Cross-genre games typically take a walk on the mild side. You usually get something to the order of role-playing-game leveling up in a real-time strategy game, real-time-strategy combat in a role-playing game, or maybe a few adventure-style puzzles in a shooter. Generally, the more a developer hypes hybrid gameplay, the more predictable the game itself is likely to be.
Uh, who's supposed to be killing whom here?
But that's not the case with The Ship, a Steam-distributed game for the Source engine formerly available as a free Half-Life mod. 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. It isn't perfect, due partly to a barely there solo mode and partly to the depths to which griefers will sink, but it does prove that there is room left for original ideas in game development.
The basic idea behind The Ship is that you play out a murder mystery on a luxury liner that's decked out in the art-deco style of the 1920s. But this isn't an adventure game, despite the Agatha Christie premise. 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, and his or her current location is updated at the bottom right of the screen every 30 seconds. Instead of blasting away with shotguns and BFGs, you mainly do your dirty deeds with improvised weapons such as golf clubs, letter openers, barbecue tongs, and croquet mallets (the more clunky the weapon, the more money you get for using it in a murder). Secrecy is paramount, as you're locked in the brig for a minute or two and fined whenever you're spotted wielding a deadly weapon or offing somebody by closed-circuit cameras or guards (your visibility is indicated by an eye that turns green when in the clear and red when being watched).
Of course, you're not the only murderer on your ship. An unknown fellow passenger has also been given the job of killing you, which means that while you need to keep one eye out for your victim, you have to keep the other looking around for the stranger trying to smash your face in with a rolling pin, gut you with a knife, impale you with an umbrella, or cave your head in with a wrench. 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. You can even ramp up the goofiness by changing clothing and putting on hats and eye patches to disguise your appearance if an assailant or victim gets a good look at you.
And then there are bodily needs. Just like The Sims, The Ship requires you to sleep, grab a drink, eat a meal, converse with other people, hit the bathroom, and entertain yourself with reading or dancing. Fail to do so, and you suffer some horrible fate, such as dropping dead due to starvation, soiling yourself, going nuts because of a lack of human interaction, or turning into a pile of dust due to dehydration.
Once an action is started, you can't stop, either. This means that you inevitably wind up killing and getting killed in some pretty choice situations. Finally give in and visit the toilet, and the door might be kicked open by a chick with a pool cue. Take a nap, and you might wake up torched by a flare gun. Hit a vending machine for a much-needed soft drink, and you might get your throat cut with a straight razor before you take a sip. Every match features loads of moments that make you laugh out loud, even when you're the one being thumped on the head in the john. The whole situation is gleefully nihilistic and absurd, with the craziness being accentuated by killers and victims who often look like scrunched-up caricatures of gangsters and flappers from the Jazz Age.
Refuse to catch some z's on a regular basis, and you might just fall asleep at the worst possible moment.