50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

Surprise on the cards?

I'm pretty sure I've been shot more than nine times at this point, but in the grand scheme of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, this is forgivable. After all, 50's wearing Kevlar (even on-stage, complete with grenades slung around his waist), and as the first game pointed out, he's bulletproof. It's certainly no more absurd than the story, in which 50 and chums are chasing down a diamond-coated skull stolen in an ambush by a balletic ninja lady. "Where'd she go? That bitch took muh skull," he laments, after he dives backwards over the bonnet of a Humvee firing an assault rifle, and sets off to shoot up a fictional Middle-Eastern country, which seems to be populated almost exclusively by terrorists, drug lords and weapons dealers with thick accents.

Of course, when Gears of War does things like this ("They're using a giant worm!" for instance), no one's sure if it's meant to be taken seriously. But when Swordfish Studios does things like this in Blood on the Sand, you end up with unlockable taunt packs rated by profanity, bragging and sexual content, and unlock special moves like Assassin's Wrath. "A combination of efficient jabs finished by a vicious neck snap, this jujitsu move will drop any fool to the floor." More macho IP for smirking British developers, please? Given some of the stuff that 50 and his choice of wingman - either Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks or DJ Whoo Kid - yell at their enemies, they must be in on the joke.

The game itself is no joke though. The debt to Gears is obvious throughout, but it works. The clip-on contextual cover system is fluent and logical, and allows you to pop out and target easily, spraying the Unreal Engine 3 visuals with shots from your dpad-selected quartet of weapons, and Swordfish even lifts (affectionately, I'm sure) little touches like the way 50 goes into a forced walk to slow your heart-rate while he's receiving chatter through a headset. Given the context, tension-heightening elements like Active Reload and chainsaw melee are missed, but the alternative to the latter is the amusing "counter-kills", of which the abovementioned Assassin's Wrath is one. Press the melee button up close and you go into a brief quick-time sequence that sees 50 punch and eventually - with unlocks - gut and mangle people dumb enough to get within range.

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The Music Player allows you to set up a playlist with any of the songs in the game, several of which are unlocked from the start, or set it to shuffle.

But while the most obvious debt is to Gears of War, Swordfish's fellow Brits Bizarre Creations will recognise a tip of the doo-rag in a scoring system that owes more to The Club than anything on Epic's Sera. Whenever you cap an enemy, or do something else of note - a kill assist, taunting in battle, uncovering collectibles, etc. - you add points to your score and a little red bar appears along the top of the screen and starts gradually emptying, which is your window to keep the combo going. The more points you gain in a level, the better the medal you win at the end.

Fans of The Club will choke even harder when they realise there are even bull's-eyes hidden around each level to uncover as you dash through courtyards, up and down stairs and over rooftops chasing down your loot. Unlike Bizarre's underrated speed-shooter, however, post-level unlocks based on these discoveries are big news for 50's fans, including a bunch of exclusive new songs.

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