50 Cent: Blood on the Sand Impressions

50 Cent and G-Unit are hunting down the gangsters who stole their diamond-encrusted skull, and we're along for the ride.

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To get a good idea of what type of action one can expect from 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, one need only take a look at the premise. 50 Cent and G-Unit perform a concert overseas, only to find out that the promoter has stiffed them. Desperate to avoid 50's wrath, the promoter offers the group a diamond-encrusted skull as payment. Before 50 and the gang can bring their prize home, it is stolen by a group of international gangsters. Thus begins G-Unit's globe-trotting, gangster-slaying, havoc-wreaking search for the holy grail of bling. Earlier this month, developer Swordfish Studios showed us around a work-in-progress version of this arcade shooter in which the action is every bit as over-the-top as the storyline.

With biceps like that, 50 Cent can use the rocket launcher at any range he pleases.
With biceps like that, 50 Cent can use the rocket launcher at any range he pleases.

Blood on the Sand showed its arcade stripes from the get-go with a shiny visual style that featured bright, oversaturated scenery and veiny, overmuscled character models. 50 Cent is the main character, naturally, and his partner in crime is one of three selectable G-Unit members: Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, and DJ Whoo Kid. Each of these characters starts with different weapons, so your choice of sidekick will have tactical implications. You'll also be able to customize 50 Cent's arsenal by choosing a pistol, an assault weapon (Uzis, shotguns), an automatic weapon, and a heavy weapon (sniper rifle, rocket launcher). There are 20 weapons available in the game, most of which you'll need to purchase from an arms dealer.

The game is played from a third-person viewpoint, and in the level that we saw, 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks were running around a somewhat bombed-out industrial area in a fictional Middle Eastern city. Almost immediately a pack of gangsters ran onto the screen and the bullets started flying. 50 ran up to an abandoned car and snapped into cover with the press of a button. Popping out of cover during a break in the gunfire, 50 blasted back, switching to an over-the-shoulder view to take aim and shoot. A gangster went down, and as he fell, a four-digit point value flashed over his head. A few more kills, a lot more points, and 50 was able to activate Gangster mode: a slow-motion bullet time that puts enemies at a severe disadvantage.

Every kill in Blood on the Sand earns points, and chaining together kills will build combos that increase your score exponentially. Running kill combos are displayed at the top of the screen as stylized street signs; each sign represents a kill and has a specific icon depending on how it was executed (for example, by gunfire, explosion, or melee kill). There will also be miniobjectives that pop up onscreen from time to time to offer point-boosting opportunities. These objectives won't be required, but are being implemented to encourage you to run and gun rather than spend a lot of time behind cover. At the end of each mission, you'll be graded based on your point total, which will then be uploaded to online leaderboards.

In addition to racking up points, you'll pick up money throughout each mission. Destructible crates and barrels will cough up cash, as will vanquished foes. Money can be used to purchase a number of things, either between missions or during missions when you find a ringing pay phone. It's your friendly neighborhood arms dealer calling to interest you in the latest and greatest antigangster gear! New guns, taunts, and music are available, as well as CounterKills, which are melee kills executed with timed button presses when you're close to an enemy. We saw one CounterKill in which 50 Cent basically punched a guy to death, and another in which he slashed an enemy with his knife no fewer than seven times. The camera zooms in tight on CounterKills so you can fully appreciate the gruesome detail, and given the colorful variety of foul-mouthed taunts we overheard, it's safe to say that publisher Vivendi isn't looking for a "T for Teen" rating.

Just because there is a cover system in the game doesn't mean you have to use it.
Just because there is a cover system in the game doesn't mean you have to use it.

All told, Blood on the Sand will span 20 levels, two of which will be driving missions. 50 Cent will drive a Humvee-esque vehicle while his partner mans a mounted .50 caliber Gatling gun. We're told that there will also be a helicopter level in which both characters eschew piloting for firing large-caliber weaponry. The entire game will be playable in co-op only when you're online (no split screen), and players will be able to drop in and out of one another's games without having to restart the level. There will be parts of the level where both characters need to work together to, say, open a heavy door or reach a high ledge, but that's the extent of the built-in teamwork. Two human players will meet with a more difficult enemy AI and tougher enemy classes to keep the game balanced, and this will adjust dynamically as players drop in and out.

It wouldn't be a 50 Cent game without music, and Swordfish Studios is promising an ample number of old and new tracks from 50 Cent and G-Unit, including a to-be-announced number of exclusive tracks. They also have hopes of adding tracks from 50 Cent's newest album, and are angling to land a notable hip-hop producer to create the soundtrack for the game. This soundtrack would be the default in-game music, which you can intersperse with 50 Cent and G-Unit tracks that you've purchased.

Blood on the Sand is shaping up to be a loud, shiny parade of gun violence and rap music, which suggests that Swordfish Studios has got its target audience pegged. We'll have the latest on the updated tracklist and more as the fall 2008 release window approaches.

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