One Day, You receive a letter from a man who calls himself Mr. X. He says you've won a free cruise, with $2,500 of spending money thrown in for free. You're so excited that you start talking in italics. "It's like I've won Catchphrase! This Mr. X geezer must be some kind of... Philanthropic Mr Chips!' But Mr. X wears a very high top hat a hat in which evil plans are hatched. The second you're onboard, you - and every other guest onboard - have a simple mission: kill one of the other passengers. Do so, and he'll give you more money. Refuse, and... Well, you're just making life easier for the person who's got to murder you.
So the action begins, and so the action stays; find a weapon, find your quarry (you only have a name, and can only find out who people are by getting close enough to 'talk' to them), and bide your time until they go into an unsupervised corridor or a bedroom where you can finish them off. Follow too closely, and they'll realise you're up to something. Kill anyone who isn't your quarry, and you'll be penalised.
The Ship, formerly The Ship Online, has its roots in a Half-Life mod that scored a Classic in ZONE'S online section at the end of 2004. Now, it's been scrubbed up and trolleyed over to the Source engine and released both on Steam and in boxes. It sounds simple, but it's an excellent recipe for enjoyable tension and paranoia. Especially with the restraints the game puts on your behaviour, forcing you into the ship to interact with people and surroundings.
Do Your Business
First your needs - a set of basic human needs that compel you to roam the ship. If you hide in a cabin, you'll eventually die from loneliness and accrued filth. You need to relax, by dancing or reading, sleep, stay clean and occasionally have a wee. Neglect your needs and you'll suffer penalties, messy accidents and eventually death.
Weapons are all over the ship, from the publicly accessible (fire axes), to the less obvious (syringes in the first aid area), to the top-value killing weapons in secret areas. Getting hold of the rarer weapons (which generally earn you more money for the kill) can take you on a trek - which feels even longer because of the polite '30s pace of your walking. You can only run for a couple of seconds before resting, and this sharply increases the claustrophobia; escaping your murderer when you're unarmed can involve managing your sprint time and edging them into an area. Then blowing raspberries from behind a security guard like a period Scrappy Doo. Knowing the layout of the ship is essential to success.
One of the few additions to the mod is the arcade mode - a single-player version of the online action against Al. It's hardly worth bothering, though. If you really need training up, the Al is too A and not I enough to improve your play. Even if you're not burdened with skills, it's like Jocky Wilson throwing darts into a crowd of tetraplegics; use this mode only to explore the ships. The other match styles add little, too - for the variation they offer, all deathmatch, elimination and duel do is remove an element of the inspired default 'hunt' mode.
There's still a couple of glitclies to be fixed; as I played, a graphical quirk allowed me to interrupt a need-filling animation - you can find yourself roaming the ship in a sitting position, drinking some tea. At one point I was roaming the ship, dancing, with a stream of piss cascading from my trousers. It felt like the most decadent thing in the world, especially when I approached a guard to have a chat and piddled on his leg. Another victory won by me, and felt by no-one. I should add that Outerlight are aware of this, though, and by the time you hold this, the Steam iron should have already ironed out this filthy (but excellent) crease.
The Ship is a wonderful idea, and a thoughtful variation on multiplayer gameplay - what intensity you lose from speed, you gain from tension. It looks lovely - if rather right-angled - and the characters are inspired creations from the worlds of Wodehouse and Christie. The radio broadcasts and music littered around the ship sounds marvellous. The main concern is that the game is, by its very nature, slightly repetitive and limited in scope for a commercial release - but that's reflected in the price, and it's a unique experience that's well worth trying out.
Murderers need to floss too
The needs of a murderer are often overlooked, in this victim-oriented justice system that seeks to 'punish' the 'people who kill each other on a ship'. So perhaps the most sobering part of The Ship is the implicit admission that the demonised murderer is, in fact a human being, who showers, sleeps and dances to stave off the madness that comes from killing others. It's perhaps the most interesting psychological study in modem gaming. The only thing that's missing is a boss level where Mr. X appears with squad's legs and tries to smother you with a flag. Perhaps.
Download The Ship
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP