Bytes & Flops 4.12.12: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Posted by Vince Osorio on 04.12.2012
50 Cent starred in in his own game that failed to ignite the sales charts the way his albums do. But is this over-the-top third-person shooter an underrated gem or a deserved failure? 411's Vince Osorio takes a look!
It's actually pretty fun to take a look back at the music industry from a decade ago. The landscape is so different than what it is now. CDs were still the dominant medium for music, while the very first, FireWire capable, 5/10GB iPods had just debuted in October of 2001. Chart-toppers like N'Sync were shifting a million copies of their album on a weekly basis. Compare this to 2011 where Cake's newest album set a record for the lowest-selling Billboard 200 #1 in history, with a measly 44,000 copies sold in its debut week. Now, mainstream heralds big names like Kanye, Katy, Adele, Taylor, Justin, Jay-Z as the saviors of the entire industry, an industry who is having a Sisphyus-like uphill battle trying to get people to purchase music that can be found easily, quickly and for free on the internet.
It's hard to believe that the star of such fine C-movie quality direct-to-dvd dreck such as Gun, All Things Fall Apart and Blood Out was once the absolute biggest name in the rap game. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson was on top of the world after the mammoth critical and commercial success of Get Rich or Die Tryin', 8 million copies sold in the United States alone (as far as single disc hip hop albums go, only Eminem and The Beastie Boys have higher sales). And to think, that was just 50 Cent's debut. 2005 was truly the year of 50. He was everywhere. His follow-up album, The Massacre sold 1.14 million copies in one week (again, in the hip-hop world only Marshal Mathers LP and The Eminem Show sold more copies in its debut), and the fall of that same year saw the synergy of the 50 Cent brand taking place. You had the movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin' debuting in November, by Academy Award nominated director Jim Sheridan, the accompanying (and platinum selling) soundtrack, and the video game 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
Let's get things straight, 50 Cent: Bulletproof was not a good game. It had potential to be a good game. It was a ridiculous, over-the-top third-person-shooter with a surprisingly interesting story, a fantastic soundtrack and all around excellent voice acting from 50, Eminem, and Dr. Dre of all people. The previews made the game look awesome, and again, the 50 Cent hype train couldn't be stopped at this point, so people bought into it, 1.2 million copies, to be exact.
Another award-worthy classic by Mr. Cent.
However, after 2005, the 50 Cent persona was starting to cave in on itself. The film Get Rich or Die Tryin' tried to emulate the success of 8 Mile to little effect, garnering negative reviews & taking in a mere $31 million in the United States, less than the $40 million budget. The Massacre & Get Rich's soundtrack were met with less enthusiastic reviews & sales numbers compared to 50's debut. While 50's Curtis sold relatively well, it paled in comparison to Kanye West's Graduation debut (the two artists competed to see who's album would sell more in its first week, to which 50 Cent "jokingly" said that he'd retire if Kanye outsold him), and by the time 2008's Before I Self Destruct was released, 50 Cent was a punchline, a man known more for the purple-colored Vitamin Water he put his name on rather than the rags-to-riches, "survived nine bullet wounds" gangster persona that he so carefully crafted.
Even 50 talks about his entrepreneurial aspects in his music.
If you're 50 Cent, and your music career is on the decline, what do you do? Do you A. step away from the game graciously, rethink your strategy and produce an excellent album on par with your debut? Or B. Further water down your name by inserting yourself in stupid feuds with other rappers, taking major parts in terrible direct-to-DVD vehicles, releasing boring, inconseqential albums and release a sequel to the video game that everyone hated?
That's what I'd like to imagine what happened when 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand was created. It's the most self-serving, egotistical thing that 50 Cent has created in his entire career, and God bless it for that.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand sounds as if 50 Cent read an article on foreign politics, said "Shit, me and the G-Unit should just go up to Afganistan and kill all those terrorists". That's the premise of the game, I'm not even joking. 50 Cent and G-Unit members Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks and DJ Whoo Kid are playing a concert in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (literally, you hear the end of "I Get Money" and 50 Cent drops the mic & walks off-stage) and find out that Anwar, the promoter, has lost the $10 million that was owed to 50 for the concert. As collateral, Anwar gives 50 a diamond-encrusted skull. 50 & the G-Unit head to catch their flight back home, when they're ambushed by terrorists who steal the skull. The rest of the game has you in control of 50 (or a G-Unit member, if you're playing in co-op), killing everyone who is in his way so he can get that skull back and fly back to the good ol' US of A.
