While not quite as popular as Epic's Unreal Engine, Valve's Source Engine has been used by a number of third parties to create games such as SiN Episodes from Ritual and the upcoming Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The newest game to use the Source Engine is The Ship, a multiplayer oriented game from UK developer Outerlight (a previous version of the game was released as a Half-Life 1 mod). We got a chance to play a beta build of the game and can report that it's unlike any first person shooter we have ever played.
Calling the game The Ship is a little misleading; the game actually has six different cruise ships to explore and play in. There is a back story in the game of a "Mr. X" who has supposedly started this game but you can safely ignore it. All you need to know is that you are on board these ships and have to kill other passengers on board. The trick here is that cameras and other people in the ships are always around so you have to kill your intended targets while no one is watching. There are also no BFGs to use; you have to make use of other objects that you find on board the ships like fire axes, knifes and other objects (supposedly there are firearms on board the ships in certain areas but we didn't encounter them in our playtime with the beta build). You can even use locations on the ships to trap your opponents. Oh, and did we mention that other passengers are hunting you as well? There are four modes in the game, three are fairly standard with deathmatch (free for all killing) duel (one on one killing) and elimination (kill everyone and be the one left standing). The one somewhat unique mode is Hunt where you find and hunt a specific quarry in a set amount of time.
The Ship is more than just murdering other passengers, however. At times the game looks and plays like an adventure title. You have an inventory where you can hold items like your weapons. Money can be used to buy items like food and clothes or for paying the doctor in the ship's sick bay should you become injured. You will also need money if you venture in an area of the ship, such as the bridge, that passengers are not allowed to be in. You can be fined for such activities or even taken into the ship's brig by security. Some objects in the game can be interacted with, such as a radio that seems to always be running 1920's jazz tunes. Money is also how you win in all but one of The Ship's multiplayer modes. The player with the most money wins in every mode but Elimination.
You can't just walk around the various boats killing folks, either. The Ship makes you take care of somewhat mundane items like eating, sleeping, socializing and even going to the bathroom. These "needs" as the game calls them can affect you if they are not taken care of you could get sick or even die. You can even change your character's clothes and hair style in the game which can throw off your enemies who are gunning after you. Again, these gameplay elements makes The Ship stand out in the crowd of other action games.
Visually, The Ship's art style is a bit different as well. Don't expect the hyper realistic look of Half-Life 2 here as the developers have opted for a look that's more like an old time illustration with cartoony character models and an art deco style for the various ships in the game. Besides your enemies you can interact with the various NPCs on the ships themselves, from cashiers to doctors to even the captain of the vessels. The ships themselves are pretty big levels for the most part (ranging from paddle boats to massive cruise vessels) and it will take some time for players to explore each one of them. With the exception of the ATMs and vending machines, the look of the game is very retro and is certainly a refreshing change from the normal action game.
While the game is multiplayer oriented for up to 16 players there is an "arcade mode" for people to play the various multiplayer modes against bots. We played the beta against the bot and while it gives you a good idea as to the game's various features we are anxious to play the game against human opponants. There's no doubt that The Ship takes some chances with the established multiplayer action game design but will its unique take on the genre attract a wide enough audience? Based on our brief play with the beta build we think this title has enough fun and involving gameplay to do just that. The game is currently available for pre-load and pre-ordering from Valve's Steam download service for just $14.95. It will be unlocked Tuesday, July 11 on Steam and after that will cost $19.95 to purchase. A retail version of The Ship (with added content) is scheduled for release in stores in Europe this September and in January 2007 in the US.