If you buy only one game featuring 50 Cent and G-Unit shooting people in a quest to get back their diamond-encrusted skull this year, make it 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. I'm still overwhelmed by the game's plot, and when 50 Cent is your protagonist, you might as well embellish as much as you can. Go over the top, and then go even higher.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a straight-ahead action game. You'll fire all kinds of guns to kill waves of disposable enemies, all trying to stop you from getting back what's rightfully yours. In a recent demo of the title, I felt a little bad for the sheer numbers of enemies you must dispatch; surely, these lowly thugs aren't making diamond-encrusted-skull money.
And before I get too far, a clarification: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is not necessarily set in the Middle East. Lots of places have sand, including Miami Beach, school playgrounds, ant farms, and other non-Middle-Eastern settings. The game is merely set in a fictitious, unnamed country with sand, palm trees, and vaguely Middle-Eastern architecture.
The game is powered by Unreal Engine 3, thankfully freeing developers to keep piling on the crazy. My favorite is the customizable set of taunts 50 and the G-Unit hangers-on can employ. (And at this point, "favorite" has a deadly mixture of sarcasm and sincerity, like swallowing a spider to catch a fly. I just don't know which will win anymore.) These dozens of one-liners not only liven up the dull moments between gunfire, they actually add multiplier bonuses to your score when shouted after an attack. "Cut them down with words, and guns," I like to think 50 Cent would say.
50 Cent can shoot over and around obstructions, sort of like other UE3 games. But "Gangsta Fire" ads even more precision. Call out this bullet-time effect, and the action slows down around you, letting you quickly fire off shots against many targets.
But Blood on the Sand isn't just about gunfights. 50 Cent switches to hand-to-hand combat when closely engaging a foe. Enemy fire politely halts, and the action scopes in on the close-quarters fight. You don't control his specific attacks, but well-timed button presses to on-screen prompts unleash his power.
This title is about excess, and all of these game elements lead to that goal. Online-only multiplayer let two gamers share in the action, with drop-in and -out compatibility. Certain vehicles are ideal for cooperative sessions, like an armored truck with a turret in the back.
If you're playing alone, the second character will be controlled by the AI. Fittingly, player 1 always controls 50 Cent, while the second character could be Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, or DJ Whoo Kid. Either way, you'll have to work together in some moments, like boosting each other over a wall, to solve quick puzzles between the fighting.
I have no idea if 50 Cent fans will like this game or if they'll be calling him a sellout. For the fans, the game will include music from his entire catalog, so you can play old and new hits behind the frenzy of bullets.
I own no 50 Cent music, but I'm strangely attracted to the spectacle of the game. It could be a tangled, explosive, exploitive mess. I just want to stare, gawk, and get back the diamond-encrusted skull. Look for the spectacle in Fall, 2008.