We're not going to sugar coat it. 50 Cent: Bulletproof was a bad game. Some would argue that it was verging on utterly terrible, and the PSP version was only marginally better. Despite its glaring problems and being almost universally panned by critics, the game went on to be a solid seller for publisher Vivendi Games. The music/video game crossover action title, which featured a huge number of songs by the rapper, sold so well that a sequel was green lit and the gaming world waited for what was assumed to be another disaster of epic proportions. Well, with the extremely able Swordfish Studios at the helm and the Unreal Engine 3 under the hood, and new publisher THQ bringing the game to stores, it seems we may have been a bit hasty with our negativity. Blood on the Sand, rather amazingly, isn't actually that bad!
With a near complete build of the 360 version in our possession we've had time to put Fiddy and G-Unit through their paces, blasting enemies in a game about as subtle as the language used throughout. Make no mistake, Blood on the Sand has been made to appeal to a very specific audience (50 Cent fans), perhaps even people that idolise him, and as such the 'in your face', crude presentation might be enough to automatically put off a large number of gamers. Get past this, though, and there's a very competent third-person shooter.
There's a plot, of course, but it plays second fiddle to the near relentless killing. One moment Fiddy is playing a gig (dressed rather confusingly in full combat gear, grenades still strapped to his belt), and the next he's demanding money and taking on wave after wave of gun-toting enemies. The Unreal Engine 3 is most well known for Epic's Gears of War series, so perhaps it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to see that Blood on the Sand takes this core gameplay and runs with it.
Run up to a wall or other form of cover, hit A (in the 360 version anyway) and Fiddy will hug it, giving him a place to stay out of the line of fire. Hold the left trigger and he'll pop out, allowing you to target enemies, while simply pressing right trigger while in cover will make him blind fire. When in cover hold a direction on the left analogue stick and hit A and Fiddy will leap or roll in that direction. It came as a shock when the right bumper didn't open up an active reload system and that there's no roadie run on A. If you've played Gears, though, you'll be able to jump straight in.
It's not all Gears though. Blood on the Sand also seems to have a fair chunk in common with Bizarre Creations and SEGA's The Club - the severely underrated third-person shooter that put the focus on skilful shooting and competing for the best score. Blood on the Sand features a combo system, with a kill achieved within a certain time of the last keeping the multiplier going. This allows you to earn higher scores, which should give the game some replay value once you've blasted your way through the campaign for the first time.
Being a world famous rapper who earns money easily you'd expect dollar bills to appear somewhere in the game, and they do. Money is picked up all the time as you work through levels, either from downed enemies or from crates, and this can be used to buy new weapons - ensuring you're never short of the required tools of destruction. Just find a payphone, call your dealer and he'll drop off the items you've bought. You can also buy new taunts and close quarters combat moves. That's right, melee combat hasn't been forgotten about by Swordfish, with some brutal finishing moves able to be performed if you hit B and then complete a short QTE.
We've also seen the seemingly compulsory driving level, although here you're left to focus on the driving while the AI takes control of shooting - something we hope will be handled by a partner while playing through the campaign cooperatively. Blood on the Sand includes two-player online co-op (check out our HD co-op trailer for more), and we can see it being a lot of fun - something approaching EA's Army of Two, but a little simpler. Throughout the campaign there are areas that require you work with your partner, giving one another help up to a high ledge or working together to lift a heavy shutter door. From the opening few levels there doesn't appear to be anything too deep that's going to revolutionise co-op gaming, but the fact that it's here at all is worth celebrating.
We've seen a lot of great looking games in recent months so fully expected Blood on the Sand to underwhelm, but once again it manages to exceed expectations. It's not up there with the likes of Killzone 2 and Gears of War, but this can be said about most games. It is still a tidily put together Unreal Engine 3 game, with some excellent character models, great weapon effects and a solid frame rate. Presentation as a whole is geared around the rapping superstar, with the entire soundtrack made up of his material, and the script written to appeal to his fans. There appears to be a ton of unlockables too, so we expect Blood on the Sand will be as essential to fans as Bulletproof was.
That, in a mortar shell, is 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. From the few hours we've had with the campaign we reckon a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised by Swordfish's third-person cover-based shooter, and be glad that THQ picked up the game after Activision Blizzard had cast it aside. If you'd have asked us if we expected to have fun the moment Fiddy's first word in the game turned out to be a huge expletive, we'd have laughed. It's not going to win any awards, it isn't going to be one of the best games of 2009 and will without a doubt come packed full with flaws, but it is, against all odds, fun.