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Critical Reception: Merscom/Outerlight's The Ship

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to The Ship, a unique, budget-priced PC indie first-person game that previously debuted on Steam, but only just saw North American retail release for the first time.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to The Ship, a unique, budget-priced PC indie first-person game that previously debuted on Steam, but only just saw North American retail release for the first time from Merscom. Though few new titles have been gathering great amounts of attention or anticipation in recent weeks, this week offers PC gamers another opportunity to acquaint themselves with Outerlight's The Ship, which was originally released via Valve's Steam content delivery service last year. The Ship is a multiplayer-centric first-person shooter, lauded by critics for its quick, arcade-like gameplay. Players are tasked with dispatching a single specific character aboard a ship at sea, all while the player's own potential killer lurks among the ship's passengers. The Ship's premise has been cited by reviewers as being simple but effective, and has thus far earned the title an average review score of 75 out of 100 among all reviews indexed by Metacritic. 1UP's Patrick Joynt awards The Ship a score of 6.5 out of 10, describing the experience as, "Not quite perfect, but a great way to spend 20 bucks." Potential players shouldn't expect a graphical showcase, however. "From the deck of any of the luxury liners you find yourself on, the brilliantly sparkling water is the only clear sign that you're in a Source engine game," Joynt warns. "The decks, corridors, cabins, and characters are done in an art style is too simple to really show off the engine, but that style perfectly captures the game's vibe." "That unique art," he continues, "along with the appropriate period music for atmosphere, help turn the offbeat, dark pleasure of being in a confined space trying to kill off your shipmates one at a time (even as they hunt you) into a campy retro-romp." Joynt feels that the experience is worthwhile, despite its simple-minded gameplay. "There isn't much depth to it all," he concludes. "But the formula itself is fun and the art and sound teams did an amazing job creating an immersive experience." Brett Todd at GameSpot came away impressed, despite The Ship's potential to disappoint. "Cross-genre games typically take a walk on the mild side," he notes. "Generally, the more a developer hypes hybrid gameplay, the more predictable the game itself is likely to be." "But that's not the case with The Ship," Todd explains. "Unlike a lot of its hybrid predecessors, this multigenre multiplayer game from Outerlight really is something completely different. While the game draws on identifiable sources such as Quake, The Sims, and Clue, it mashes these elements together with a few new ideas to create an innovative experience that doesn't play like any of its inspirations." Scoring The Ship at 8.3 out of 10, Todd describes the game as innovative and exciting. "A first-person perspective and maps loaded with narrow corridors and small rooms make the game feel like a shooter, although instead of blasting everyone in sight, you're assigned to kill a specific victim on the sly for cash," he writes. "Matches are cat-and-mouse games where paranoia is paramount, since you never know which of the other players has your name on his or her hit list." "The Ship is one of the best and most innovative multiplayer games available right now, particularly at its cut-rate price of $20," Todd summarizes. "This is one cross-genre game that really deserves the hype." Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell scores The Ship high at 7 out of 10, even though his review is marked by ambivalence. "Initially, your affection for The Ship will bob up and down," he says. "On paper, it sounds ingenious. With NPCs dotted around, penalties in place for unholstering your weapons in front of security cameras or guards, and an emphasis on deliberate stalking rather than frenzied mass-slaughter, tension has the potential to run high." "But over the first hour or so of actual play, you may come off disappointed," Bramwell cautions. "Being captured by the ship's guards means being jailed for a significant chunk of the round, which can all but ruin your chances of finding your mark. More frustrating is the loss of funds collected from wallets dropped by corpses and any well-handled kills in previous rounds - cash determines your position on the leaderboard, and loss through (even accidental) kills or jail sentences can put you so far into the red that you'll feel like jumping ship." Bramwell also claims that The Ship's requirements regarding the management of bodily and social needs is particularly annoying at times, causing the experience to occasionally resemble, "a laxative-fuelled paintball match for expectant mothers." "But then with time your view of it perks back up again," Todd concludes, explaining that The Ship is often fun enough to make one forget its shortcomings. "With a mostly good-humoured community eager to play it properly, it feels like it's worth recommending." Though it has been available for download from Steam for several months now, The Ship's retail release has the potential to grow its audience and re-ignite interest in its online multiplayer component. Given its budget price and enthusiastic recommendations from critics, gamers seemingly have little to lose in testing The Ship's waters.

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