14 February 2012

Review: Oil Rush (Windows)

Oil Rush is one of those kinds of games. You know, the games which should be a genre or sub-genre, but aren't, but there's this cluster of a bunch of them which are very similar and all use the same mechanical tropes and the moment you see one, you can instantly place it in that cluster because of it. Oil Rush belongs to a cluster, which, for me, is exemplified perfectly by Eufloria1.

Basically, you have a graph. Each node produces units and they defend that node from any enemy attacks. You can select units and order them to go to this node or that, and if they go to a hostile node they will fight the defenders and attempt to capture that node. You can build turrets to defend your nodes.

It's an old concept, and not a very complicated one. It's also a concept that tends to be reproduced almost verbatim by these games (perhaps they can be called TSP-strategies, because hey, lol, TSP).

The moment I launched Oil Rush, I was confronted by a very strange thing. I mean, it wasn't really strange, it was just a graphics options dialog2. It was strange how Oil Rush's dialog made me instantly want to like it - a game that supports OpenGL, in this day and age! Resolutions grouped together by aspect ratio! Ability to choose between different versions of DirectX! You can just see these guys care about your experience.

But then I played the game. I mean, it wasn't bad, exactly. I guess it was quite good for what it was. It just seemed like it could be so much more.

The single-player campaign is awful. I mean, between the voice acting, and the dialogues, and the ridiculous plot development, it's honest-to-god, genuine, bring-your-friends-to-point-at-it-and-laugh, so-bad-it's-good awful. I honestly burst out laughing at several points. Beyond that, because you have a tenuous control of your units, and you can build towers, the developers appear to have convinced themselves that they were making a tower defense crossed with an RTS, so the campaign gradually slides into straight-up tower defense. It's kind of fun at first, but really this graph strategy type of game, the way most people seem to do it, doesn't have much depth. "Strategy" converges on regularly gathering up most of your units and throwing them at the next node. That sort of thing can't help but get old after a while, and lo, it does.

Certain quirks of Oil Rush's variations were annoying in practice:
  • Global abilities cost oil, for instance, despite already having a cooldown. I don't know what the deal's with that. I guess because there are things like like the instant free permanent highest-tier unit powers, but they cost so little that I don't see how it's supposed to matter. And, meanwhile, actual units themselves do not cost any oil to keep running, nor do the factories or turrets.
  • Resource nodes can't have turrets. Again, why? What's so special about it? In the end I just leave 5 turrets' equivalent of units there to patrol. All that's accomplished is that you've now undermined your very useful "select all units on the map" hotkey, and I am forced to click on every node manually anyway. Not to mention...
  • It's too hard to select parts of forces. Both to select a fraction of a force and to select units of a certain type3. The rock-paper-scissors unit relationships are already shallow, and you can't even do much with them because of how difficult it is to control your units. Cue "select all, attack-move enemy, repeat until you win the map".
  • You can't really select units. It's a pain to change course mid-way, and as I said above, selecting parts of garrisons is a pain - you can't just click on the units themselves, you have to dick with a list of selected units in the corner. Again, I don't see how it would affect the balance to just let me click on the individual units I want to select (not like anyone plays the multiplayer of this).
  • The campaign AI has a very annoying habit of magicking up reinforcements from off-screen, and often enough you actually see them popup on the edge of the minimap. Game, you can't do this. Nobody likes a cheating AI, especially when it's obvious.

Also, the unit designs are a bit... Bad. The heavy naval unit had to be, for some reason, a tank. The main character, in his typical, heavily accented Australian accent and bizarre tone pattern, which makes him sound mentally retarded4, remarks: "Those things are like tanks!" They are, Kevin5. In fact, they are literally tanks, square and floating in water. Jesus Christ, Unigine! It doesn't work like that! I mean, it's hardly a difficult concept - if you couldn't think of something good, couldn't you just copy a real world gunboat or something?

And then there's the plane with a cannon. I mean, sure I've heard of the Spectre, but this is a bloody Osprey with a tank gun, pointing downwards. Come on. You can't just do that! It'll spin out of control the moment you fire!

Moreover, a bit more broadly, the contrast between the rickety, built-from-scrap "Raider" units and the extremely high tech normal units is a bit annoying, especially given that there isn't a high-tech faction and a scrapyard scavenger faction, and you just use both unit types.

Really, I don't think they should have made this a graph strategy. You know what would be great? Remember that big mothership tanker from Waterworld? Imagine this game was like Homeworld, with a mothership like that, building jet-skis and mortar dinghies and small gunboats and what not, and satellite cargo ships which travel to uncapturable derelict oil pumps to gather oil and bring it to the mothership. You could sail from mission to mission searching for dry land (if you feel like you've got the balls, the expansion can feature amphibious assaults on small islets), fighting enemies like the high-tech Sharks faction, the rickety raiders, the ice covered sea guys6, and, oh, I dunno. Weird sea monsters and krakens who attack you and a race of underwater dome-dwelling psycho cannibals could be later enemies. It would've been awesome! But, in the end, we got a graph strategy with awful plot that thinks it's a tower defense. I suppose some things are not meant to be.

Damn. I miss Aquanox now. =(

Anyway, Oil Rush is a pretty Eufloria7. Not much of a surprise, given that it's a demo for their engine. I appreciate that they went and tried to make a strategy game without any land - not the "safest" of ideas (though making it a graph strategy largely negates this). And also, I very much appreciate that they made their game support OpenGL8. The gameplay isn't terribly deep - it's nothing to write home about - but it's not awful either, so it may be worth a try if you like this kind of stuff.

Score: 3/5


1: I name Eufloria as a great example because it is just so basic, and so "pure" in the sense that it contained so few elements from other genres. While Eufloria was fun, I don't think it's the best game of this kind. I think one of the best games of this type was Sins of a Solar Empire, actually. I would probably have enjoyed Oil Rush more if it was more like Sins of a Solar Empire.

2: I usually hate those graphic options dialogs, because they mean no in-game graphics options menu. But not so with Oil Rush, thankfully. You still get to change all sorts of settings from inside the game.

3: You do have buttons for issuing the order to half and quarter of the selected force. It's not clear whether the fraction is by number alone, HP, damage, or what. Moreover, if you want a specific number of units, you have to play annoying games with linear algebra - the kind where you think "gee, sure would be nice to have a calculator in the game for this" and then think "why isn't the computer calculating this stuff for me, anyway?".

4: And he's supposed to be you!

5: Yes, to add insult to the injury, not only are you a mentally challenged Australian, but your name is Kevin. I'm telling you, this fucking campaign... I'm just glad there was no romance subplot with Firefly.

6: Dunno what unit style they would have, as it is they are just Sharks with a different unit decal color.

7: Except Eufloria was already pretty... Let's say "fancier".

8: Yes, this runs on Linux! I wish more games did this, especially the larger companies who have the resources to develop with OpenGL. Probably one of the biggest problems with running games through Wine is DirectX.

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