Conceptually, the Def Jam series has suffered since day one. But EA's latest dip into the hip-hop underground is (finally) filled with sensible incentives. Instead of nonsense fistfights between Def Jam's elite artists, now you'll play as a young tough with some business aspirations. The lesson here: If you want to become a big-shot record producer, you better know how to throw a punch. After you crack heads in a bumpin' night club, a Def Jam exec takes notice and hires you on as new muscle. You'll climb from thug to entrepreneur, as you punch out the paparazzi for Big Boi, and sign Sean Paul to a record deal.
But while the storyline works, much of the fighting doesn't. Too few moves bleed your opponent, which means the tactics are largely the same: punch, kick, grab, throw, grab, throw, grab, throw. Repeat. The game relies far too much on long-tossing your opponent, as the masterfully etched environments break apart over the course of a battle, with help from the background music's beats. When someone gets thrown into the speakers, for example, sound blasts out and shoots the victim into the air for double the damage. Problem is, the shaky right analog, used for grabbing and throwing, is downright temperamental. That usually leads to you being the one grabbed and thrown.
Beyond the game: Like no Def Jam game before it, Icon manages to capture an authentic hip-hop feel. There are tons of ways to customize your character's dress—grills included—and EA was smart to let the N and F bombs drop.
Worth playing for: The opulent environments bounce and disintegrate to the beat, and on the Xbox 360, you can use your own music. It's a blast to watch The Stanton Warriors shred an environment in seconds, while Garth Brooks takes 10 minutes.
Frustration sets in when: Rappers who have your number—we struggled against Redman—are tough to overcome. The lack of moves means a lack of strategy and a load of frustration.
Final judgment: Even if you don't own every Ludacris album, watching the rich environments rattle to the music is reason enough to give this a play. Just don't expect much depth from this beat 'em up.