Developer: Swordfish Studios
Release Date: February 24, 2009
You have to admire the tenacity of an artist who sees himself as a super hero — doubly so when his debut game is roundly criticized, yet goes on to sell over one million copies. When the money is rolling in, an average score of less than 50 percent on Game Rankings and Metacritic really doesn't matter. Thus the inevitable sequel was born. After the Activision-Blizzard merger saw 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand dropped from its lineup, the game landed at THQ, which has it scheduled for release in early 2009. Prepare to get your Fiddy on.
Blood on the Sand starts off at the end of a 50 Cent concert in a nameless Middle Eastern city. He and his crew walk offstage armed to the teeth (doesn't every rapper perform with guns and grenades strapped to their backs?) only to find that the promoter doesn't have their cash on hand. Of course, this doesn't go over well, so 50 immediately threatens the life of the promoter. Since it's apparent that 50 has a few anger management issues (and doesn't seem to be up on the concept of sending a bill), the promoter reaches into his handy safe and pulls out a diamond-encrusted skull. Seemingly placated by this object d'art, 50 decides not to eliminate the poor sap (who now likely has to explain to his bosses why he gave away a priceless artifact) and leaves the arena in a limo. But wait, there's more! 50's car is ambushed by terrorist wannabes, led by a sexy chick who seemingly knows kung-fu (or at least knows how to fight). She steals the skull, which prompts 50 and his crew to arm up and plan on laying waste to the entire area (because, you know, that's what pissed-off rappers do).
Despite the fact that the plot plays out like a teenage adolescent fantasy, there's actually a somewhat competent game hiding behind the testosterone-laden self-promotion.
Designed as a two-person action romp, Blood on the Sand allows you to play as 50 and partner up with one of his G-Unit buddies: DJ Whoo Kid, Lloyd Banks or Tony Yayo. The entire game offers drop-in/drop-out online co-op play, so if you're flying solo, the AI picks up the slack. Most actions can be performed solo, though there are certain points that require both characters to progress. These spots are highlighted by G-Unit icons. For example, you may need your buddy to help lift a heavy garage door or to climb up into an otherwise inaccessible area. During driving sequences, one player drives while the other mans the gun.
Spread out over nine areas with 24 individual missions, the game combines 50's love of guns with a smattering of melee combat, a bit of vehicle action and a whole lot of killing. You can carry up to four primary weapons at a time, which include the pistol, an assault rifle, a long-range weapon (sniper rifle, rocket launcher) and a close-range weapon (submachine gun, shotgun). In all, there are more than 20 different individual weapons to choose from. The pistol has unlimited ammo, but all of the other weapons will need to be resupplied. You can purchase weapon upgrades and ammo at a shop that appears in between levels. In addition to the primary weapons, you can also score grenades and special pistol ammo by completing timed challenges.
Throughout each level, the game will periodically highlight short scenarios. These are all quite basic, such as "shoot five guys in 15 seconds," but completing the scenario will give you bonus points, stock you up on grenades or award powered-up pistol ammo. The award seemed to be random, though the timed challenges were not in short supply.
In addition to gunplay, Blood on the Sand also dabbles in melee combat. What's here is somewhat basic — all melee combat is done with Quick Time Event — but it does allow for a slight bit of variety if you need a break from the shooting. When in range, simply press the highlighted action button to bust out a can of whoop ass on Generic Middle Eastern Terrorist #5.
Encouraging you to keep the action going is the on-screen combo meter. So long as 50 and crew are dishing out damage, the combo keeps rolling and the points keep scoring. Unlike many modern action games that seem to eschew points in favor of story, Blood on the Sand not only tracks points but also grades your performance on each level by how well you score. It's a nice touch.
On the defensive side of the fence, Blood on the Sand has both an integrated cover system and "Gangsta Fire" (known as bullet time to us normal folks). The cover system is a sticky cover, similar to what you'd find in Gears of War 2. Gangsta Fire works as you would expect, acting as a speed boost, making it easier to avoid getting hit as well as to chain together a combo system.
Since the game is powered by Unreal Engine 3, the visuals are sharp and solid, though the UI is a bit on the busy side. Rather than present a clean interface (as seen in the screenshots), the actual game has a lot of clutter on the screen while playing. It's a minor gripe, but we're hoping that the developers can clean it up a bit.
For the hardcore 50 Cent fans, the real draw is going to be in the exclusive music included with the game. Blood on the Sand will feature a total of 42 different songs, with 18 of them being exclusive to the game. Initially, some of the tracks will be locked, and you'll have to unlock them through the in-game store. A custom playlist editor allows you to choose your favorite songs, so if there's just one track you adore, feel free to set it on repeat and go to town.
Ultimately, Blood on the Sand is shaping up to be something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the game looks to be little more than a vanity project that was expressly designed to appeal to one person: 50 Cent. On the other hand, developer Swordfish Studios has done an admirable job in taking a threadbare concept and turning it into a game with potential. We'd love to see what the team could do if it were allowed to build upon the foundation for Blood in the Sand without having to worry about keeping a rich rap star happy.
Note to 50: If you really want to make games, give Vin Diesel a call and ask him for advice. There's nothing wrong with making yourself the star, so long as the game is the priority, not the personality. There is a reason why Vin's Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is one of the most anticipated titles of 2009, and it's not just because he voices the main character.
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