G-Unit's Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, like group mate 50 Cent, aren't your traditional celebrity turned video game character. They actually play the games they're in. And they know who Sephiroth is.
In fact, during our recent sit down with Banks and Yayo, they played 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand the entire time, attention divided between shooting up scores of unidentifiable Middle Eastern bad guys and answering questions.
Banks and Yayo are self-described "video game heads," raised on 8-bit classics like Contra, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and Commando, arcade fighters like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Yayo's current obsession? Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a title in which he feels pretty confident he could kick my ass. (We're exchanging Gamertags to settle that...)
Yayo even bragged about his Gunnar Optiks gaming glasses, the eyewear that purports to reduce eyestrain when staring at a monitor for hours on end. What else are bored rappers going to do while on the road?
"It's an addiction to me," Yayo lamented, admitting that he, like the rest of us buys games on a whim... and never even plays some of them.
Unsurprisingly, the G-Unit tour bus is decked out with plenty of sports games — NBA Live, Madden, 2K Sports. They play Madden and Live for money, with a hard and fast rule that if you lose a virtual basketball game by 40 points or more, you're banned for life. But Banks surprised us with mention of one of his favorite games of the PlayStation generation, Final Fantasy VII.
"They probably up to [Final Fantasy] XVIII now, huh?" he joked when I questioned his Japanese role-playing game credentials. "Yeah, man. Sephiroth and all them dudes. I remember when [those games] came on, like, four CDs. They were all scratched up by the time you finished ‘em. That was a big thing to see that game come up."
The G-Unit rappers seem to represent that most mainstream of audience, the hard-casual gamer who buys and plays nothing but the biggest and best-selling of titles. They're less fussy and learned about their gaming choices than the forum dwelling hardcore gamer, with little interest in distinguishing Rock Band — a G-Unit tour bus and green room favorite — from Guitar Hero.
But they have better taste than the purely casual gamer, preferring Street Fighter to the Def Jam brand of fighting games, Call of Duty 4 and Grand Theft Auto IV to, well, certainly not the game they're appearing in.
"This is going to be my favorite game when this comes out," Yayo confidently proclaimed, referring to his second video game appearance in Blood on the Sand.
The Swordfish Studios-developed third-person shooter might not appeal to the daily Kotaku reader, mainly because of its celebrity endorsement. But with some two million-plus copies sold of 50 Cent: Bulletproof, it's obvious that there's a substantial portion of the market that doesn't mind celebri-gaming. While the first 50 Cent title — created by Genuine Games — was panned by critics, it was loved by the group's fans, according to Banks and Yayo.
"People loved the game!" swears Yayo.
"Most people I talked to beat it," added Banks, even though neither of the G-Unit founders finished the original.
"You know what we did that we kind of laughed at?" Yayo told us. "We wanted there to be less curses than the first one." But there won't be an E-rated 'clean' version.
Fortunately for fans, Blood on the Sand looks like it will be a higher quality product than its 2005 predecessor. Swordfish has a more established development pedigree than Genuine Games did when Bulletproof was released and the UK developer looks to have borrowed smartly from its third person action game peers. 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand could easily be described as "Rappers do Gears of War while hunting down Damien Hirst sculpture," an appropriate sampling of tested gameplay and pop culture. It's got a good beat and you can dance to it.
And it has exploding barrels.
What was Banks' and Yayo's involvement in Blood on the Sand, 50 Cent's upcoming shoot 'em up featuring a financially scorned rapper on the hunt for his diamond-encrusted skull? To hear it from Banks, it was a considerable amount of work on their part.
The concept, they say, was borne from a sit down with the G-Unit crew, influenced by the movie Blood Diamond and the group's own travels in Iraq.
"But I have to give credit to the computer people," Yayo says, the folks at Swordfish who turned four rappers into virtual action heroes.
"[We] just take pictures for hours," Banks noted, sounding still exhausted from all-day voiceover recording sessions and texture-building photo sessions. That effort of showing up to THQ's studios may have been time consuming, but it also contributed to former G-Unit rapper Young Buck being ejected from the group. He just never showed up, according to Banks.
Regardless of the poking, prodding and voice acting, Banks and Yayo still sounded as thrilled as two rappers can to be starring in their second video game, excitedly pointing out "That's Banks! That's Banks, right there."
"It's weird cause I'm from South Jamaica Queens and I remember when Banks and I didn't have shit," Yayo said. "I still remember not havin'. We can go through our old neighborhood and still hang with the people that don't have. You know what I mean? Whenever it comes out it'll be big for me. I'll be in the store buying my copies."
For now, we're just going to have to settle with trash-talking each other in the games dated B.B.O.T.S. (Before Blood on the Sand). Banks is ready to take you (or Soulja Boy) on in Pac-Man. Yayo will gladly bust you up in MK vs. DC.
And 50 Cent?
"Tetris," Banks reveals. "Yeah, he talks all kinds of shit."