That's right, I am a Def Jam Rapstar


A few years back, Eidos and A2M released a title for the PlayStation 2 called Get on Da Mic. The heart of the game was in the right place, a Karaoke Revolution for those who would rather be David Banner than Christina Aguilera. But relatively low production values, shoddy speech recognition and little in the way of innovation (or fun) put the game into retail bargain bins in record time.

Its 2009, and hip-hop as a genre has continued to grow and expand to markets and demographics beyond what anyone could have expected when DJ Hollywood spit his first rhyme in the early 70s. Social networking like Twitter and Facebook is in its prime, making it easier and faster to share experiences with friends and people who probably don’t care.

Enter Def Jam Rapstar, the first announced project by 4mm Games, a publisher formed by founding members of the now legendary Rockstar Games. Developed in conjunction with Terminal Reality (yes, of current Ghostbusters fame), Def Jam Rapstar is more than a game -- it’s an ambitious platform that merges performance and social networking in an attempt to build a massive online community of wannabe emcees.

We had a chance to check out an early build of the game in Def Jam Interactive’s private Los Angeles Penthouse suite last week, and came away impressed with the vision for Def Jam Rapstar.

Boiled down to its bare bones, Def Jam Rapstar is a game where you pick up a microphone and rap along to your favorite songs. Playable in the demo build we saw was a handful of hip-hop tracks, ranging in both style and era, from T.I.'s “Live Your Life” to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” When performing a track, the music video for the song appears on the screen, with a karaoke-style lyric delivery system that was split between two players when played competitively or cooperatively.

Impressive was how the game not only picked up timing of your delivery, but it has what appeared to be spot-on phoneme detection, picking up individual words we spoke into the mic. You simply can’t expect to deliver Biggie’s classic line a sloppy drunk and get away with it. If you’re worried about the speed of delivery (rhymes often come fast and furious), Def Jam Rapstar is constantly displaying a second line of rhymes, faded below the one currently being delivered. Even when I only had a vague grasp of the lyrics, this was a huge help, and knowing how they were delivered and keeping on the beat was more than enough to follow along.

For songs with hooks and other singing parts -- like Rihanna’s vocals on “Live Your Life,” for instance -- the game will also judge you on your pitch as part of your end score, where applicable.

If we stopped there, it would be easy to write the game off as Singstar Young Jeezey. But that’s only part of the experience Def Jam Rapstar is trying to deliver. The title will utilize your console’s camera (the EyeToy and Vision Camera for PlayStation and Xbox 360, respectively) and record your entire performance. Once finished, you’ll have the opportunity to instantly upload 30 seconds (selected by the player) to the Def Jam Rapster server, where it will be viewable for all to view. 

The Def Jam Rapstar online landing page was already working when we saw it, and we were able to see the system in the action. Once uploaded, it appears on the Rapstar community site, along with detailed information about the performance. This will even include location, as the system features geo-tagging, which will allow you to sort and be grouped with emcees in your area. The site will contain a host of features, including video and user ratings, as well as the ability to create a “crew,” a group of emcees that could be likened to a clan.

This brings us to a major focus of the game – competitive rap battles among the community. While you can battle head-to-head locally, the Def Jam Rapstar site will be where all of the action happens. You can attempt to rock a better performance than your friend, someone else in the community, even someone in your area. Def Jam Rapstar will offer real-time updates if you wish, via email or text message, letting you know if your performance has been bested by a rival emcee. (Side note: Prior to Rock Band 2’s release this was a feature Harmonix mentioned would be included in the game’s “Battle of the Bands” mode, but was never delivered.)

Because the Def Jam Rapstar page is “in the cloud” so to speak, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners will be able to compete to best each others' scores. In this way, it may be one of the first cross-platform titles of this generation.

We were also shown the game’s “post-production” which put things like a crowd and lights into the video with the performers. The props added to the “set” will vary based on performance. If you nail a particularly high-scoring track, you’ll have access to fancier and bigger effects, like a larger, rowdier crowd for instance. There’s also some potentially neat chroma-key effects planned for the game, allowing players’ moving images to be isolated and put in front of a backdrop.

We were shown a beach scenario, which wasn’t quite up to par, but showed promise; there was a bit of clipping, the software not entirely recognizing the images properly. 4mm tells us they’re still working out the tech, and they’re confident they’ll nail it down, despite the fact that it may not be technically possible with the resolutions of the console’s cameras. (Side note #2: Speaking of tech and cameras, 4mm’s Nick Perrett answered our question before we asked -- yes, they’re actively looking to see how they could utilized Microsoft’s Natal technology, as well as Sony’s planned motion controls.)

As far as the game’s track listing is concerned, it looks like the plan is to leave no stone in the hip-hop community unturned. Because the "Def Jam" in Def Jam Rapstar is tied to Def Jam Interactive and not directly to the record label, the game’s track listing won’t be tied to Def Jam artists. When the game ships, artists representing everything from mainstream, old school, underground and more should find a place on the track list. Downloadable content is also planned, as are a handful of original beats perfect for freestyling.

The simple act of picking up a mic to sing and rap along with a hip-hop artists is a blast. Some of these songs were written with head-nodding and getting a party hot in mind. In a few of the tracks we saw played, the entire room got into the action, singing along and even dancing.

With games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band already the digital life of the party for one segment of users, Def Jam Rapstar fills a hole in videogame entertainment that's long been overlooked. The game is schedule for a winter release, so plan your next house party accordingly.

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Nick Chester
Nick ChesterFormer Editor-in-Chief (2011)   gamer profile

Editor-in-Chief @ Destructoid.com nick at destructoid.com  more + disclosures



Filed under... #E3 #Music #PS3 #Xbox 360



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