[Guest reviewer Colin Brown of Backlog Journey looks at the games in The Graduation Bundle, available now from the IndieGames co-created site, Indie Royale.]

The Ship is a Source mod turned full fledged release. However, unlike most Source based games, The Ship hardly revolves around shooting, or twitchy reflexes, or dinosaurs. That's not to say there won't be plenty of murder, because pwning noobs is definitely still on the table. It's just combat in a totally different way.

You see, The Ship is a stealthy cat and mouse murder spree set on a cruise ship with all the usual amenities. The official story behind the game is that your ship has been co-opted by Mr. X, a madman who plots a most dangerous game for his guests. Passengers are given the name and general location of one of their fellows, and are told they need to bump off the individual while avoiding whomever is supposed to do the same to them. So you and 15 other guests or so need to stalk around the ship, raiding cabinets and boxes for knives, swords, blunt objects, disguises and the occasional blunderbuss. Particular weapons are given a higher bounty when used to axe your suspect, but if there are too many witnesses or if it's caught on camera, you're sent off to the brig for a fine and a jail sentence.


While the concept of a mass stealth game was pretty new when The Ship originally came out in 2006, it has since become a bit more common with big budget versions like the Assassin's Creed multiplayer, and smaller indie titles like Spy Party. But The Ship distinguishes itself with a neat and slightly bizarre needs system. Murder works up an appetite, so your individual character has a slate of needs ripped right from The Sims. If you run too much, you'll need to find a coffee to re-energize. But coffee makes you pee, so go find a bathroom. But now you're all dirty, so you need to wash your hands. It's a delicate act to keep yourself healthy while still finding time for murdering your pals, but it's a great way to discourage camping and to force players to drop their guard.

It's not all roses though. The Source engine helps to give the game a great, stylized look very much in the TF2 vein. But it does present some awkward clunkiness in the combat and the network infrastructure. Setting up a multiplayer match proved impossible for me due to glitch after glitch, but there's a small dedicated server community to dive into that's not too racist or awful. Combat itself is a bit awkward for anything more than a couple of sharp whacks across the noggin, due to the glacial walking pace of the characters and the off collision detection. Lastly, the singleplayer is very short and little more than an intro to the mechanics but it's clear that the meat of the game is multiplayer, although arcade mode with bots is pretty fun as well.


But those are nitpicks that don't really impact the base idea of the game. With a few friends over a LAN network or Hamachi connection, The Ship is a great diversion from the usual fare of FPS games. It's got an innovate hook and great built in systems to encourage the murder and mayhem. Altogether, it's just something that's completely different from anything else out there, which alone makes it worth trying. Come for the innovation, stay for the cash bonuses and axe-murdering.

Side note: buying The Ship from the Indie Royale nets you two full versions of the game to pass out to friends. Each of those copies includes one other full gift version for said friends to pass along as well. It's a ridiculously generous offer, and a great way to convince your friends to join in.

[The Ship joins several titles available now in Indie Royale's Graduation Bundle.]