If the members of KISS can have their faces on a lunchbox, and Aerosmith has its name attached to multiple games, why not 50 Cent?
Say what you will about his music, but Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson III should be recognized as a shrewd businessman. From music to movies, clothing to Vitamin Water, the man's put his name and G-Unit "branding" on more than a few products. And then in 2005, Sierra published 50 Cent: Bulletproof, a third-person action shooter that was received as mediocre by most critics and gamers alike.
So when we heard that THQ had picked up the game's spiritual sequel, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, we were cautious. Could developer Swordfish Studios (Cold Winter) make a 50 Cent-branded game that was not only competent but -- gasp! -- fun? Chad and I put the game to the test, and you may be surprised by our reactions.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Swordfish Studios
Released: February 25, 2009
The plot that ties together Blood on the Sand's nine missions is as ridiculous as it is hilarious. 50 Cent and his crew G-Unit (comprised in the game as Lloyd Banks, DJ Whoo Kid, and Tony Yayo) have just finished the last leg of a Middle East tour when the word comes in -- they’ve been stiffed on their payment.
50 Cent -- already fully equipped with an arsenal, including a belt full of hand grenades -- hops into action, barging in on the office of the show’s promoter and demanding payment. At gunpoint. After a few moments of excessive force (it’s how they do business in Queens, don’t you know?), a compromise is made -- 50 Cent agrees to take a one-of-a-kind diamond-encrusted skull in lieu of a $10 million payment for his musical services.
Of course, the story could end here, with 50 Cent safely leaving the unnamed Middle Eastern country and heading home with his diamond-encrusted treasure. But it doesn’t. The skull is stolen -- by people with rocket launchers and tanks, along with a mysterious female -- and instead of cutting his losses and going home, 50 is adamant about getting back what’s rightfully his.
"That bitch took my motherf**kin’ skull," you’ll hear 50 Cent say (or variations of this) more than once while playing this game. The man is serious about getting back his skull, and your goal is to help him succeed.
The story is over-the-top, and is easily some of the silliest claptrap you’ll find in gaming (or anywhere else for that matter). Fortunately, if you couldn’t already tell, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. This "bitch has my skull" nonsense keeps up from start to finish, with each cut-scene more over-the-top and preposterous than the last.
If anything, it's an admission that 50 Cent’s "what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine" over-the-top street thug persona is absurd in and of itself. Or perhaps Blood on the Sand is an attempt to give 50 Cent an even harder edge -- being shot nine times clearly not being enough, now he expects his fans to believe he can skillfully handle a rocket launcher to take out an attack chopper. Either way, the story and dialogue is amusingly off-the-wall, and makes for quite a bit of entertainment if you approach it all with the right mindset.
Despite deadly serious circumstances -- some bitch has his skull, and people are coming at 50 Cent with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, for instance -- the gameplay has a decidedly unrealistic, arcade-style slant. Blood on the Sand is a third-person shooter than mixes popular Gears of War cover mechanics with a time-based scoring system that, perhaps ironically, is inspired by Bizarre Creation’s The Club. The game’s war-torn levels lend themselves well to the run-and-cover, stop-and-pop style gameplay of Gears. And with enemies that aren’t particularly clever or ferocious, the game often feels like a shooting gallery. Room after room, area after area, you’ll encounter dozens of nameless soldiers, and you’ll be mowing them down with any of 21 weapons whose ammo is easily replenished -- this stuff is lying all over the Middle East, apparently.
Taken on its own, the point-and-shoot and bang-bang is solid but uninspired and could get a bit tedious for some. This is where the game’s The Club-inspired scoring system comes into play. Each time you shoot an enemy, a "Kill" timer appears; taking out another enemy within that time limit will count towards your multiplier. You can add "flair" to your kills like headshots, killing someone while not behind cover, or taunting; all of that will add to your point total. Additionally, the game throws different scenarios your way as you progress through the game’s levels, like tasking you with killing all heavy-arms soldiers in the vicinity within a certain time limit, for example. Completing these scenarios will offer different awards, including -- and this is no joke -- giving you explosive ammunition for your handgun.
Again, the absurdities of the situations aren’t lost on the developer -- the game firmly has its roots planted in arcade-style gameplay and payoffs. Killing enemies is not just accompanied by some of the most ludicrous howls of pain and death you’ve ever heard, but also by very "gamey" sounding chiming noises as you complete scenarios. You can even bust open crates to find cash, which you can use to buy new taunts (rated for things like "profanity"), new weapons, and new close-range "Counterkill" animations.
I’ll repeat again that Blood on the Sand often feels like a shooting gallery, which can be a ton of fun considering the tight mechanics, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s entirely possible to "die," 50 Cent really does live up to his “bulletproof” nickname in that the game’s regenerating health system makes it almost too easy to succeed in most cases.
I had almost no problem tearing through the game’s nine missions (most of them are broken up into smaller sub-sections), will little regard for the life of the digital 50 Cent or his G-Unit partner (who can be controlled by AI or a second player, online only). The true test of your skill comes from scoring well and earning medals for clearing areas. Not once did I earn a medal beyond Bronze in my start-to-finish play-through, something that apparently requires a combination of sharp-shooting, collecting in-game posters and targets, and clearing game-prompted scenarios.
