The Ship

The Ship

ship.jpgFinally, here’s a fresh first-person shooter that doesn’t rely on twitchy trigger fingers or overdramatic stealth sequences. The Ship trades in quick reflexes and steady aim for an emphasis on sly cunning and novel intrigue. Originally developed as a Half-Life mod, this UK-produced multiplayer game has been remade on the Source engine and released at retail and over Steam as another indie-dev-goes-commercial success story.

The Ship invites players to embark on one of six multiplayer cruises, courtesy of a mysterious Mr. X. Once onboard an online server, you begin a truly innovative cat and mouse game, where you must hunt down an assigned target for cash. The genius in the design is that you have to eliminate your mark without getting caught—by either security cameras or nosy observers. While you’re trying to eliminate your mark, someone else is trying to eliminate you. Because the vessel is occupied by both NPCs and real players, we found that a great tactic is to mimic NPC movements while stalking targets, until they take required bathroom and meal breaks. Then we make our move.

This new style of gameplay creates high tension anytime you’re in an unpopulated area of the ship, and a sense of amusing role-playing as you partake in the various social activities aboard the ships. We found it helpful to explore the various ships before moving online, as each features a unique layout and tons of hidden goodies. Picking up a hefty axe off the wall or butcher knife from the kitchen is OK in a pinch, but the best weapons are secreted away in stateroom cabinets and behind hidden passageways. Not only will you want to learn where the weapons are concealed, you’ll also need to learn the location of new outfits, which you can change into to throw your stalker off your scent.

You’ll also dig the delightful art deco aesthetic of the different ships and characters, which is a throwback to the lavish lifestyle of 1920s flappers. The developers take full advantage of the diverse color palette accommodated by the Source engine, and litter the maps with subtle nuances to enhance the stylistic atmosphere. We found ourselves wandering into rooms just to listen to speakeasy tunes on the radio. Too bad these fanciful strolls frequently ended with our beheading!

Even if you’re killed, there’s plenty for you to do while you wait for the next round. After we find an ideal weapon (the flare gun is our favorite), we usually try to sabotage other players by tracking their movements and catching them in the act of murder. Players caught with unconcealed weapons are fined and thrown in the brig, which puts them out of play for 30 seconds.

There are two game modes: the Hunt and Elimination. In the Hunt players are ranked by how much money they’ve made killing opponents. In Elimination, you’re assigned one player to kill; after you succeed, you inherit your victim’s target, and so on. The intensity ramps up as players vie to be the last passenger afloat.

We encountered some animation glitches while playing the game—models sliding around corridors in sleeping or sitting positions. Other players online have reported this bug, as well, but we couldn’t replicate it on other test machines. We also felt that the needs system—which controls when you need to eat, rest, and go to the bathroom—could use some tweaking. It’s annoying to have to eat, sleep, and excrete every five minutes while you’re on the prowl. And as with all multiplayer games, The Ship plays best with packed servers and gamers who play by the rules—the single-player mode is outright boring. For $20, The Ship is a worthwhile diversion—we just hope the dev team decides to release new maps in the future. All aboard!

Month Reviewed: November 2006
+ QUEEN MARY 2: Innovative and nail-biting gameplay with delightful art style.
- TITANIC: Animation bugs and balancing follies mar the admirable effort.
Verdict: 7
URL: www.theshiponline.com

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