Well made, frequently amusing and fun third-person shooter
Blood on the Sand’s shallow but fast-paced, compelling gameplay, coupled with an excellent all-round presentation, makes it a solid, entertaining third-person shooter. However, what allows Blood on the Sand to most stand out is its insanely over-the-top, ludicrous action set-pieces, its characters, plot and dialogue, and because of all these elements, Blood on the Sand, inadvertently, becomes a tribute to and parody of itself, its genre and violent video games in general.
Usually I don’t go into too much detail about a game’s story, but here I couldn’t resist. 50 Cent, along with the G-Unit, has just finished his last concert in a tour around some unnamed Middle-Eastern country. When the promoter refuses to pay up, 50 Cent (or “Fiddy”) threatens the guy until he offers a priceless crystal skull as compensation. Fiddy accepts; however, on the way out of the country Fiddy and his crew get ambushed by some militia and the skull is stolen. Fiddy then spends the rest of the game shouting, “Where’s ma skull?” at people, running off and then shooting them. It’s total and utter nonsense.
There are nine levels altogether, each of them segmented into sub-sections, and there are also some nice vehicular/on-the-rails levels, in between the on-foot parts, that add a touch of variety to the proceedings. Generally, though, you will be controlling Fiddy or one of the G-Unit (in local or online co-op mode), ploughing your way through a series of fairly similar, generic, Islamic-looking war-zones. The gameplay is of the standard cover-shoot-move mechanism used in most recent third-person shooters of this generation, supplemented with a simple QTE-style, hand-to-hand combat mode and a “Gangsta Fire” mode – basically, what we’ve come to know as “Bullet Time”.
In a lot of ways, specifically in the gameplay department, Blood on the Sand borrows substantially from The Club. (However, where that game was dull, bland and colourless, Blood on the Sand is the polar opposite.) The pacing of Blood on the Sand can be frantic at times, with enemies often coming at you from all directions. The player is granted points for blasting foes away using a whole variety of different methods – via explosive barrels, headshots, grenades, molotovs, you name it, and can rack up multipliers for taking out multiple enemies in a row, one after another, in an endless stream of carnage and destruction.
While each level has some primary objective that you must accomplish, sometimes leading to a boss fight – often Fiddy, armed with a rocket launcher, versus a helicopter piloted by a psychotic pantomime villain – the game will frequently throw at you these mini-challenges that you can complete for explosive ammo, grenades and extra points – stuff like having to take out all oncoming attackers within a time frame, killing two grenadiers or all the snipers before time runs out, etc.
These little challenges act as incentives to maintain a running stride through levels as you attempt to rack up combos, killing sprees, etc. – completing all these small challenges in order to score the most points. At the end of each level your points are tallied up and you are awarded a bronze, silver or gold G-Unit badge based on your performance (and, of course, there are achievements for doing this).
While the game has a heavy action focus, there’s also a side that encourages players to explore, too. Each level segment features five hidden portraits to collect and five target signs to be shot, and if you manage to get them all then you get an added bonus to your score. Along with earning points, you can loot enemies and crates for cash money, allowing you to purchase from a range of new, more advanced weaponry, courtesy of your friendly local arms dealer – ironically, I think, the only person who doesn’t try to screw you over throughout the game’s story.
And, essentially, this is why Blood on the Sand’s design works so well: the set-pieces encourage the player to play fast, loose and with a sense of urgency, while its secondary (optional) component of looking for hidden items, collectables and cash introduces a brief respite in the midst of all the action. It’s an excellent mix of running-and-gunning and looting, and it’s pretty much faultless, allowing the player work at their own tempo and level of skill.
While Blood on the Sand puts the focus chiefly on scoring points, combos and collecting stuff, what keeps it from becoming a tedious exercise is the game’s personality. Blood on the Sand constantly rewards the player visually for doing, well, anything, including the smallest of things like running past a checkpoint or breaking a couple of crates open.
It bombards the player with comically oversized messages, silently shouting at the player, “KILLING SPREE!” and “MASSACRE!” while sound effects of cash registers being opened, gun fire going off and an entire 50 Cent album soundtrack playing in the background deafen the senses. There is just so much going on on-screen at any given time – almost way too much. It’s like a game built for the attention-deficit, and it’s almost impossible not to find yourself simultaneously drawn in and amused by that.
Some people will get more from Blood on the Sand’s little eccentricities than others. If you don’t like hip-hop or rap music, and if you get offended by people saying “fuck”, “bitch” and “shit” a lot, then this game probably isn’t for you. Personally, I find the game’s complete lack of taste, its vulgarity and overall lack of self-awareness to be its best points. It is, quite possibly, the video game equivalent of films like Top Gun or Con Air, films so mind-numbingly stupid that they’re fantastic in light of that. To me, Blood on the Sand is the exact same thing: big, dumb, exciting, nonsensical entertainment, and I love it for all those reasons. It may be a short and, ultimately, pretty hollow experience, but it is a fun ride while it lasts.