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X3F Impressions: 50 Cent Blood on the Sand

When the first 50 Cent game was released, it wasn't exactly to critical praise, and many didn't think that it would be anything other than a footnote in the history of licensed games. Surprisingly, the game sold over a million copies and has a sequel well into development. 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is following in the footsteps of its prequel with its focus on the characters and gunplay, but everything else seems to have been left behind. Despite the commercial success of the first game, it's reported that 50 Cent was unhappy with the first game, and wanted an entirely new team to work on the second game. Hence, Swordfish Studios took the reins on development, with the goal to create a game that was easy to pick up and play in a fun and arcady fashion.

Our first impression upon being shown to the seats was "Wow, this looks a lot like Gears." And not just because both games are running Unreal Engine 3. The base gameplay of Blood on the Sand is almost an exact copy of Gears in every way, right down to the cover mechanic and melee activation. The movement is faster overall (to keep up the arcade feel the devs are shooting for) and you're definitely not in as much danger as you are in Gears. While there is a cover mechanic that allows for crouching, firing from behind cover, peeking around corners, and everything else you would expect out of a Gears clone, it's mostly unnecessary as the bulletproof vest your character wears is MUCH tougher than it looks (at least on the default difficulty).

As a shooting game, it's essential that the shooting not be frustrating or repetitive and Blood in the Sand seems to get that part right, as the gunplay is simple and (surprise) arcady with no secondary fire, overheating, or anything else overly complex. The melee mechanic on the other hand feels like it could get tired fast. Known in-game as "Counter-Kills," the melees are activated via a press of the B button when close to an enemy. This brings the player into a QTE on-screen button-pressing moment in which 50 Cent will launch into a fighting-game-esqe series of combo attacks killing the enemy with his fists, elbows, or sometimes a knife. During those 8-12 seconds, time in the game-world stops and you're invulnerable while you wale on your foe. While you can unlock different combos for the Counter-Kills during the game, it really seems like something many players will use a few times because it looks cool, then rarely use again.

Moving away from the Gears mold, the game then instead decides to pull gameplay mechanics from even older, more done-to-death game ideas. Which would of course be the game's use of its tentatively titled: "Gangster Fire" which slows time a la Max Payne, Stranglehold and The Matrix. As the incentive to use the ability, your kills while in Gangster Fire will add to your points-per-kill. Like The Club, Blood on the Sand revolves around a point score. Kills are of course the main way in which points are obtained, and there's a whole multitude of things that add to your points-per-kill. Everything from Halo style Double and Triple kills to shooting an enemy while he's airborne and completing specific objectives. In a similar style to Ninja Gaiden there are area-specific objectives (known as "Bonus Objectives") that if completed within a certain time limit will result in a massive point bonus.

Points are not the only part to the reward system however, there are also the cash monies. In a similar way to the points, the in-game money is collected after performing some cool in-game action (specific kills, etc) as well as some not-so-cool in-game actions (breaking crates, barrels, etc). As with most games, the money is used to purchase more weapons, bigger combos and other fun in-game items. During Co-op play, both the money and the points are independent for each player and are the main source of competitiveness. Other than getting Co-op partners (who can drop in and out, even over Live) to see your scores, you'll also be able to upload your scores to a Leaderboard to see where you stand.

So far we've been relatively positive, and we're as surprised as you are at the fact that this game is fairly competent and looks like it could be fun. So now onto the bad. The "story" is crap, the level design is boring, linear, and repetitive, there's only a single multiplayer gametype, there's no enemy variety and the enemies have horrid AI. There are giant flashing arrows that direct your path, you go though the same damn roll-up door every time you change areas, the enemies glow like Christmas lights .... We could go on, but in the end it doesn't much matter. If you're the type who'll be intrigued enough to play the game, you'll likely forgive it many of its deficiencies.

For a licensed game sequel, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand could have turned out much worse than the game that we saw, which, at its core, had fairly good gameplay. Despite the other things that might bring the game down, it would have had absolutely no redeeming qualities had the simple, fun gunplay not been there. If you're really into Gears style games and 50 Cent, then give this a try when it hits this fall. Just be sure not to expect anything groundbreaking out of it.

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