Unfortunately, Blood on the Sand has no competitive multiplayer mode, so outside of completing the game’s story, there’s not much to do. The game can be played cooperatively, and it’s actually a blast to embark on this ridiculous Cinemax-style action-film journey with a buddy. But besides being able to earn cooperative Achievements on the Xbox 360 (the PlayStation 3 version doesn’t support Trophies), you’re playing the same game. Fans of 50 Cent may find more bang for their buck -- there’s plenty to unlock, including videos nine videos for 50 Cent and G-Unit singles.
This of course brings us to the music. Either you like hip hop and/or love 50 Cent or you simply don’t, so you should know what you’re getting your ears into before you boot up the disc. The game offers 40 tracks (some unlockable as you progress), which you can add to a playlist that will act as the game’s soundtrack. If for whatever reason you’re not interested in listening to 50 Cent’s flow, it’s possible to listen to an instrumental soundtrack -- with music by producer Swizz Beatz -- by removing all tracks from your playlist. With both options, you’re bound to find a soundtrack worthy of blowing up an attack chopper to.
By no means is Blood on the Sand a ground-breaking shooter, but then again, we had checked our expectations at the door. And the game has a few technical issues, like some frame-rate issues during some high intensity fire-fights that slow things to a crawl. What the game does deliver is undeniable thrills, backed by some derivative-yet-solid controls, and a laugh-out-loud plot that’s so absurd it’s hard not to love.
I can’t believe I am about to say this, but I loved 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand.
Maybe it is the fact that I got to interview G-Unit a few months back; maybe it is because I had some solid hands-on time with the game so I knew what to expect going into the final build. Whatever the reason, when I was playing 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, I was Rihanna and the game was my Chris Brown. Sure, it knocked me around a little bit, but for some strange reason I couldn't walk away. (Too soon?)
Everything Nick said is spot-on: the story is ridiculous, the gameplay is borderline standard, and the music is of the love-it-or-hate-it variety.
While these are usually the ingredients for a pretty mediocre experience, something about this game rubbed me the right way.
Instead of going over the game’s details once again as Nick so wonderfully did, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is best described by pointing out a few of the extreme things it does right ... and a couple of things that could have been better.
First off, some more deserved attention needs to fall on the absolute ridiculousness of the game’s story and dialogue. Just in case it didn’t sink in the first time: you play as rapper 50 Cent as he blows away terrorists in the Middle East. Seriously, read it one more time. You are 50 Cent as he kills hundreds and hundreds of terrorists in the war-torn Middle East. The more I type it, the more amazing it becomes. While that plot device alone is enough to make this game at the very least a cult classic, keep in mind that all of this action is complemented by arguably the best in-game dialogue in the history of videogames.
Besides the constant use of f- and n-words, 50 Cent and G-Unit like to throw in some sassy one-liners as they are manning helicopter gun turrets and stabbing enemy soldiers in the stomach with sharp knives. Yes, I just said 50 Cent and his crew are “sassy.” How else can one describe these precious bon mots:
-When asked by Fiddy where he can find the leader of a terrorist cell, the manager of the concert venue proceeds to say, and I quote: “Like you like to say, you can find him in da’ club.”
-After destroying an armored truck full of gold bars, 50 Cent and a fellow renegade are about to empty out the truck’s contents. The renegade says to 50: “Time to withdraw all funds,” as he begins placing gold bars in a bag. 50 Cent then (sassily) responds: “Shit. I do all my banking online.” I don’t even know what that means, but it is still amazing!
I know it seems strange to focus so much on such an aesthetic aspect of the game, but that is what makes the game so fun! It is part of the overall experience and one of the main reasons I enjoyed Blood on the Sand as much as I did.
But, of course, if the game looked and played terribly, no amount of incredible dialogue could save it. Luckily, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is one of the most addictive games I have played all year.
As Nick said, the shooting mechanics leave little to be desired. They are certainly passable, but offer nothing new in terms of creativity. It is also worth mentioning that the enemies suffer from Uncharted-sponge-armor syndrome: mainly, it takes a ridiculous supply of bullets to knock down one soldier, just like in the PlayStation 3 hit. But all of this (almost) doesn’t matter when the scoring system is just so much freakin’ fun. Heck, just the fact that a scoring system exists made me feel like I was playing a retro arcade shooter. Trust me on this one: hearing your score rack up with a satisfying “bing” every time you earn some hard-to-obtain multiplier bonuses is just awesome ... and very addictive.
As for the music: this may come as a surprise, but I love 50 Cent. While the option is there to switch to an instrumental soundtrack, I found myself really getting into Fiddy’s original tracks, finding them the perfect accompaniment for the over-the-top action on-screen. If or when it is released, the soundtrack to Blood on the Sand will actually be the first game soundtrack I will most likely buy since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Some of you probably think I am crazy for recommending this game as much as I am. If the roles were reversed and I hadn’t played it yet I would definitely be hitting the comments with a few choice words. But if you are a fan of mindless, old-school action games, you really owe it to yourself to give Blood on the Sand a try. I promise you will be thoroughly entertained. The minute things start to feel repetitive, the game throws in a random driving level or a ludicrous cut-scene that you only wish could be rewound and watched again.
I’m not going to lie: playing 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand made me feel gangsta’ enough to want to stroll into the Middle East right now with a grenade launcher on my shoulder and a member of D-Unit (Dolphin-Unit) by my side.
Sure, I would probably be killed and/or laughed at immediately, but if the experience is half as entertaining as playing through Blood on the Sand, it will all be worth it.
Overall Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
reviewed by Nick Chester