50 Cent: Blood on the Sand for the Xbox 360. Developer: Swordfish Studios, Publisher: THQ
As a thirty-something year old game critic and listener of 80’s alternative music, I’m unlikely to be the core demographic for THQ’s latest release, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. My familiarity of ‘Fiddy’ and G-Unit is shaky at best, and is limited to a brief playthrough of the abysmal 50 Cent: Bulletproof, and a few lines about ‘sipping Bacardi on your birthday’. So why am I enjoying this game so much?
The answer to that question lies entirely with developers Swordfish Studios, an English development team best known for World Championship Rugby and Brain Lara International Cricket 2005. Swordfish has clearly done their design homework- Blood on the Sand pilfers liberally from Army of Two, Gears of War, and The Club. Whereas most developers would concoct a half-baked recipe by blending underdeveloped play mechanics, 50 manages to overcome this quandary. Nearly each element of the title gels together to create a satisfying, if shallow, experience.
As the game opens, Fifty and his crew are finishing up a concert in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Although the fans appreciated the rapper’s tales of Western consumerism and gangsta debauchery, the venue owner doesn’t have the 10 million dollar payment promised to the rapper. In lieu of the fee, the promoter gives 50 a bejeweled skull, which is immediately stolen. While the game’s narrative is surreal and paper thin, it does give 50 and company a chance to shoot, drive, cuss, and blow things up.
Blood on the Sand’s controls are surprisingly effective. As with most third person shooters, players move with the left thumbstick and control the game’s camera with the right stick. By holding the left trigger, gamers can zoom in on both foes, and the requisite explosive objects that litter the landscape. By tapping the ‘A’ button, 50 does his best Marcus Fenix impersonation, and takes cover behind a nearby piece of the environment. However, the game doesn’t require the gamer to constantly be hidden, and even rewards daring play with a score bonus. Blood of the Sand is quite generous with auto-aim; some might be turned off by the ease of enemy elimination, but we enjoyed the relaxed difficulty of the game.
Forgoing a competitive multiplayer arena, Blood on the Sand wisely integrates an online or system link cooperative experience. The title employs linear paths and checkpoints to ensure players stay in relatively close proximity; players stand near G-Unit logos to open heavy doors and assist one another to reach otherwise prohibitive heights. Players even get ‘kill assist’ for taking down enemy combatants communally.
One of our favorite elements of Blood on the Sand, is the intricate scoring system, that ensures players will revisit the game’s levels. When players dispatch a foe, a countdown time starts. Subsequent kills will boost a multiplayer combo, and earn the gamer even more points. In fact, nearly everything 50 does increases his score, from bashing crates, initiating carnage via explosions, to participating in timed events. At the end of the level, success is measured earning up to three medals, gaining unlockables, and securing a position on the online high-score table.
Blood of the Sand uses the Unreal Engine 3 and the game looks great while 50 is on foot. With a steady framerate, detailed environments, and accurately modeled protagonists, graphic purists will not be disappointed. We appreciated the soft auras that attracted player’s attention, the splintering of barriers by 50’s rifle butt, and even the swirl of bling that occurred when we broke hidden crates. Sadly, when the star takes to manning the ‘fiddy’ caliber, things don’t look quite as nice. Driving sections displayed the occasional framerate drop and architecture pop-in. While the vehicular levels were likely designed to offer a reprieve from gunplay, they were uninspired and underdeveloped.
Overall, we expected 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand to be another example of the licensed dreck that clutter our desks. Fortunately, the title is the rare exception to the rule. Although players should not be expecting depth nor creativity with the game, Blood on the Sand is an enjoyable amalgam of popular action game mechanics. Even during these difficult economic times, spending fifty bucks on 50 Cent, is a surprisingly sound decision.