Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 11 minutes
If you’ve read my author profile on this blog, you’re aware that I’m a fan of games of all sorts. In board games, I’ve noticed an increased popularity of hidden-role games. Games like Love Letter, Two Rooms and a Boom, and Spyfall all involve keeping your identity and intentions secret from the other players in the room or at the table. These games often have very easy-to-learn rules, and most of the games mechanical weight is carried by the players’ abilities to bluff, act, and occasionally straight up lie to their friends.
One hidden role game that goes a long way back is known, at least to me, as Assassins. This game, often played over the course of days or even weeks, sees all the players assigned a hitlist of other players they need to “kill”. In the version I was familiar with, the “kills” were done with plastic spoons; contact with another player’s spoon meant “death”. However, if you were caught, you were penalized in some way, usually being forced into a makeshift “jail”, or being forced to forfeit your spoon.
What if the game was played on a luxury cruise ship in the 1920s? What if the game was organized by a multi-millionaire megalomaniac? What if, instead of “killing” other players with spoons, you actually killed with a bevy of ludicrously dangerous weapons?
If the preceding question pique your interest even slightly, The Ship might be of interest to you.
I’m afraid there really isn’t a whole lot of new ground to cover when writing about The Ship. Released in 2006/2007, it is an older game, based on a mod for Half-Life 2. Similar to some of the other older multiplayer-focused games on Steam, the player base is not what it once was. The Ship is not completely abandoned; there are still two or three servers with active players. However, a remastered release from 2016 has seen fewer players involved with the original game.
In the past, my computer has not handled multiplayer games well. This is my primary reason for not playing The Ship sooner. To be perfectly honest, it probably would have taken very little effort on my part to figured out how to make multiplayer work, but I didn’t, so this is my first time revisiting The Ship in years. It’s been in my Steam library a very long time, I’ve just never gotten around to it.
This is a shame, because I feel that at one point in my life, The Ship could have been my favourite game. The setting, handled poorly, could be unrelentingly grim or gruesome, but the decision to animate the characters in an exaggerated, comedic style brings to mind old black-and-white cartoons of the era. Everything from the weapons (which range from croquet mallets to claymores to exploding wallets) to the various different ships (ranging from arctic icebreakers to luxury cruises to Mississippi paddlewheels), conveys the following message: this game is supposed to be a little ridiculous, have fun with it.
In addition to your most pressing objectives, the players onboard will have to contend with lesser need. Your character is hungry? Their strikes will be weaker. Your character hasn’t slept in a long time? You can’t sprint anymore. Your character hasn’t slept in a really long time? You pass out wherever you were standing, making you easy prey for your hunter. These little needs force you to deal with smaller objectives along the way. While they didn’t affect the grand majority of my playthroughs, I remember one terrifying moment when my character’s hunger bar was in the red, I only had a baseball bat, and I was running out of time in the round.
As fun as all this window dressing, it does create a barrier between me and the other players. At the end of the day, I think I prefer hidden role games in a real world. It’s much more fun to be in a room full of people you know, and have to figure out who is the president, or double agent, or princess (if there are any games which let you be all three simultaneously, let me know). There’s also plenty fun about being the spy, and knowing you have to keep that fact a secret. While hunting the most dangerous game on opulent vacation vessels is a good time, I can honestly have more fun at my dining room table with my friends, some of which are alarmingly good liars (Eric. And Becky.)
And what’s more, I know I’ll be revisiting the singleplayer and tutorial modules of this game down the road. Still, it has been a good time. Sing along if you know the words…
Next Episode: Half-Life 2: Episode 1