Essentially everything you need to know about Def Jam Rapstar's gameplay can be seen in the video after the break, in which I square off with Def Jam Enterprises' James Waller. If throwing your dignity out the window and throwing down in a singing contest is your idea of a good time -- and it is for me -- you'll have a lot of fun with Rapstar. Incidentally, the game features more than just rap; pretty much anything in the hip hop / R&B realm is fair game. 4mm Games marketing director Devin Winterbottom told me that Def Jam secured rights for over 200 tracks from various labels -- including Aftermath, Death Row, Sony and Warner -- and the plan is to release weekly DLC after the game launches later this year.
But gameplay is only one part of the Rapstar experience. The main push of 4mm's E3 presentation revolved around the game's community features. First of all, the game always captures a player's performance using your console's camera. Once a performance has been recorded, players can edit 30-second clips, adding special effects, lighting filters and stickers, which are unlocked in the single-player career mode.
These clips can then be uploaded to the Rapstar website, where community members can watch and rate them. Incidentally, Waller noted that the game features a "flesh detector" that instantly flags any videos showing a lot of skin. These videos are then moderated to make sure they aren't too naughty for sharing.
Anyway, the upshot of all this video uploading mishegas is simple: Rap battles.
It's a pretty simple concept: upload a clip and challenge a friend to a rap battle (or a singing battle, should you choose). Said friend then uploads a his or her own clip of the same song. Then community members vote on which clip they like best. If you want, you can even use built in Facebook and Twitter integration to promote your videos and battles. The winner, obviously, gets a boost in his rep as well as his online stats. Each member has three major stats: Score, Rank and Respect. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, though respect is a bit different. It wasn't clear exactly how respect is calculated, though Winterbottom told me that players who constantly turn down rap battle challenges will see their respect decrease.
Rap battles also have another wrinkle: Freestyle mode. There are several tracks in the game that feature no lyrics at all, which were designed specifically for freestyle rapping. Think you've got some serious rapping chops? Upload a video and challenge a friend to top you performance.
All of this ties into the online meta game, which has its own goals to reach and badges to earn. Furthermore, community members all have a relationship between one another. If you consistently challenge another player to a rap battle, you will become rivals. Join someone's "crew" online and everyone in the crew will have a positive relationship. Kick a friend out of your crew, on the other hand, and your entire crew will become his rival.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Waller noted that the game is being monitored by Def Jam itself. Conceivably, if a player were to reach the top of the Rapstar site ranking, they could be plucked up by Def Jam and made into a real rap star. Waller didn't make any concrete promises that something like that will actually happen, though the prospect is definitely there.
I gotta tell ya, after my experience with the game, I think I've got a shot.