The core gameplay most Def Jam Rapstar owners will experience isn't much different from what Singstar or Lips offers. It's the community aspects of Rapstar that could change the way the rap game is played.
At Gamescom today, we got our second demo of Def Jam Rapstar, with 4mm Games' Jamie King and Def Jam's James Waller battling it out with a bit of two-player in the game's party mode. Like Lips, Rapstar combines pitch detection portions with phoneme recognition, scoring players on both their abilities to sing in tune and rap on beat. We watched King and Waller go head to head in a few of Rapstar's confirmed tracks, including "Live Your Life" by T.I., "Gold Digger" by Kanye West and "They Reminisce Over You" by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth.
But it was the non-licensed beats and what players can do with them that's far more interesting.
Sure, players can upload 30 second snippets of video performances while rapping over pre-recorded, licensed tracks, videos that the community can vote on and players can compete against others with for high scores.
But the freestyle portion of the game, using a suite of custom beats included in Rapstar, lets budding rappers write and record full, original songs. Waller says that the built-in tools will allow for multiple takes, allowing for layered tracks on top of a core rhyme, including ad-libs, background singers, whatever.
Rapstar freestylers can upload their full performances—recorded via their Xbox Live Vision or PlayStation Eye camera—to the game's web site and let the community rate those original songs.
Waller says that Def Jam, the company, will be keeping a close eye on the Rapstar community, trawling it for talent and using the Rapstar fanbase as a cultivator for up and coming hip hop artists. The cream, they hope, will rise to the top courtesy of community ratings.
That will likely be aided with the help of Def Jam Rapstar's online meta-game, which should appeal to the hip hop fan too shy to get in front of the camera. The community web site will also enable Rapstar fans to act as managers and promoters, encouraging contributors to help find and publicise the best talent. Based on the description of that feature set, it sounds part fantasy football league, part analytical tool.
Def Jam Rapstar's community will have a major focus on battles, essentially letting players join leagues, in video game terms. That could mean something as broad as east coast versus west coast or something more specific, like Queens versus Brooklyn or high school versus high school.
While my own rap skills aren't going to be put to the test any time soon—because they're godawful—what Rapstar and 4mm Games are putting together is compelling. If done right, it could serve as a genuine audition tool for aspiring musicians. But at the very least, it appears to be a capable rap game with a decent selection of licensed tracks.
Expect Def Jam Rapstar to officially hit sometime in Q1 2010. PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii versions are in the works "for now".