If you’re a veteran Steam user you’re probably aware of a competitive murder game called The Ship (or The Ship: Murder Party). Originally launched in 2006 the addictive stealth-em-up proved popular enough to warrant a remaster in 2016 with updated graphics in a newer engine. This year we got to take part in the closed beta for the upcoming sequel/re-imagining/off-shoot Murderous Pursuits.
Keeping with the genre’s hunter/hunter style gameplay, the player is given a target (another player) at random that they must track down and kill. The catch is, they don’t know what their target looks like and there are a lot of NPCs. So to find the target, you have to act like an NPC and keep an eye out for suspicious activity, striking at the right moment. But you don’t have all day, someone else has you as their target and the rounds are timed.
Murderous Pursuits is devious like that. Constantly putting the pressure on you to act, to attack your target and move on to the next so much so that you overstep and reveal yourself too early. Leaving you stunned as your character laments their bad decisions and allowing a more adept hunter an easy kill. Throughout the game you will have to balance your exposure, a meter down the bottom keeps track of it and once it fills you are revealed to your target and your hunter until you get it down. The most reliable way is to enter a vignette, an area around an object that will cause you to act like an NPC. A buffet table where you can enjoy a tasty meat pie or a painting to admire present excellent hiding spots that you can use to get near your prey or avoid your predator.
You aren’t blind in Murderous Pursuits though, you are able to follow your target by way of a meter at the top of the screen which acts like a compass, leading you in the right direction and filling as you get closer. Once you’re in the same room though, you’re on your own and will have to be observant. Usually they will get nervous as once a hunter gets close, the prey gets a warning but – unless you were obvious in your entry – they don’t know whom.
The goal is to get the most points by the end of the round to impress the mysterious Mr. X, the masked villain of the series. Killing your target will net you points based on your weapon and exposure but you will need to find a different weapon after each kill as Mr. X does not like laziness. Stunning a hunter will remove you as their target, net you a few points and save you time as you no longer have to wait to respawn and be allocated a new target.
At this point the series has been polished to almost perfection. Finding targets was strangely instinctual even for someone who hasn’t played since the original but never felt unbalanced. Good players can and will make mistakes and a hidden player with the right weapon can climb the leaderboard in a sudden leap making even an early leader sweat.
For those who are familiar with The Ship Remasted, you may or may not be upset to know that the Needs system has been removed, simplifying and streamlining the game significantly. Personally I don’t know how to feel about this as it does make Murderous Pursuits a lot more intense but there was something honest about the Needs system. Poisoning your quarry’s drink then following them to the doctor’s office just to kill them in the hallway.
What really ties Murderous Pursuits together though is its setting. Set on the HMS Brittanica, a time travelling airship currently in the Jurassic, you will explore the opulent airship from the music hall to the laboratory/museum to the engine hall. Great dinosaur skeletons, tin shack servant quarters, and a horde of Victorian-era ladies, gentlemen, criminals, and thugs. Exploring the available maps was a treat in itself and had the surreal atmosphere of a house party where a normally quiet room is filled with guests coming and going.
With an art style that feels like a cross between Dishonoured and Team Fortress 2 with characters having slightly exaggerated anatomy and colourful designs, Murderous Pursuits gets two huge brutish thumbs up from me.
Murderous Pursuits may only be in closed beta at the moment but it is already an amazingly polished game that benefits from over a decade of design wisdom. If you liked the old games or have always wanted a competitive stealth game, then check it out, you won’t be disappointed.
Murderous Pursuits releases this month and can be found on Steam HERE