“That bitch took my skull.”
– 50 Cent, poet laureate.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a deeply personal journey, both for the player and 50 Cent himself, putting to light some harsh truths about gangster culture, videogames as an interactive storytelling medium, the war in Iraq, and the human condition. Some may dismiss it as 50 Cent’s personal million dollar wank fantasy, thinking it can only be enjoyed on an ironic level or by those emotionally damaged enough to actually aspire to be 50 Cent, but those people are philistines, too close-minded to appreciate the tale of subtle social commentary and deep political intrigue that is 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand.
Our journey begins in
an unnamed Middle Eastern country as Fiddy finishes up a concert in what must be the only intact structure in the entire game. Literally one second after finishing his set our hero drops the mic and heads straight backstage to collect his money like a true artist, when told the promoter doesn’t have ten million dollars on hand 50 responds by kicking down his door and pointing a shotgun in his face, luckily the promoter has a priceless diamond encrusted skull for some reason, and agrees to give it to 50 in exchange for not murdering him, but mostly as payment for the concert, because really, 50’s music is worth about as much as a priceless historical artefact.
Hell, his music is
a priceless historical artefact.
It’s a clever parody of the persona that people project onto Fiddy as a heartless, money obsessed thug, who cares more for getting paid than putting on a good show for his fans, and the perceived culture of violence in gangster rap as he is put under peer pressure by his friends in G-unit to “waste this fucker” in regards to their promoter. Fiddy is placed in a moral dilemma as he must choose between the death of a man or risk losing the respect of DJ Whoo Kid.
Afterward we are treated to a deep philosophical debate between 50 and the promoter about who has the best Gangsters, New York or NotIraq, 50 remains adamant in his conviction that New York is indeed a tougher place to live, I assume this is 50 Cent’s masterful use of irony at play, because this conversation is literally taking place in an armoured convoy in a bombed out war zone. But before this battle of wits can be decided their convoy is ambushed and the skull is stolen by a mysterious woman referred to only as “Bitch”, which I’m sure is a commentary on the treatment of women in the world of gangster rap.
“Where’s mah skull, bitch?”
– 50 Cent, role model.
And so we take control of 50 and begin our quest of fighting terrorists through the Middle East to retrieve a diamond covered skull. The gameplay is a beautiful parody of modern shooters, a completely bland third person shooter, occasional boring forced driving sections, every boss fight is a helicopter, and the brownest environments of any game ever, the ground is brown, the sky is brown, every building is brown, this game has more brown than Poo Mountain in Conker’s Bad Fur Day. With every kill a meter will slowly decrease, and if you can kill again before it empties the meter will refill and you’ll be given a multiplier for bonus points.
Yes, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand reintroduces killing for points to gaming. It’s an exploration of the effect violent media has had on society, seeing the results in a world were violence has become trivialised. After all, there’s no way 50 Cent, a former victim of gun violence, would ever star in a game that glorifies
it, that would just be profoundly moronic.
”You’re one crazy bitch, you know that?”
– 50 Cent, lyricist of the streets.
Soon, 50 meets an arms dealer who gives him one piece of sage advice that he should adhere to: “Trust no one”, 50 takes this advice to heart by not trusting the arms dealer which paradoxically means he will trust every person he meets in the game despite every single one of them turning on him. 50 then goes to a strip club to find out the whereabouts of the skull, it is here that 50 meets his greatest ethical challenge yet. After our hero pushes a stripper and asks “where’s your boss, bitch?” he comes face to face with the strip club owner, Eddie, who is also his biggest fan.
50 must now confront the consequences of what he has encouraged through his music. This man dresses and acts like 50, he has modelled his lifestyle on his music videos, Fiddy looks around at what he has created by proxy, life is hard enough for a woman in this country, ravaged by war and religious fundamentalism, and now, thanks to him, the few that remain are being exploited for sex. 50 has a crisis of conscience, should he continue projecting his gangster image? Or must he give up the excessive lifestyle he has become accustomed to in order to restore his moral integrity? Can he help these women seek a better life? Should he take Eddie under his wing and teach him the true values of life, respect and what it means to be a musician as he tries to redeem the strip club owner, and perhaps, himself?
Spoiler: Later on he blows up a bus full of strippers.
A little more on gameplay. Scattered throughout the levels are crates full of bling 50 must collect if you want to earn medals, these crates full of diamond rings and gold dogtags are a stark juxtaposition to the meagre surroundings, it’s a commentary on the forced integration of western decadence in the Middle East. Accompanying you in each mission is an interchangeable member of G-unit, who randomly and without explanation swap places between missions and never appear in cutscenes, perhaps a metaphor for the other members feelings of resentment as they are overshadowed by Fiddy. And of course the swear button, which is necessary for to you earn bonus points, showing us, the player, how it must feel to have to force profanity into you works to be successful.
Next 50 is approached by a mercenary group that tried to kill him, 50 agrees to help them steal some gold so long as 50 get’s half, they rob the gold, killing two innocent men, the mercenary leader betrays him, helicopter boss fight. 50 eventually catches up with Bitch, and kills her Boss in a helicopter boss fight. Bitch then reveals that a man named Wilder has the skull and that he’s holding Bitch’s family hostage, then they kiss for some reason, no doubt lamp shading forced romantic subplots in games.
”Gimmie my skull, bitch”
– 50 Cent, artist who preformed for the illustrious Gaddafi family.
Several helicopter boss fights later Fiddy finds Wilder and we learn that the concert promoter is in cahoots with him. Now, normally this would raise a few questions in most games. Why did Wilder rob the promoter if he planed to pay him off? Why didn’t he just take the skull? Why did he bother paying off the promoter, who can’t do shit, instead of just paying 50 for the gig? Why give 50 the skull in the first place if you were just going to rob it off him? Why create this convoluted series of event to entangle 50 Cent in this at all? Especially when all it does is motivate him to kill all your men because you stole something you already own? Did 50 just forget about all that gold from three hours ago? He just kind of walked off and left it there. Luckily the writers of Blood on the Sand sidestep these issues by never noticing them.
And it is at this point that Fiddy must kill the promoter and fight his way through Wilders henchmen, but just when the skull is within his grasp, he is faced with a tough moral choice.
Yes, you read that right, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand has a moral choice.
50 finds a shortcut to Wilder but Bitch, who is en route to save her family, informs him that unlocking the door will activate the security, unlocking all the doors and swamping her with enemies. And so the player is faced with a harrowing decision, unlock the door: sacrificing Bitch and her family, or take the long way around, which means playing 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand for another fifteen minutes.
The game then splits in two wildly different directions as taking the shortcut leads to Bitch betraying you, but going the long way around leads to Bitch betraying you....over the phone. Showing us how choice in a game never really matters as the story always ends up hitting the same notes anyway. One last helicopter boss fight later and Fiddy has finally gotten his coveted diamond skull back, after killing hundreds of people, destroying the remaining infrastructure of a war torn city and making off with the broken country’s last remaining piece of wealth that he has no claim to, what does he do with this relic of immeasurable fortune?
Totally worth it.
I could go on about how amazing this game is. About how the city is completely barren except for the enemies, meaning they were the ones at his concert. About the subtle parody of rapper narcissism by having a game about 50 Cent, were all the music is 50 Cent, and 50 Cent goes around collecting 50 Cent posters. About the stellar voice acting, where 50 actually sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles and never emotes, or the astonishing face capture technology, which truly encapsulates the half inflated balloon filled with meat that is Fiddy’s face. But really, this is a game that must be experienced firsthand, then you’ll understand why “Bitch took mah skull” is the “Would you kindly” of 2009.