If you're fed up with run-of-the-mill first-person shooters, you'll be pleased to hear that The Ship adds a thoughtful and effective spin to online deathmatch variants.
Available via Valve Software's Steam platform, the premise of The Ship is that you're a "guest" of Mr X, the mysterious, rich and obviously rather twisted owner of the art deco cruise liner you're on. Coerced into co-operation, you're given the name of a fellow passenger; your job is now to find and identify that passenger and kill them by any means necessary. There are many problems with that, but the biggest one is that there's another passenger on the same boat who's looking for you for exactly the same reason.
Much like Counter Strike, this is predominantly a round-based, online multiplayer affair, which means there's a strong chance that your opponent is likely to be just as smart and sneaky as you are (and certainly more than the AI-controlled characters in the single-player mode). The tools for the job are located in various areas around the ship, and range from mannequin arms and cleavers, to hypodermics and rolling pins. You're given money to use on the ship, which can be used to bribe guards, pay for medical attention and new clothes (disguises), as well as food and drink - and there are penalties for neglecting your character's needs. Most of this money is kept in a bank, leaving you with an allowance of £250 in your pocket - which can be picked up by your killer. You're even given your own cabin, though whether this is a generous stateroom or a shabby third-class cubbyhole is left to chance.
You'll be given money for successful kills, though the amount depends largely on the weapon used - apparently, Mr X doesn't like to watch the same old kills over and over, which is why constantly checking the "Money for kills" table is a good idea. Find Mr X's favourite weapon of the moment, and you could increase the value of your kill considerably. Whoever has the most money at the end of a round wins, so it pays to put a little effort into your assassination rather than just grabbing a fire axe off the wall.
The environments in the six different ships are nicely rendered though not overly rich in detail, and thought has been put into the characters, style and ambience, giving the game a strong Poirot-like 1920s look and feel.
Sadly, it suffers, as most online games do, from the difference in time zones between Australia and the rest of the world, and there are a number of bugs that need fixing. But if you're looking for a novel twist on the deathmatch theme, The Ship is certainly worth a look.
To view a screenshot, click here.
Verdict: An intriguing and quirky twist on a familiar theme, The Ship has a few rough edges, but the game mechanics make for an entertaining experience - assuming you can find a server with enough opponents on it.
Score: 3 1/2 out of 5
Publisher: Valve Software