The Ship Review - Murder on the High Seas
Updated: Jul 7
The Ship is a multiplayer game from 2006 that, in its primary mode, drops players on a large ship and tasks each of them with hunting down a specific different player. Everyone in the game (except, optionally, a handful of "passenger" players) has a target and is someone else's target, but all you know at the beginning of the game is who you are and the name of your target, but not what the target looks like or which player they are. You also don't start with any weapons, so you'll need to scrounge around the ship to find things like blunderbusses and golf clubs that have conveniently been left in drawers and suitcases. If you can find and kill your target, you get a reward based on how rarely your weapon has been used. You're also allowed to kill your hunter if you can identify them, but if you get paranoid and kill someone else accidentally, you'll be penalized.
The idea of playing The Most Dangerous Game many times over on a giant ship is appealing enough on its own, but The Ship's real appeal comes from all the little systems it adds on to this core idea. There are cameras and NPCs all throughout the ship who can report you if you're caught with a weapon or behaving aggressively in the wrong place, so you'll often have to carefully tail your target until they leave a protected area without being so obvious that they realize what you're doing. On the other hand, since there are a bunch of player "needs" like hunger, boredom, and bladder, you also can't just hang out in the safe areas forever to avoid being killed. Eventually, you'll have to take a risk and go find something to drink.
The maps themselves also have loads of secrets to add to the game. There are hidden passages to help you get between areas quickly, little alcoves you can hide in to make yourself hard to catch, and even secret weapons. One map has lifeboats you can drop on to unsuspecting rivals, and another has a poison needle you can use to sneakily kill your target without anyone realizing you were even involved. You'll have time to play quite a few rounds on one map with the default timers, but it doesn't get stale since you're developing a better understanding of the map as the round goes on.
Of course, the elephant in the room is that the game servers went down years ago and the fan servers that are still available are both somewhat hard to find and generally empty. This is a game that's only really playable if you can organize a group of friends or join a game group to find other players, which can be a fairly major barrier to getting a game going. That said, it's also the kind of game that I think you'd primarily want to play in those groups anyway. It's much more fun to be hunting and accidentally killing your friends while in a Discord call than it is to do be doing the same to randos over in-game text chat. Playing in a group also helps keep everyone's knowledge of the map roughly the same.
Other than the dead servers, the only things I particularly dislike about The Ship are some QoL issues that you probably wouldn't see if this wasn't a 16 year old game. Accessing the map is slow and unintuitive, and it's not terribly easy to read even when you get there. Inventory management is clunky and clicks can be slow to register, and for some reason you can only register four weapons to hotkeys. Having everything on a weapon wheel would have been much smoother to use in a fight. Beyond that, it sometimes feels like NPC and camera vision cones are bugged and you can be in or out of sight when it doesn't seem like you should be. There's a handy indicator that tells you when there will or won't be witnesses, but that doesn't help you fix the issue when you're being watched and it already feels like you're out of sight.
Thankfully, all of these are pretty minor issues as long as you've got a group to play with. The Ship is a little harder to get set up than modern multiplayer games and you'll have a bit more trouble learning to play, but once you get over those hurdles it's still amazingly fun. It even holds up quite well graphically thanks to both the flexibility of the Source engine and its cartoony art style. Considering that you can get it for as little as $2.50 and it often comes with bonus keys for friends, it's one of the best deals in gaming. Give it a look if any of those sounds even a little appealing.
Time to beat: Rounds last 20-30 minutes most of the time. There's a single player campaign, but it's not why you're here.
MSRP: $9.99, much cheaper on sale
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