” zone and your momentum meter reaches its maximum, you can enter Blazin’ mode and do your special move and knock him out. If he is not in the “Danger” zone and you do your special move, you will have to rely on pinning him or getting your momentum meter back up to deliver another special move. The pins can be pulled off from a grapple move or just by hitting the L button where your wrestler just puts his foot on the guy for the 3 count. There are really no full wrestling covers other than the moves done off of grappling.
The last way to win a match is by submission. The submission system has become broader in this game. You can hone in on 4 areas of your opponent: leg, arm, head and body. Each section has its own health bar. When your opponent is down you can press the A button while standing near an area to do a hold to weaken one of the 4 parts. Once the health bar is tapped and the opponent is in the “Danger” zone, he will submit. This game uses a lot of bars. If your opponent gets you into a hold you have to tap buttons to fill the meter and get out of it. It has become a bit more complicated than it was in No Mercy, but it brings a lot more strategy and realism to the table.
Much like No Mercy you can also do reversals in this game. They are done with the L button. If hit at the right time you can reverse a move and do your own move. It is very much a timing thing and it takes a while to get good at it. This game is simple to play and hard to master. There are even some combos in this game as well and they go over it a bit in the Tutorial mode.
Now it is time to talk about the Story mode. This mode is great, but only the first time through really. You choose from 4 wrestlers (you cannot choose one of the other 40 wrestlers in this game from this mode unfortunately). You are taken through a ladder of opponents to go through. Each section has a boss that is actually one of the 12 rappers. In the final section, the Def Jam Tournament, you face nothing but rappers and D-Mob himself. As you go through the story you see cutscenes. The problem with these is that going through the story mode with another player still brings the same cutscenes other than your character being different. It took me a few hours to get through the Story mode as you do have several things you need to do. You go through tag matches and even a difficult handicap match where it is you against 3 other wrestlers.
Another cool thing about the story mode is that you collect cash as you defeat opponents. This is where the SSX style comes through. Each of the 4 wrestlers has different levels for 7 attributes given to them. One may have a lot of speed, but little power and stuff like that. With the money you can upgrade your levels on the 7 attributes and become a better wrestler. In fact, on multiple times through you can maximize all your wrestlers.
Also after matches you often get messages on your pager from Manny (your friend), Angel (your ex-gf) or from the rappers themselves. It is pretty cool, but much like the cutscenes everything is the same the second time through.
Survival mode gave me another good few hours of play. Basically you go through every wrestler until you lose. You also generate money through this mode as well. The key thing here is that if you take enough damage, you go into your next match with lower health than full. You need to keep yourself as close to full health as possible to make it through the Survival mode. The higher you go in survival mode the tougher it gets. It is super tough at the end where you meet nothing but rappers and D-Mob. They are a bit better than your low-rung wrestlers.
Battle mode is here as well. This is where you can set up matches 1-on-1, tag team, 4-way, handicap matches, etc. In this mode as well as Survival you can pick whichever wrestler you want to battle with.
There is a lot to unlock in this game though. Wrestlers are unlocked as you beat them the first time in Story mode. You get extra clothes for both you and the other wrestlers in Story mode as well. You can also choose your girlfriend through Story mode (yes, 2 girls do fight during the Story mode…you choose the one you want to control) and unlock their pictorials. They are real girls and I am guessing they are the girls of the Def Jam label. The pictures are of real girls and some are quite sexy! You have to stay with your girl to unlock all their pictures though. The blonde seemed to have the best pictures. She is also the one you get first, so go with her!
The replay value takes a dive when talking about the lack of a Create-a-Wrestler mode that is so prevalent in other wrestling games. It would be cool to build your own character in this game and fight with him/her. I would also have loved to play through the story mode with other wrestlers as well, even though they would not have fit into the storyline itself. At least give me the ladder representation or something. This game will give you a good number of hours depending on how much you like the game, but overall replay and adaptability just is not there unfortunately.