GamesCom: Def Jam Rapstar Impressions

By Lee on September 8, 2010, 10:36AM EDT

It's SingStar with rapping, right? It'll be as dull as it is predictable.

Those were my thoughts going in to our appointment to see DefJam Rapstar. There's been hip-hop tunes in other music games for a while, of course, and Pass Da Mic, but neither has really excited. So I reckoned this latest attempt at bringing sick lyric spitting to da consoles would be just as wack. But I was well wrong innit bruv.

Oh dear, apologies for that. Let's get on with the preview, shall we?

As you can probably guess from my painfully tortured street slang, I'm not much of a rapper. Indeed, my experience with the form extends only to a Primary School talent show where I dressed up in a large nappy and danced to Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice (true story). I won, by the way. But I don't think that's going to help here.

Def Jam Rapstar then, is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. It has a load of licensed tunes, it rates your performance and it promises to offer endless DLC. Which is all great. But it's the way that developers 4mm have approached the game that impresses most. By showing a real understanding of hip-hop and the culture that surrounds it, they look to be making the ultimate rapping game.

Let's start with the basics. Rap Star judges your rapping according to three criteria, Beats (rhythm), Notes (pitch) and Words (lyrics). Now while the first two are fairly standard it's the Words part that marks a bit of a deviation from the norm. Through some jigerry-pokery that we don't understand, Def Jam can tell exactly what you are singing.

So while it's perfectly possible to just blurt out well-timed tunefully nonsensical lyrics, Rap Star will sense it and reduce your final score accordingly. It seems like it works. Though we're not sure how much of it is smoke and mirrors.

On the subject of lyrics, it worth noting that there is no swearing in RapStar. All 45 launch tunes and videos are the radio edit. So while rude mother effers won't be penalised for slipping in a or a or even a **** at the correct moment, the game itself will not display the naughty lyric on screen. That's because 4mm wanted the game to be playable by all ages. Also, 'cos it'll make them more Benjamins, sucka!

Yeah, I should really stop that.

Beyond the core experience, 4mm have really tried to engage with the social aspect of the Rap Star. The game is compatible with both PS3 and Xbox 360 cameras, allowing you to record 30 second videos of yourself performing before posting them online. To bling things up a little you can add backdrops, visual flourishes and animated details thanks to an intuitive customisation tool.

The site that hosts these videos operates like a social network. So rather than just have a few of your videos up there floating around ignored, you'll be able to swap them, use them to judge others and issue rap battle challenges. It's these rap battles - the winner of which can be voted on by the community - that really dig in to the competitive side of hip-hop. If you get sufficiently involved with the experience you can join crews and form rivalries. You'll be acting out your own council estate version of 8 Mile in no time.

The only potential hiccup to all this is that, well, not that many people have cameras for their consoles.

Beyond all this, if you just want to freestyle - and really show off your skills - you can, as 4mm have included a number of backing tracks for you to rap over. They hope that this could prove the launching ground for fresh new talent. I'm not so sure. But then hey I dressed up in a nappy in public, so what the hell do I know?

But, of course, once you've sorted the core mechanics, it's the strength of the tunes that will ultimately dictate RapStar's success. Thankfully, if the songs available in our demo are anything to go by, there should be a nice broad mix available. Hip-Hop is a pretty wide-genre, so to get it right 4mm will have to get everything in there from Daisy Age stuff like Pharcyde, via harder edged stuff like NWA and the pop pleasing contemporary artists like Kanye. I, meanwhile, have my fingers crossed for Vanilla Ice.

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