50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Swordfish Studios


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PS3/X360 Review - '50 Cent: Blood on the Sand'

by Mark Melnychuk on April 13, 2009 @ 2:34 a.m. PDT

50 Cent will reprise his role as video game hero with 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, including G Unit’s Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and DJ Whoo Kid who provide voice and likeness. In this fictional story, players play as one of the world’s biggest hip-hop stars in an all-out battle to protect 50 Cent’s assets and to collect payment from a crooked overlord.

Genre: Shooter
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Swordfish Studios
Release Date: February 24, 2009

When I hear about a famous rapper releasing his own video game, the phrase "shameless cash-in" comes to mind more readily than "quality experience." The first 50 Cent game, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, was released in 2005 and confirmed that very skepticism with a flurry of shortcomings. With the sordid history of Fitty's gaming endeavors in mind, it's understandable that one would be shocked to see the enjoyable action romp that Swordfish Studios has put together with 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. While the title doesn't quite deliver a completely well-rounded package for a full-priced action game, it's still a definite step in the right direction for the series.

The story line is in no way connected to events of the first 50 Cent game, instead placing the rap star within a fictional Middle Eastern city where he has just wrapped up a concert and is ready to collect his $10 million compensation. When his client is unable to come up with the dough, 50 is offered a priceless artifact, an ancient diamond-encrusted skull. Not being the kind of guy to turn down some ice, 50 accepts the skull but is soon robbed of it by an unseen culprit. The rest of the plot revolves around 50 and his fellow G-Unit members setting off on a bullet-riddled rampage to retrieve the skull, but don't expect much plot development. Rather than building up to anything larger than a stolen head, the story revolves around being double-crossed by one fiend after another. Then again, how many action movies have you watched for the story anyway?

For PS3-only gamers, Blood on the Sand is probably the closest thing to Gears of War you'll ever see on Sony's platform, thanks to the game's unabashedly similar control scheme. The camera is placed on the same over-the-shoulder view behind 50 Cent, and the same diving and rolling moves are there, as are the aiming system and regenerative health. The only thing really missing is some sort of motorized forestry device attached to a weapon. I could go on teasing, but it's actually difficult to knock the controls because they feel really tight. That's a good thing due to the intense firefights the game continually throws 50's way as he journeys across environments ranging from the slums of a war-torn city to remote, ancient fortresses.

Weapons-wise, 50 is able to carry a pistol, assault rifle, SMG or shotgun, and a special weapon such as a sniper rifle or rocket launcher, more of which can be purchased through arms dealers at phone booths located in each level. The gunplay works well, thanks to an aiming mechanic that improves on the problematic one found in the last game, but what makes the action of Blood on the Sand all the more endearing is the scoring system that's very reminiscent of Bizarre's own shooter, The Club. Points are gained by pulling off many kills in succession or through utilizing environmental objects, but trying to be an efficient warrior will also reward the player with weapon power-ups and a slow-mo ability called Gangsta Vision. The scoring system is great for adding replay value to the campaign, and it allows users to unlock bonus content such as music videos, but Blood on the Sand is sadly lacking PS3 Trophies. There's no bling to be earned in a 50 Cent game, and it feels like quite the cop-out, since Trophy support is becoming so standardized for PS3 titles.

Another complaint filed against the previous 50 Cent title concerned pesky enemies that continually spawned behind the player. Swordfish Studios has fixed this problem, but they might have fixed it a little too well. Now whenever another wave of baddies is about to attack, the game gives ample warning with a red icon that will point out the exact place to look for them, making for very few surprises. The enemy AI is by no means terrible, as they stick to cover like glue and are later equipped with increasingly powerful weapons and body armor, but the player is given an almost unfair advantage by knowing which door to aim at before the poor buggers even have a chance to get out.

If someone happens to get the drop on 50, they'll have to contend with the return of the counter-kill system, which unleashes a flurry of brutal melee moves and knife jabs. The only problem is that these deadly combos aren't as much fun as they sound, thanks to a fairly rudimentary Quick Time Event that only requires hitting one button in succession. A variety of moves can be purchased at phone booths, but because of their extreme simplicity, there's really no motivation to use them.

The campaign tries to break things up with missions putting 50 on the turret of a helicopter and in the driver's seat of a Hummer. The former involves an intense air battle against countless ground troops, but the driving missions involve only short, linear paths with the vehicle handling like a sled going down a slippery snow-laced hill. Overall, the campaign (clocking in at about eight hours) offers a commendable amount of action but just doesn't take too many risks in terms of objectives. Instead, the game plays it safe with one area of very identical enemies after another, lame boss battles against helicopters, and an ending sequence that is far from a legitimate finale for an action game.

Thankfully, there is the option for a friend to jump into the campaign at any point, taking the role of fellow G-Unit members such as DJ Whoo Kid, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo. Blood on the Sand was clearly designed with another player in mind, as the gameplay works very well with the presence of a human teammate while mowing down waves of enemies. There are also a few physical obstacles, like climbing ledges and lifting doors, that require both players to work together, but it would have been nice to have seen more than two these actions. What really keeps the online-only co-op play from reaching greatness is the severe change in graphical performance, with the frame rate and player animations taking quite a hit during the heavy action. Given the tight controls, expansive weapon layout, and humiliating counter-kill moves, it's a wonder that Blood on the Sand possesses no form of competitive multiplayer, thus adding another hit to the value of this $60 title.

At this point, I'm starting to think that the Unreal Engine 3 is the "great graphics for dummies" tool, as any title touched by Epic's software is instantly transformed into visual gold. Blood on the Sand is no exception, with brightly lit and highly detailed environments that look even better when they frequently come tearing down right in front of you. The fire effects are also given a good showcase during a mission that takes place in a theatre engulfed in flame, and every player owes himself the gory treat of nailing an enemy with a Molotov cocktail. It's been said that 50 Cent will only appear in video games as himself, and if that's true, then he must have been pleased with his superb 3-D representation made up of lifelike facial animations and all of the little details, like the tattoos on his forearms. The game has a few visual shortcomings, though, with some instances of texture pop-in and the persistently tan color palette of nearly every locale visited through the campaign.

Since this is a 50 Cent game, there isn't really all that much to say about the sound (I kid!). The track player returns, allowing users to choose from a healthy selection of over 40 different songs, 14 of which are brand-new material. You can also create a customized playlist that will persist even after you exit a play session. Given that this is a hip-hop-themed title, expect a ludicrous amount of profanity to fly in the banter between 50 and his comrades, but the dialogue is well performed and shows that 50 can be just as humorous as he is badass.

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand does a good job of alleviating the mistakes of its predecessor thanks to the better controls, great graphics and a foray into co-op. For die-hard fans, this is a no-brainer, as the excellent presentation and new music will surely please those who wish to step into the shoes of one of hip-hop's most notorious icons. I'd like to say that even non-50 fans should give Blood on the Sand a try because it offers a very playable action experience, but the repetitive gameplay and lack of adversarial multiplayer might restrict the game's appeal to only true G-Unit soldiers.

Score: 7.5/10

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