50 Cent: Blood on the Sand’s surreal and far-fetched storyline, which sees the foul-mouthed rapper and his G-Unit buddies tackling a bunch of heavily-armed thugs in the Middle-East in the search of a diamond-embedded skull, doesn’t bode well for the rest the game. The underwhelming graphics and colorless environments don’t fill you with confidence either; aside from the finely rendered character models and the accurate representation of 50 Cent himself, Blood on the Sand sadly doesn’t look worlds apart from Bulletproof on the PS2.
We expected, therefore, that the gameplay would follow the same lazy pattern, and also assumed that 50 Cent fans would be the only people interested in tackling foes to the beat of the rapper’s own soundtrack and crude ‘gangsta talk.’ Surprisingly though, there’s much more to Blood on the Sand than first meets the eye. At the core of Swordfish Studio’s third person shooter are some solid gameplay mechanics that do an excellent job at making this farcical romp through the mean streets of a fictional Middle-Eastern city a highly enjoyable experience – something that we certainly didn’t expect, but are happily surprised about.
On the surface, Blood on the Sand seems to employ simple run-and-gun mechanics where you mindlessly blast through hordes of enemies with little or no tactics necessary. A few stages into it, however, it becomes obvious that a lot more has gone into the game’s creation than initially apparent. Though you can try and run-and-gun your way through the short story mode, which incidentally is the most entertaining way to play Blood on the Sand, there’s plenty of opportunity to use intelligent tactics. Clever level design allows for this, with trickily positioned mounted gunners making it difficult for you to tackle them head-on, snipers perched on roof-tops who take accurate pot-shots, and multi-tiered levels where enemies can gain the upper hand if you’re not on your toes. Thankfully, the lean and peak cover system, which has been implemented superbly, helps to counteract the enemy threat. You can stick yourself behind cover instantly and swap from one piece of cover to the next extremely smoothly, and then effortlessly peak over the object to focus in on the enemy. The smooth cover system and the polished combat control scheme make for a fluent and well-paced game that feels almost arcade-like.
Co-op play makes an appearance, allowing you to jump into someone else’s game or host your own, and battle through the story mode together. It works seamlessly, too. You can dive into a game instantly with no signs of slowdown to interrupt the action or dodgy camera angles to make things difficult. With two players working together side-by-side to grind down the enemy threat and carry out tasks specifically designed for two people, such as giving each other a leg-up onto a roof or lifting up some heavy shutters to reach a new area, it can be a great deal of fun as you rack up multipliers and dash around picking up loot from dead bodies.
Alternatively, if you don’t want human company fighting alongside you, you can choose from one of three A.I. controlled sidekicks, who do a great job at backing you up and providing cover as you attempt to clear the enemy threat and catch up with the “bitch” who stole your skull. Blood on the Sand is all about racking up points, picking up hard cash, and massacring those who stand in your way. Multipliers are awarded for kills, which adds a bit of excitement to proceedings and encourages you to chain together kills, while cash can be collected from dead bodies and caskets and used to purchase new weapons, counter-kills, and taunt packs that add weight — and a whole load of "mutha f**kers" and ill-bred jibes — to your vocabulary. There are also masses of timed side objectives, which add intensity and drama to each of the stages.
It’s these side objectives that really make Blood on the Sand much more than a run-of-the-mill third person shooter. During each stage, you trigger a number of objectives where you’re tasked with the likes of taking out the sniper threat, planting some C4 on a tank, or gunning down the guy who’s parked on the mounted machine gun. The clock ticks down and if you manage to achieve the objective within the time span you’re awarded with points. Points aren’t meaningless, either. You’re awarded with a bronze, silver, or gold medal at the end of each round, but more importantly the amount of points you earn determines your position on the global online leaderboard where only the baddest muthas can earn the right to brag.
Rewards are also granted for exploration. Though Blood on the Sand does have a linear progression, and you’re often locked into an area until you’ve killed off every enemy, there are plenty of hidden areas to discover, collectibles to find, and boxes stuffed full of loot to raid. You’ll also find tons of much needed ammo tucked away. It certainly pays to explore, with the reward being more points on the scoreboard and more money in your back pocket to purchase bigger and better weapons – of which there’s a decent array to choose from.
The 21-strong weapon set and the way the guns handle is a big plus point. Aside from one issue we had with the aiming reticule of the Kalashnikov sometimes being too faint to see, the array of weapons all handle extremely well, boasting different rates of fire, loading times, and impact. You can enter the weapon shop by using any pay-phone you come across to buy the likes of an Uzi or a Rocket Launcher, and you can then equip up to four weapons at a time and switch through them intuitively with the D-pad. There are also "quick time event" melee attacks for those who prefer a bit of up close and personal combat, and they fit into the gameplay nicely, adding variety to the combat. You can also execute the "slo-mo Gangsta fire" move by filling up a "Gangsta Fire" meter through killing enemies. You then get the option to slow down the action to get a more precise shot on enemies. There’s nothing particular new or innovative here, but the smooth control scheme, complete with some enjoyable features, has certainly paid off.
Though a little on the short side, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is entertaining while it lasts, and there’s further replay value in its co-op mode and trying to rise up the rankings, or searching for any collectibles that you may have missed. It’s a game, however, that should have Trophy support, but disappointingly doesn’t. The added incentive of Trophies would certainly have encouraged further gameplay time. Despite its ropey script and fairly bland visuals, however, it gets a lot of things right. 50 Cent fans will undoubtedly love seeing their idol brought to life and will appreciate being able to mix and match the soundtrack with his tunes, but there’s also plenty here that shooter fans in general will enjoy.