Version tested: Xbox 360
According to 50 Cent himself, the man you spend most of Blood on the Sand controlling had a lot of input into the game's design early on. Perhaps he's a big fan of Gears of War and The Club, then, because someone certainly was. This is a fast-paced cover shooter that riffs on both games and fills the gaps with unlockable melee combos, beefy weapons and exclusive music.
The debt's obvious from the end of the first cut-scene onwards. You control 50 from a tight, over-the-shoulder perspective, lock onto cover by hitting a button and lean over to aim by holding the left trigger. Whether manoeuvring through rundown buildings or crouched behind walls or cover points, the left trigger brings you into the zoomed-in firing view, with a reticule in the centre to line up your right-trigger shots.
Unreal Engine 3 games rarely look exactly the same, despite common characteristics, but Blood on the Sand is also a dead ringer for Gears on more than a few occasions, and not just in 50's bulky, muscular character model. The game's set in a fictional Middle Eastern country and the environments are the tortured, decaying aftermath of war, full of helpfully strewn concrete blocks, low walls, pillars and corrugated iron to hide behind. As with Gears, there's a set path through each level that takes in a few corridor brawls, and more open areas designed for mid-range cover combat. You're never in any doubt where to go, thanks to helpful on-screen prompts and convenient blockages.
Where Blood on the Sand appears to be charting a course away from Gears, however - perhaps fittingly, given the protagonist - it only finds itself in The Club. Successive kills - whether your own or those assisted by one of three AI counterparts - feed into a score multiplier, with hidden posters, crates full of cash and bull's-eye targets to snap at to bulk out your earnings. Points go towards unlocking more of the 40-plus-song soundtrack, while cash can be invested in new guns, melee kills and taunt packs.
There's nothing particularly original about any of it, but developer Swordfish Studios has done two important things right: the core combat is fast, intuitive and relatively graceful - certainly more Gears of War than Kane & Lynch - and the game plays out with tongue firmly in cheek. Right from the off, it's clearly ludicrous: 50 is on a quest to retrieve a diamond-encrusted skull from a local crime-lord, and has no trouble ploughing through hundreds of heavily armed terrorists and mercenaries, all the while he and whichever of his entourage you've chosen to flank him hurl obscenities above the crossfire. Once the area's clear, Lloyd Banks or whoever alerts you to this by observing, "We cleared them motherf***ers out," or questioning their masculinity.