March 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Question: if rappers Ghostface Killah and Redman were to step into the ring for an Ultimate Fighting-style throwdown, who would win? Answer: Who cares? As long they keep laying down party beats and power rhymes, their ability to body-slam from the precipice of a turnbuckle seems irrelevant. Well, at least until Def Jam Vendetta, in which a dozen of Russell Simmons’ heavy hitters step off the stadium floor and step into the ring.

Hip-hop and wrestling have a few things in common, not the least of which is that both worlds attract their share of larger-than-life personalities. And when chest-thumping egos collide, trash talk ensues: From Ludacris’ big ”mouf” to N.O.R.E.’s ”grimy” rhymes, ”Vendetta” is a landfill of boasts and threats.

But actually getting to the point where you can talk (and fight) big takes patience — a virtue rarely found in young playas looking to make their mark. So don’t go in thinking you’re gonna teach ”Cradle 2 the Grave” star DMX a thing or two: Before reaching Scarface, the first boss in the story mode, you’ll have to fight two unknown opponents — and four more after that to face off with the second boss, N.O.R.E. And forget about pitting, say, Keith Murray against Capone until you’ve spent an hour working through the story mode to unlock them.

Even with some 1,500 moves (including defensive counter-grapples, escape maneuvers, and a special finishing move for each character), ”Vendetta”’s combat system hardly requires mad skillz: Once you successfully position yourself opposite an opponent, you tap a button, jog the control, then sit back and watch the action unfold. (Matches can take up to 10 minutes — longer, we discovered, than the music accompanying each bout.) There are moments of true gangsta flava (what can we say about the subplot in which girlfriends fight for your attention?), but when all is said and done, ”Vendetta” is an uninspired wrestling title that lacks Def Jam’s trademark sheen. If more time had been spent tweaking the game and less making its artists look like thugs, ”Vendetta” coulda been a contenda.

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