50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

I don’t listen to 50 Cent, but his game is a lot of fun.

No, that doesn’t mean that I’m now rolling with new bass amps in my car with hip hop bleeding from my ears 24/7,  although I’ll listen to anything as long as it doesn’t become annoying, and the featured 18 tracks texture the explosive action with plenty of stylized oomph. I just wanted a good run ‘n gun shooter to play around with and this was one that I hadn’t had a chance to try out yet. And it was surprisingly entertaining from start, to finish, and then back in for just a little more.

In this game, 50's fists are just as dangerous as his bullets.

In this game, 50’s fists are just as dangerous as his bullets.

The tale behind the take is far from being a deep, heart to heart, with battlefield born poetry coming through the dialogue to reveal sobering truths. Instead, it proudly wears its bombastic explosion of pop culture along for the ride while letting the fan-serving, over the top, arcade action speak for itself, coming off as a music video directed by extreme firepower which strangely works. No one needed a reason to shoot aliens in Space Invaders or blast evil corporate assassins in the arcade version of Revolution-X, but with the game achieving some level of gameplay sophistication, I guess you do still need something to tie all of those stages together for a little mental motivation like what was included in the old NES manuals for Rush ‘n Attack or Jackal.

Basically, it goes like this: 50 Cent and his G-Unit crew have just finished a huge concert in a semi-fictional Middle Eastern country torn apart by renegade factions. The concert promoter, unfortunately, doesn’t have the cash on him to pay the group…but he does have a diamond encrusted skull that also happens to be a priceless historical relic instead. But before they’re able to bring the skull home to place alongside their platinum albums, it’s stolen, pissing 50 Cent and whoever tags along with him, off. Big time. There are a few cut scenes that keep the narrative moving, but they’re simply there to get the player pumped up for the next pyrotechnic set.

Indoors, outdoors, no doors...most everywhere 50 and his G-Unit buddy will travel to look as if a bullet tsunami had already been there.

Indoors, outdoors, no doors…most everywhere 50 and his G-Unit buddy will travel to look as if a bullet tsunami had already been there.

A second player either on or offline can jump in and take the role of any of three other members of 50’s G-Unit crew and tag along for the ride in shooting up bad guys and helping their partner out in getting up on ledges, through doors, or just keeping them from dying by acting as a bullet sponge. The game is played from third person and anyone that has picked up Gears of War will find themselves almost at home with the controls, but even without that kind of experience, the learning curve is pretty low and the forgiving regenerating health system does its best to keep your trigger finger pressed in the face of danger…as long as there’s cover nearby. There’s even a bullet time gauge that fills with every body that 50 leaves in his wake and can be tripped at any point as long as there’s enough within it to go on.

There are plenty of weapons to explore your violent inner child with and once 50 makes the acquaintance of a black market arms dealer, he can use the cash that he’ll be making made on his way through each area by using the nearest available phone to magically call in the tools. Even his partner pokes fun at this by asking just how the weapons are actually delivered. If the story hasn’t given you a hint that it doesn’t take itself too seriously yet, little asides like this will.

50 Cent will be busting a cap in everyone's ass and other assorted body parts in this arcade adventure.

50 Cent will be busting a cap in everyone’s ass and other assorted body parts in this arcade adventure.

The game also rewards the player for consecutive kills, creative takedowns, and in breaking open the many crates of loot scattered throughout each area, all of which add up in his cash flow that can be spent not only on weapons, but insult packs and takedown moves. Other objectives literally drop into the gameplay on the fly with timed challenges asking the player to do anything from kill four new enemies that have arrived on the scene before it expires, or only a specific foe that is also shooting at you from within the mob that typically follows them in. Capping these bonus targets award you with plenty of point incentives that go towards fattening your cash flow, meaning more money for unlockables.

Takedowns grind and dispose of the cannon fodder in 50’s face as the player crushes theirs using the music maker’s fists or his ability to fillet them with a knife. If you can get 50 close enough to a bad guy, he can QTE them to death with an easily followed button sequence that makes it a ridiculously simple way to dispose of strings of foes if you can run up to them without dying. You’ll still get shot up by their friends if you had left them alive before pummeling their buddy, but it is a viscerally brutal method in delivering the action which can be satisfying when you get to that guy that thought he was safely dug in behind a pillar while using blind fire as a safety blanket.

The Unreal Engine does a good job in showcasing the action, explosions, and the insane mayhem following 50 Cent's trail of brass casings.

The Unreal Engine does a good job in showcasing the action, explosions, and the insane mayhem following the hip hop artist.

50 Cent and his buddy will also find themselves either driving their way across a desert shooting back at mercenaries, on-rails strafing from a helicopter, or…blasting more mercenaries while driving through the ruined downtown streets of a city. As a single player, the driving sequences will be somewhat more difficult since you have to rely on the AI to do the shooting which it does only okay at as opposed to its much better performance while on its own two feet. Even when dodging bullets on the streets and in the alleyways, you can’t order your friend to do what you want them to and solo soldiers of fortune will find that they have to pull its ass out of the fire every now and then with a revival tap. Even if you leave you buddy hanging, they’ll revive themselves once you progress far enough ahead.

The game is also short. As fast as the action is and as tough as the often dense enemy AI can be because of its sheer numbers, players with some experience under their belt will find that the game may not last as long as a weekend rental. But there’s something undeniably fun about blasting through bad guys in mercenary mode while earning cash to unlock more stuff with a friend or solo. After all of that is done, though, there’s not much else to look forward to…other than in tearing through the game again.

BotS isn’t so much a clone of Gears of War as it is a standalone arcade blast ’em up that cuts loose with action packed fanservice for 50 Cent fans. But even as a game, it isn’t a bad title to play through or pick up for a few minutes of mindless action. Fans of his music will likely find the title a much better value for themselves than for the casual player who is looking for the next epic battlefield to save the world through. Even if you’re not a fan of the man, his business sense has actually put together a game that is every bit as over-the-top and as escapist as Aerosmith’s game was in the arcade, and is just as fun for those moments when you feel the need to rain lead on the bad guys.

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