The awesomeness of being 50, in a February game I only recently finished.
Can a game hook you with just its characters and plot?
"50 Cent: Blood on the Sand" sold me in 60 seconds in, before I had controlled a minute of it.
There is a rapper on a stage in front of thousands. He is finishing his late night concert. He goes backstage and, angry that he hasn't been paid, pulls a gun on his manager. His manager thinks fast and produces a jeweled skull for payment. The manager sets up a convoy to escort the rapper out of town the next day. The sun rises. Then, the viewer of these scenes realizes, this is all happening in what appears to be Iraq. A sunny drive out of town in Humvees is interrupted by insurgents, who look like they've been on CNN. They attack the convoy. A beautiful woman steals the skull. Our rapper is out of his car, He's in a gun battle.
Then the game begins.
This game[is] a must play for anyone making games.
That's the intro of "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand," one of the more arresting and distinct game openings I've seen in a while. In the press coverage leading to the game's release -- including the coverage on this site -- writers noted the similarities 50 Cent's game was going to have to other video games: its "Gears of War" third-person cover-based combat, its "The Club"-style constantly scored shooting, its "Gears" or "Halo"-inspired obligatory vehicle levels.
But what makes this game a must play for anyone making games -- and a recommended suggestion for anyone who plays them -- is what makes the game unique: its quickly-established mood and story: a bellicose rapper in Iraq shooting would-be terrorists.
Look at all the games that are nothing different from games you've heard of already. There's a new game with an angry man wielding a sword. There's a new adventure of a space marine. There's a new role-playing game with a whiny teenager and a demure hot girl who can do healing magic. There's a game with an elf boy who needs to find his sword.
We've been there and played that.
We hadn't been an armed rapper in Iraq.
This is a game with little friction, just the easy experience and consumption of excess.
The game plays fine, exactly as you'd expect any hybrid of the games named above to play. Its biggest design flaws are its quadruple use of a helicopter boss battle, its dull final mission and -- bearing in mind that many games fail at this last one -- its failure to justify the number of firefights it presents in terms of narrative or evolution of gameplay.
At its default difficulty it is an easy game, a violent gun smash through the terrorists (who, yes, aren't terrorists but guys working for the skull-stealing villains, though that's not what it feels like, so…). The game is easy, and it's a crowd-pleaser. Even stepping into a checkpoint earns the player points, as does every kill, with score multipliers applied if the kill is committed creatively. Enemies and crates are smashed to reveal piles of bling, which enables easy purchases of better weapons and better ways for 50 to insult his enemies. This is a game with little friction, just the easy experience and consumption of excess.
That degree of easiness makes the game a pleasure to pick up. It also could make it simple to dismiss. Why not do something better with your time than play a game you can't lose? Because, as I wrote above, it's so novel in character and situation.
Think what you will of 50 Cent as a man, but as a character he is fascinating. His persona is that he is great at being great, which sounds vague but isn't. "50 Cent Blood on the Sand" is built around that character. This is his world: his partner characters, one of three members of the G-Unit who run by his side constantly tell 50 how amazing he is; the items he can collect in his pseudo-Iraq include glowing vanity portraits of himself and other characters in the game; his adventure is set to a soundtrack of him rapping about how awesome he is with guns and girls and life in general.
If this is what it's like to be 50 Cent in real life, it must be intoxicating.
Other games claim to make you the most important person in the world. They do this by establishing a plot that involves you having to save the world or even the universe. But no game swells the ego like "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand." If this is what it's like to be 50 Cent in real life, it must be intoxicating. The only game that comes close to reinforcing as frequently the amazing-ness of the player-character is "Fable II," which allows a gamer to pay a man to call him great things and follow him, while men and woman all around woo him.
But "Fable II" doesn't star a rapper who happens to be the world's most excellent commando. This game is an ego trip. If only I ever felt this awesome when I was playing a James Bond game, which, you would think, given the character he is, I should. If only supporting characters in "Halo 2" didn't just say some of the time that they were impressed to be near Master Chief. If only they said that all of the time.
The way this game triumphs is in the uniqueness of its character and the ability to surround that character with the gameplay, the soundtrack, the collectibles and all the other things that support what this character is (which, I'll remind you, like a good virtual member of the G-Unit is: the most amazing guy on the battlefield and on the mic). In that regard, there's one other game it merits comparison to: "Metal Gear Solid 4." That game's hero was anything but awesome. He was old and fading, but as with "Blood on the Sand," the gameplay around him supported and reinforced who he was. Movement was slow, stamina a limitation. As capable as he was, everything felt like it was done with a back ache.
In "Blood on the Sand," it's fun being 50. It's like nothing else. Let's get more games with characters like nobody else. More of that -- if not necessarily more of 50 in Iraq -- please.
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(Images in this post are from the official website for "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand," which is available for Xbox 360 and PS3.)