Already, the game seems insanely stupid, but couple this with the characters (who are mostly stereotypes and are often double or triple crossing you throughout the campaign) and the fact that the entire game takes itself so seriously, and you can't help but laugh at the events that unfold. Each character has specific taunts that you can manually shout by clicking in the left-thumbstick (and the taunts actually give you a bonus when shooting dudes, but more on that later), and most of them are pretty awesome. Stuff like "I'm 50 motherfucking Cent motherfucker!" or "I'm gonna kill your whole fuckin' generation, motherfucker!" are the norm. I found it also pretty amusing that the characters talk to each other during the mission (even in single-player, you're accompanied by a G-Unit member), but 50 never addresses his teammate by name, usually resorting to generic shouts like "watch out" or "get over here, man". However, the G-Unit members will always call 50 by his name, almost in some sort of warped irony where the members of G-Unit are fighting for 50's attention. Or it could be that it was time-consuming and more expensive to re-record 50's shouts specifically for his teammates.
I think my absolute favorite has to be the final "boss" of the game, who looks like Dusty Rhodes and sounds like Yosemite Sam. The Southern plantation owner inflection on lines such as "Your organs would fetch a high price on the black market, Fif-tah!" is some of the most brilliant line-readings I've heard in a while. Albeit unintentionally so, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is absolutely hilarious.
The game itself is a lot less interesting than everything surrounding it, though that's not quite a knock on the mechanics. It's a cover-based third-person shooter, taking its cues from the little-loved arcade shooter The Club a bit too closely. Here too, you're given a score multiplier, and you're encouraged to rack up as many kills, headshots, close-quarter counter attacks, explosions and taunts as you can to keep a combo meter going. You're rewarded with inflammatory ammo for your pistol, "Gangsta Fire" (which is akin to "Bullet Time") as well as medals and cash to purchase new taunts, counter-kills and weapons, so you are supposed to replay levels multiple times in order to garner big numbers. Otherwise, the game is pretty standard as far as third-person shooters go, though the big difference is that 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is usually fun to play. The counter attacks look absolutely brutal, the guns have proper weight to them and are a hell of a lot of fun to shoot, though the starter weapons are more inaccurate than I would've liked. It's a huge step up from Bulletproof where the guns were flimsy and a chore to use, making this the Gears of War of the 50 Cent video game franchise.
The game doesn't have a lot to it, however. Nine missions (most of which have at least three different levels) of stop and pop shooting, only rarely broken up with a couple of driving sequences (replete with "big ass ramps") and "boss" fights with helicopters. The game has a mean streak, especially on hard mode, to employ overpowered enemies who can kill you in three or four shots, making 50 seem like a weakling in the process. There were infuriating sections of Blood on the Sand mostly due to poor enemy placement and lack of checkpoints, but again, this is only stuff you'd encounter on the hard mode. The game is a breeze on the lower difficulty levels, as it should be. It should just make 50 and his crew look and be unstoppable against wave after wave of indiscriminate Middle Eastern terrorists, and it does that well.
Blood on the Sand looks pretty nice, all things considered, though that Unreal Engine pop-in is a nuisance here, and the cutscenes have weird video artifacting that's extremely noticeable on the Xbox 360 version of the game. To no one's surprise, the game has an excellent soundtrack, featuring 40+ songs from 50 Cent, with 18 of those tracks being exclusive to the game. I preferred to stick to the songs I was more familiar with thoughout the duration of the campaign, but it's nice to know that 50 went all out to stack this soundtrack with hit after hit. The voice acting ranges from absurd to hilarious, but it's never poor or boring, and 50's crew does a good job with the ridiculous one-liners that they're given.
And this game failed because?
To its detriment, Blood on the Sand was a victim of poor timing. Originally due to be released by Vivendi Universal, that company ended up merging with Activision, leaving some games in limbo ( Ghostbusters: The Video Game was the most high-profile victim of this merger, getting dropped & luckily getting picked up by Atari). Blood on the Sand was graciously put out by THQ, but didn't quite have the marketing blitz that Bulletproof had, not to mention the 50 Cent brand was in dire straits by the time of Blood on the Sand's release in February 2009. Coming off a major commercial disappointment in Before I Self Destruct and poorly-received brand extensions, 50 Cent almost became a parody of himself, the poster child for the deluded "gangtsta" persona. His glorification of violence and that specific lifestyle wasn't selling anymore, as contemporaries like Kanye West or Lil' Wayne were at the forefront of the new generation of hip-hop. 50 Cent could not just slap his name on a product and turn it into gold anymore. It worked for Bulletproof, but gamers are smart not to buy into a bad product once again, as the game sold a scant 56,000 copies in its first month & a half on sale.
Not that 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a bad product by any means; it's just the opposite, in fact. 50 Cent is damaged goods as a brand. Only time will tell whether or not he'll rise to those lofty heights he hit in the early 2000s. Until then, I'll still be listening to Get Rich or Die Tryin', and I'd like to think I'd still be killing whole fucking generations in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand.