The Ship, created by Outerlight, is a multiplayer online murder mystery hosted on user owned servers utilizing Valve’s Steam distribution system. Currently the game is only available for purchase and download through Steam but will be available in stores in September.
Let me begin by saying that The Ship is not complete, and I will not be judging it on the amount of content in the game but rather how good the current content is. Outerlight will be releasing an “add-on” through Steam that will be available sometime in September. Currently you can buy the multiplayer only for 20 bucks (which does include a single player version of the multiplayer that you can play with some bots), and will be able to get the single player add on for around 10 bucks (not final).
That said, the multiplayer is really awesome. Picture a murder mystery set on board a 1920’s cruise ship, you’re placed here by some mysterious “Mr. X” who has given you the name of another passenger aboard the ship who you must assassinate for a bounty. This quarry also has the name of another player, and so on, so everyone has someone they need to kill, and someone who is hunting them. I’m reminded of billiards by this, where every other deathmatch game is 8-ball, meaning you’re trying to hit anyone on the “other team” into the pocket, then this game is 9-ball, where you must carefully take out one ball at a time in a certain order. It’s a more sophisticated game and requires a finesse that some people just don’t understand.
This comes to the main problem with the game, which is other people. If everyone knew how to play the game right then it would go smoothly like a fine game of 9-ball, but people are used to a more team style deathmatch game where the first player they see should immediately be killed. This ruins the sophisticated atmosphere that so desperately wants to remain prevalent in The Ship.
The good news is that there are measures taken to prevent the deathmatch people from ruining the game. If you run around with your weapon un-holstered you will be arrested quite quickly. There are many cameras and security guards positioned around each cruise liner that whisk people off to an on-board court whenever they’re find “committing a crime”. People can also be arrested by other players or NPC’s onboard the boats, if someone breaks the law, a small popup in the lower right hand corner pops up and gets filled over time, when filled the person is sent to jail. This time can be set by the server and according to the developers, Outerlight, this will become even more customizable in the near future.
So how do you kill your quarry with all these measures keeping you “in line”? You must track your bounty for a while until they are in a safe position for you to slaughter them from behind. This brings us to the “needs” system. It’s almost exactly as if you’re playing The Sims, you have several different needs ranging from going to the bathroom and taking a shower to eating dinner and taking naps. This may sound like an annoying obstacle to stop you from killing your prey, and it is, but it’s an integral part of the game that is much of the finesse I spoke of earlier. Part of tracking your prey is waiting for them to take a dump (which has some great animations and sounds by the way) and then jumping in while they’re sitting there and clubbing them to death with a shovel. This is the kind of thing that is so amazingly satisfying to do in this game and the thing I love the most about it.
On the other hand, it can be frustrating when someone shoots you with a flare gun while you’re trying to have a nice 3 course meal or washing your hands, but that’s part of the game and is usually an acceptable trade-off for being able to do the same to someone else.
One small problem that I’ve found recently is that it is cumbersome to find a proper server to play in. I have spent upwards of 1-2 hours just on finding a good server that doesn’t shut down and has some reasonable settings (some take it upon themselves to “improve” the game by hosting a server with horrible settings that really make the game much worse). But once you do find a good server, this is when the game really gets a chance to shine.
The range of items in the game is really quite impressive for a first person shooter such as this. There are far too many weapons to list here but some of the most notable ones are easy-to-find fire axes that kill in one slash, small letter openers that can stab, large mannequin arms to club people over the back of the head, flare guns which set people on fire (I love the way people run around freaked out as they get burned to a crisp in about 5 seconds), syringes that when injected cause your victim to vomit uncontrollably for about 10 seconds until they die (very gross, but fun), and of course your classic revolvers, Tommy-guns, and my favorite, the candle-stick. As for other items, there are a wide variety of clothing items that you can change into so as to trick your hunter into mistaking you for someone else, and some items to make your “needs” easier to manage, such a bag of chips to satisfy your hunger, caffeine pills to keep you awake, and more unrealistic colonoscopy bags and catheters to let you crap in your pants and piss yourself while you’re out hunting without ruining your fancy suit.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is definitely the setting. There are 5-6 cruise liners that you can currently play on, with more to come in the future, all featuring excellent 1920’s style furniture, music, even stage singers, all of which really make you feel like you’re acting out an old time murder mystery. The ships aren’t perfect, but the developers have said that they are still in the process of tweaking weapon spawn locations (fire axes are far too numerous while letter openers and umbrellas are a rarity) as well as other aspects such as bathrooms and dining facilities. I’m still confused as to whether this game is supposed to take place in the 1920’s or is some sort of creepy replica for this “Mr. X”’s amusement, either way it’s pretty neat-o. The clothing that players wear is all old-timey styled, from dapper suits and sweater vests for men, to classy evening gowns complete with a fur around the neck for women, all of which make the game very refined feeling, not to mention look excellent with unique art styles utilizing the Source engine.
The Ship is extremely entertaining, the predator/prey style gameplay is extremely unique for a first person shooter, and is very well executed, making for gameplay you’ll want to play for a very long time. However the game is not for everyone. If you’re the type of person who has to get the most kills possible and shove it in other player’s faces then this game is not for you, whereas if you’d rather be a sneaky little bastard who clubs people over the back of the head while they’re reading a magazine even if it takes you 2 minutes to follow them around to do so, the you will adore this game. The game is still in the early stages of release, and several bugs are out that are being addressed by Outerlight and should be fixed in future patches, as well as more content to be added such as more systems to prevent “griefers” who are only interested in deathmatch gameplay from ruining it for others. Browsing on the Outerlight forums it appears that the developers are actively listening to what players are saying and will be addressing issues that most players find important. This is a refreshing change from large corporation games like Battlefield 2 who ignore most of the playerbase. Some of you may recall that The Ship was originally going to be a free mod for half-life 2 (and was a mod for half-life 1 with far less features) but was picked up by a publisher and is now available as a stand-alone product not requiring Half-Life 2 to play. This is actually great because even though we have to pay a small amount (20-30 bucks is a steal for this game in my opinion) it still feels like a modification from how to the developers treat the game, but because they’re taking in some revenue they actually have the resources to implement all kinds of awesome features and stuff that would be impossible with a free mod.
If you’re at all interested in a new kind of first person shooter to take a break from the ocean of deathmatch games out there, I suggest downloading this right away. If you’re still uneasy and need convincing you can download the original half-life 1 mod for free (you have to have half life to play) and get yourself excited about the full version with more features and better graphics. Personally I don’t have all that much time play games during the week, but I’ve been spending most my free-time playing this game because I love it. I think I’m going to try to get one more sweet kill in before I go to bed, hope to see you on board the ship, and watch you back because someone might be trying to pump you full of vomit-inducing poison…