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vg.deathmatch: Bulletstorm vs. 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
by Andrew Testerman

As gamers, we love competition, action, and a titanic struggle to the death. What better tussle is there than watching two games go head-to-head in mortal combat? In the tradition of the Mario and Sonic days of yore comes VG Deathmatch, GGTL’s recurring clash of the digital titans.

This week, we’re looking back at one of this year’s early releases: the points-accruing, profanity-laden Bulletstorm. A casual glance at Bulletstorm might make it seem like one of the most unique titles of this generation; its score-based gameplay and toilet mouth give Bulletstorm a unique personality that has been hitherto unseen in a console action game.

Or does it?

For another points-based, swear-happy shootin’ game already came out in 2008: Swordfish Studios’ 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. Swordfish shocked the gaming world by making Blood on the Sand (a follow-up to 2005’s abysmal 50 Cent: Bulletproof) a smooth, polished experience that was actually fun to play. Of course, there’s only room for one raucous, Tony Hawk-influenced action shooter in today’s era of grim, military FPSs, and we’re going to settle which one is best.

1: Story

Bulletstorm takes place in the distant 26th century (because the 25th is pretty lame), and follows the exploits of Grayson Hunt, a space pirate with a dark past. For a game whose main marketing thrust is making fun of grim, military FPSs, Bulletstorm has a surprisingly weighty and drama-intensive plot. Perhaps this is to give the characters added emotional weight, but it jarrs with the outlandish, over-the-top run-and-gunnery.

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, by contrast, involves 50 Cent trying to get back a diamond-covered skull from terrorists. I’m going to repeat that for effect: 50 Cent trying to get back a diamond-covered skull from terrorists. The story is total window dressing; it’s a flimsy excuse to put Fiddy in the Middle East where he can shoot up some Islamic extremists, and makes no bones about how absolutely shallow it is.

The Winner: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Yeah, Bulletstorm’s plot is more 'legit' and serious that the other, but it takes away from Bulletstorm’s gameplay strengths. Blood on the Sand plays out like the best B action movies from the 80’s, making no apologies for its intentions to drop some ridiculous fun on the player. Plus, it’s too preposterous not to win.

2: Main Character

Despite being a space pirate with a dark past, Grayson Hunt is an ultimately decent character (for the obvious sociopath he is). Though his actions always end up causing trouble, Grayson is a true friend who does his best to clean up the messes he starts. Plus, he’s voiced by Steve effing Blume, which gets an immediate +1 in my book.

50 Cent is... well... he certainly is 50 Cent. Aside from asserting that the gangsters do, in fact, rule the streets of New York, Fiddy doesn’t really do much, aside from letting his swagger carry him through hundreds and hundreds of armed terrorists, which is certainly good for something.

Winner: Bulletstorm
This one was a lockup from the moment I realised that Spike Spiegel would be voicing the main protagonist. Truth be told, they’re both pretty shallow, but Blum gives Grayson Hunt a healthy measure of charisma, which is good, because you’ll spend the entirety of the game cheering for a man who will execute his enemies in a myriad of horribly depraved ways.

3: Scoring System

Bulletstorm's tagline may be 'Kill With Skill', but there’s honestly not much skill involved. Not so much as creativity, at least. Points are accrued by offing enemies in a specific way, such as using the shotgun to finish a guy while he’s down, or harnessing the environment; throwing dudes into a carnivorous plant, for instance. It’s fun to figure out how each Skillshot works, and there is some skill involved in pulling off multiple Shots on a single enemy, but the point values for each are pretty static; extra points aren’t awarded if multiple Shots are attained, and once you’ve thrown one dude into a whirling fan blade, you’ve basically thrown all of them.

Blood on the Sand's scoring system is much more skill-based. Like Bulletstorm, you’re rewarded for playing creatively and using the environment (exploding barrels and such), but unlike Epic’s new shooter, you need to chain multiple kills together to gain multipliers and rake in the points. It’s more akin to Tony Hawk: you start to see the combos forming as you approach each new group of enemies, taking out several baddies in quick succession, racking up bonuses for headshots, not using cover, and throwing out a taunt after they’ve been dealt with.

Winner: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Bulletstorm’s Skillshots are an absolute blast to pull off, but after you get over the initial thrill of kicking a guy into electrical wires, it’s easy to begin to notice their lack of depth. Perhaps mastering the Skillshots is key to advancing through Echoes mode (a sort of Time Trial), but most players can coast through the single player using only a few different Shots. Blood on the Sand is much more skill-driven than Bulletstorm, and the temptation to improve and achieve higher scores (especially since getting gold medals requires near zen-like mastery of Fiddy's mechanics) is tempting.

4: Use of Offensive Language

The course language in Bulletstorm comes from the Blink 182 camp of cursing, meaning that there’s quite a bit of nonsensical compound swears made up of other swears. Most of the humour comes from the shock factor ("Holy d@$#-t#%s, this s@$% is happening!"), but the schtick becomes less 'shocking' as the game goes on. That said, the game certainly gets points for creativity.

50 Cent, though decidedly less inventive when it comes to creating profanity, is incredibly more profane, mostly due to the game’s all hip-hop soundtrack. So frequent are the F-, S- and N-bombs, that one becomes numb to both their meaning and offensive nature in the span of about five minutes. Blood on the Sand even integrates expletive-spewing into the gameplay; players can gain a small multiplier by having Fiddy taunt and enemy after gunning him down.

Winner: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
This one’s a bit tough to call. Bulletstorm is much more juvenile in its depiction of foul language, whilst Blood on the Sand is much more casual about its nonstop vulgarities. Bulletstorm gravitates more towards crude descriptions of the human anatomy, while Blood on the Sand places a greater emphasis on racial slurs. It almost boils down to personal preference, if you would even call it that. In the end, though, I'm awarding it to Blood on the Sand, for making the swearing a necessarily element of gameplay in order to achieve higher scores.

5: Arbitrary Collectibles

For some reason, both games include a set of arbitrary collectibles that improve your score. Bulletstorm has three: Electro Flies, Nom Juice, and Newsbots. Electro Flies are swarms of bugs that flit about the environment, waiting to be shot out of the sky. Nom Juice is a bottle found throughout the environment, which can either be shot for points or consumed, getting the player drunk, which can result in even more points if an enemy is killed under the influence. Last are the Newsbots, a series of small robots that can be blown up for points. Players eager to learn more about the game, however, can listen to the bots' garbled message and discover what was going on when the planet went bad.

Fiddy's aren’t nearly as exciting, as he’s looking for posters and targets. Posters are just that: posters hanging up on walls throughout the game, and can be taken down for points. Targets are bullseyes hidden on walls and ceilings, and can be shot for points. Unlike Bulletstorm's collectibles, which are only good for achievements, targets and posters are necessities for high-scoring runs, as each poster collected earns a greater number of points.

Winner: Bulletstorm
Even though they’re not necessary to finishing the game with a top score, Bulletstorm’s collectibles seem better-placed within the world’s fiction, and are more exciting to look at. Plus, I’m a sucker for learning about game worlds, and I hunted down every Newsbot I could to get an idea of what was going on.

And the winner is...

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
It was a close call, with Blood on the Sand narrowly scraping up three rounds, while Bulletstorm fought and clawed its way to two victories. Both games are incredibly fun to play (especially considering that one is a game based on a figure in American rap music), but 50 Cent ended up taking the edge. With its unashamedly over-the-top plot, robust and skill-intensive scoring system, and clever use of cuss words and gameplay, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is your VG Deathmatch champion.

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- Andrew Testerman

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