50 Cent: Blood on the Sand Hands-On

50 Cent is back from the dead and still sporting an itchy trigger finger.

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When we first had a look at 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand this past April, we could tell this arcade-style shooter would be a game filled to the brim with casualties. What few expected, though, was that the game would be a casualty itself. Blood on the Sand was slated to be published by Sierra, but when its parent company, Vivendi, merged with Activision, the newly formed conglomerate chose to shed the weight of 50 Cent's muscular frame instead of taking on publishing duties. Fortunately, THQ has come along and assumed the role of knight in shining armor, and now Blood on the Sand is once again slated for release this January. We recently took a look at an updated version of the game to see what sort of progress developer Swordfish Studios has made in these turbulent months since we last saw it.

Meet 50 Cent. He's angry, and rich enough to buy a whole lot of guns. And did we say angry?
Meet 50 Cent. He's angry, and rich enough to buy a whole lot of guns. And did we say angry?

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a story of money, revenge, and killing--with a great big emphasis on the killing. The game begins with a prerendered cutscene showing 50 and his G-Unit cohorts finishing up a concert somewhere in the Middle East. 50 drops the mic, heads off stage, and immediately seeks payment for his services from the show's promoter. It turns out that the promoter is a bit low on cash, so he offers 50 a rather pleasing consolation prize: a diamond-encrusted skull. But the crew is assaulted in transit, and a mysterious woman steals the priceless skull while the G-Unit crew members are fighting for their lives in a shower of bullets.

That's the story that lays the foundation for 50's exploits in the Middle East. He must then fight his way through this dangerous setting--where everyone seems to want him and his buddies dead--and find the skull he so desperately wants. And so, he kills. A lot. This is very much an old-school shooter with a strong focus on filling the screen with nameless enemies who primarily serve as fodder rapidly build up points via a kill combo system. The action is definitely fast and frantic, and most of the challenge is derived from the number of enemies you face rather than their cunning abilities with a gun. Most situations involve 50 and his crew blasting their way through run-down urban buildings, through side alleys, and down roads with burning cars and scattered debris--a true war zone.

There are 21 weapons in total, and you can carry four at a time. Selections range from dual Uzis to rocket launchers, and all of them are real-world weapons. Complementing your arsenal is a sticky cover system much like in Gears of War, which lets you peek around corners and vault over low obstacles. You probably won't find yourself using cover often, because if you want to acquire the most points, you'll need to string together as many kills as you can before the combo multiplier expires after a few seconds. That said, you can also take your time with melee counter kills, which generally involve some combination of punching, stabbing, and snapping necks to provide quick death to your enemies. These tend to be the most entertaining points in a battle.

Even with all this emphasis on running and gunning (and gunning and gunning), there are sequences thrown into the mix that ask you to take your hand off the trigger and put it on the wheel of a Humvee. We had the opportunity to try one of these driving sequences, a level in which 50 is cruising through the urban streets as cavalcades of armed foes come crashing into him in armored cars. Like the shooting, the action here is fast and intense. Enemies on foot will flee from you by jumping out of the way or by trying to climb a fence, which helps drive home the point that 50 is not a rapper to be messed with. The controls are responsive and work well with the frenetic pace.

Counter kills give you the chance to get up close and personal.
Counter kills give you the chance to get up close and personal.

Much of the game's 50 Cent feel comes from the audio--50's dialogue and his music, which plays throughout the entire experience. There's a taunt system that lets you dish out verbal abuse to bad guys before you kill them, which is another way you can add to your overall point total (unfortunately, there's very little of that dialogue we can repeat here), but your humble protagonist will also frequently shout one-liners on his own. You can also unlock new music tracks that play over the entire game by collecting more and more points, then cashing them in for some new songs (42 in total, 18 exclusive tracks). This in-game economy also allows you to buy new weapons and taunts, which requires bling collected from smashing crates.

The entire game can be played in drop-in, drop-out co-op: One player assumes control of 50, and the other chooses from G-Unit members Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, and DJ Whoo Kid. Cooperation isn't limited to riddling the same target with bullets, though; you'll often need to work together to climb over obstacles and decide who wants to drive and who wants to man the turret during vehicle sequences. That's a decision you'll be able to make when 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand arrives on January 19.

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