Blood on the Sand is five years old, now, so I realise this piece is out of date; but like many people – most people, in fact – I didn’t play it when it was released. Why would you do a thing like that? Have you seen what it’s about? It’s the second game starring world-famous rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and it’s a Gears of War-style cover-based shooter of glorious, overblown fiction.
Many of you won’t have played the game, and that’s fine. That’s to be encouraged. I can’t recommend it. The box art shows nothing to draw in the player save a scowling 50 Cent in body armour – although the word “scowling” has no real place there, 50’s default and indeed only facial expression in-game is a scowl, a sort of confused belligerence like a Neanderthal trying to light a fire using a box of matches.
(Which is strange, because in reality his face is permanently stuck in a sort of incongruous benign grin that suggests someone’s about to produce a kitten for him to look at from a hitherto unreferenced box)
Anyway, this game is platinum-grade bumrinse. Playing as 50 Cent – the real human being that exists, not a made-up character, an actual dude with a passport and everything – or one of his three bessie mates, you destabilise two unnamed Middle-Eastern countries in search of a supposedly important jewel-encrusted skull, and you destabilise them by killing everyone standing even vaguely near to you with a variety of bangsticks wielded in his tree-trunk thick arms.
You can also knife people and then watch 50 as he in turn watches them die through his creepy, Unreal-Engine Circa 2008 unblinking eyes, but it takes a while so it’s not usually regarded as a good tactic.
Mechanically, it’s a functional game – probably on the same level as Spec Ops: The Line, if I’m honest – but this isn’t a game you’re supposed to enjoy playing. It’s a cultural artefact. It’s a tale of celebrity culture so prevalent that a man can be involved in a videogame starring a super-powered version of himself. There’s more, to it, too, but you have to dig a little deeper.
You need to get past 50 Cent to appreciate this game, which is hard, on account of the game very much being about him. You need to look beyond him to the supporting characters, the friends that follow Curtis around these nondescript countries and lend support, advice, and firepower to our hero.
One of the playable characters is DJ Whoo Kid, who at one point exclaims “This shit’s Napoleonic!” of some waist-high walls, so he clearly knows his history. He’s less impressive than the other two support characters – Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo – for a variety of reasons, the main one being that he could have picked any name he wanted and he chose “DJ Whoo Kid.”
The instruction manual has a brief bio of each of them, and while the other two list their favourite rapper as Notorious B.I.G, DJ Whoo Kid (in my head I pronounce it “Hwhoo Kid,” like “cool hwhip”) says that his is 50 Cent. That’s adorable. Imagine that – the chance to be in a game with the person you most respect. That’s like Ken Levine making Ken and Grant Steal Giant MechaSamurai.
Once you take 50 out of the equation – which is almost impossible, really, this is a product that the man has personally spunked out though just one of the terrifyingly misogynistic arms of the business that he is – and read it as a text, a standalone thing, it’s a love story.
Take control of 50 Cent and select DJ Whoo Kid as your partner. The game, then, becomes DJ Whoo Kid’s own personal fantasy built around the adoration that he feels for 50 Cent. Invulnerable, all-powerful, never wrong, and ruthlessly, needlessly, uselessly brutal in every single situation presented to him, 50 Cent moves through the battered middle-Eastern region like some gangster Hercules, resisting and overcoming the trials set before him. Whatever challenges he might face, the solution is invariably either a) punching b) swearing or c) punching and swearing.
This is no longer a game consisting of 50 Cent flexing his muscles and killing people, a masturbatory trip constructed around one man’s ego that the world seems to be buying into, a chance to inhabit the body of this hyperalpha male. This is a daydream, a reverie. A work of respect, not one of a desire to be stronger or more wealthy or the owner of a fully-automatic shotgun.
If it helps – and it does help! – imagine that everything that takes place in-game is being invented and written by DJ Whoo Kid, sweaty and shaking with excitement as he scribbles in a jotter with a smeary biro:
“And then 50 shot three guys in ten seconds and he got the EXPLOSIVE AMMO so he shot another two guys BOOM BOOM and they blew up five of their friends and 50 slid into cover and shouted Go On, Pop Off Bitch! And then he activated GANGSTA MODE which slowed down time and he got a SWEET HEADSHOT and I said Good Shooting Fiddy!”
It’s tricky (and perhaps more than a little daft) calling Death of The Author on something like Blood on the Sand, because, you know, bumrinse. But this thing got made. This thing was produced and released by semi-competent people. That’s enough of a reason to examine it more closely, I think, and if we can look at it through the lens of adoration rather than violent escapism, doesn’t that make it slightly more interesting?
Or, at the very least, slightly more bearable?
BONUS CONTENT: SIX THINGS I FUCKING LOVE ABOUT 50 CENT: BLOOD ON THE SAND
If you push in the Left stick, it doesn’t make 50 Cent run – it makes him swear at people. Things like “Cocksucker motherfucker!” or “Go on, pop off bitch!” or a basic, run-of-the-mill “Fuck you!” Swearing at people before you kill them earns you more points. It is possible to upgrade the things that 50 Cent says by spending in-game money at phone booths, presumably used to pay writers who air-drop cue cards onto his location. (If you want, you can push the stick during cutscenes, too, so 50 Cent screams “You wanna mess with the KING?” at a door until someone opens it for him)
50 Cent wears a hat with “50 Cent” written on the front, so if it gets mixed up with other people’s hats he knows which one is his. Picture the sort of person who wears their own name written on their hat. Fuck, picture someone who wears anyone’s name written on their hat. Is that the sort of person you’d look up to? (He also wears a second hat underneath it, a cloth underhat in the vein of underpants, which probably has “50 Cent” written on the front of it as well)
At one point 50 Cent uses strippers to distract some guards then blows up the bus that the strippers arrived in 30 seconds later, making the addition of strippers to the mix seem almost superfluous but then again that’s probably entirely fitting. There is one female character in the game who is not a stripper; 50 Cent never refers to her as anything other than “Bitch” and she talks like she is drowning in carpet offcuts.
Hidden throughout the levels are posters of rap icons including our friend 50 Cent which can be collected for points. We must then assume that someone put up these posters, and seeing as we meet precisely no civilians in any of the locations we visit, it must have been his enemies.
If you achieve certain timed micro-objectives, you earn explosive or incendiary ammunition for your pistol. It doesn’t obey the rules of your pistol’s magazine. There are always around 8 shots, even if your pistol only holds 6. How you collect or load this is never seen; I like to imagine it’s because 50 Cent is in fact a high-level battle wizard and he earns mana for elemental spells by pleasing the Gods.
There are boxes full of money which 50 Cent can bash open and steal. Enemies drop money when they’re killed. 50 Cent doesn’t bend down to pick it up; it spirals through the air towards him and is absorbed into his body with a dazzling golden flash.