Oil Rush review
This platform doesn't stand a chance
Oil Rush is a game that might have passed me by were it not for the fact that it's fairly well known amongst the Linux gaming community, as the developers, Unigine Corp, treat it as a first-class platform and use it as a primary development environment. As a Linux user myself, when Matt mentioned he had this game with a Tux (the Linux penguin mascot rather than an abbreviated American term for a piece of formal attire) on the box and asked if I wanted it, I didn't spend too long making the decision.
I must admit that the first time I heard of Oil Rush, I was presented with a mental image of Oil Panic, the Nintendo Game & Watch title from 1982. Luckily the two only have the word "oil" (and the fact that they're both games) in common; you'll be pleased to know Oil Rush has deeper gameplay and is significantly prettier than Nintendo's 30 year old offering. Instead, as the subtitle on the box usefully points out, Oil Rush is a naval strategy game (and not a navel strategy game as I originally wrote, although that’s a concept I’d be interested in seeing).
I'm blue, da ba dee...
The premise of Oil Rush is that the ice caps have melted, the only useful land is man-made sea platforms and peaks of mountains, and oil is the currency of choice. Oh, and there was the slight issue of a nuclear war, so people aren't too happy with one another either. Generally speaking, life isn't too pleasant. The game starts off deceptively simple; you control a selection of platforms which either pump oil or produce combat units. You can also build defensive turrets around construction platforms, although it requires spending some oil. Your goal, which is slightly reminiscent of UT2004's Onslaught mode, is to take over all of the platforms without losing all of your units. The way you do this is by selecting a platform, or a set of platforms, choosing what percentage of ships and aircraft to send (and of which type), and directing them to a vacant or enemy platform. Once your guys are the only ones there you'll start capturing the platform, and when it becomes yours you'll either begin to get more oil or produce units. There are also some special abilities that can be employed, such as decreasing construction time... if you have enough oil.
Wait, it has tower defence too?
Whilst the game sticks with the same underlying gameplay throughout, more options get opened up as you play. There's a "tech tree" (more of an unordered tech list, from what I could tell) to give you more abilities, you get more different kinds of unit to play with, and Unigine have also managed to shoehorn in some more game styles - in addition to the standard levels, you're thrown other challenges such as (to stick with the UT2004 analogy) an Assault-style game, where you're hopping from platform to platform, trying to make it to the end in one piece. They also managed to chuck in some tower defence, where you just build and maintain turrets around platforms to defend against waves of attackers. I was fairly surprised when I first hit these missions, as I wasn't expecting to deviate from the core gameplay, but they provided a rather refreshing change; capturing and defending turrets can become a bit repetitive over time, and so it's nice to have something different to worry about.
One thing I have yet to touch on is how the game looks. Prior to Oil Rush's release, Unigine had released a number of benchmark tools using their engine, which is presumably not the kind of thing you do if you don't think your engine is capable of being rather pretty (and demanding). Well, I don't know if it's just because I'm not familiar with current Windows games, but Oil Rush does look rather gorgeous to me. It looks pretty enough whilst at the default camera angle, but as you zoom in you can notice nice touches like little workmen walking around on platforms. Admittedly, there isn't much land to be rendered here, so your graphics card might not have too much work to do on that front, but the water that's covering it all looks really rather pleasant. It'd be quite a relaxing view if you weren't constantly under threat of having your platforms captured.
Watching the troops approaching
Whilst Oil Rush is a rather fun (and pretty) game, I did run into one problem with it: the difficulty. It may be that I'm not so hot at strategy games, but I found the difficulty to be rather variable - I had no problems playing at normal difficulty to start, then had to drop to easy, and then found myself having to restart missions a bit too often (which would be less bad if it didn't mean I'd probably made some massive error about 40 minutes previously). There is a save function, which did let me complete a mission just by trying the same thing over and over again when I was almost at the end but also almost dead, However, the challenge is knowing which save to go back to. I'm not sure if Oil Rush is meant to be aimed at hardcore strategy gamers or more casual players, but it might be a bit simplistic for the first set, but a bit too difficult for people who dabble in the genre. Or, again, it may just be me.
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