Oil is a valuable commodity. There’s no doubting that. But look to the future, and a time where it’s even harder to tap into the black gold, and you may see a story unfolding that’s similar to that of Oil Rush. A new naval strategy game wherein various factions are fighting with one another in order to keep control of what’s left of this very substance.
That’s the premise, but one that takes a back seat as we move through the single player campaign. Story and dialogue become limited to short snippets of text that appear at the beginning of each mission, or upon the introduction or completion of certain objectives. It’s a bit of a shame, as it’d have been an interesting subject matter to explore, but it’s certainly not unusual for a story to be sidelined in a strategy-based game — the focus is, somewhat understandably, very often the strategical gameplay.
Oil Rush does something different with its strategical gameplay. It essentially takes real-time strategy down it’s most simplistic form. You’ll never find yourself directing harvesters to economical resources, and you’ll never be manually building units. Instead, the whole of the gameplay is centred around the control of oil rig-like platforms. Some provide resources, others provide units — in which case they’re built automatically up to a certain number. Capturing and holding onto these platforms is the key to victory. Attaining all of the platforms on a map is often the main goal.
Upon starting a mission, a certain number of platforms will already be in your possession. Which is where another simplification of the genre comes into play. Whereas in most RTS games it’s possible to select a group of units and order them toward a certain point on the map, in Oil Rush you can only send units between platforms. Splitting the overall army between them seems to be the key, but this is where I ran into my biggest gripe within the game. One which has ultimately ruined what could have been an amazing idea to bring new players into a genre which is often seen as overcomplicated.
I’ve struggled to pin-point what this issue was, wondering whether it was a balance thing, an AI problem, or just an overall design flaw. However, what I do know is that it’s directly related to the way in which units are always gathered immediately around a platform. It’s something that simply seems to break the game’s strategical integrity. Positioning is always a key part of strategies. Even in the year 480 B.C., King Leonidas’ men could’ve told you about the strengths of defending at a narrow choke point. In Oil Rush, however, the way in which units group up around a platform, completely deconstructs this theory.
Enemy units simply travel immediately by the front line of defense, even in most narrow of map positions. You’ll think they’ve got to get past that massive army of units you’ve positioned at the front (and only) entrance to the rest of your base. But they’ll just skirt around the edges and are in behind you before you know it — and not being able to position units freely means there’s no way around it. The only option is to send units back to the other platforms, at which point the enemy takes your frontal position. Ultimately, almost every game I’ve played has ended up in armies hopping around between platforms, capturing and recapturing them in what can only be described as an unresolvable game of “musical oil rigs”.
The problem of grouped units doesn’t end there either. It also rears its head in situations where armies are crossing each other’s paths. Let’s say, for example, there are two platforms facing each other. One is controlled by you, the other by an enemy, both armies decide to head toward each other’s platforms at the exact same time. The expected result would be an engagement somewhere between the two platforms, with the stronger army winning the battle and pressing on towards the enemy’s base. Right? Not in this case. Due to the way in which you can only order armies to a platform, the two armies will practically wave to each other as they intersect. A few shots will be fired from each direction as they pass, but almost 100% of the armies will cross each other by without losses, heading straight towards the enemy’s structure. The result is effectively just a switch of places, you’ll lose your platform, but gain the one you were heading to.
For the longest time, this issue was so frustrating that I felt I must have been doing something wrong, or had perhaps missed a vital part of the game’s mechanics. But having gone back through everything, it seems it’s simply an issue that exists within the game itself. It’s all a massive shame, as the base idea for Oil Rush is one that I feel could’ve been a huge success.
There are some great things about the game aside from the overall idea. The options within the menus are as vast as almost anything I’ve seen. The water looks stunning, which is always a bonus in a game where oceans make up 90% of the landscapes. Then, there’s the action camera view, which, due to the simplistic nature of the game, allows for you to issue your orders and then watch them with the action cam in real-time. It’ll automatically pan to the action, swooping and rotating around units as they battle it out. A great feature, which works very well indeed. As well as multiplayer mode, which could’ve been great fun if it weren’t for the above complaints and the distinct lack of anybody playing.
I love the idea of a simplified strategy game. The regulars will know I’m a huge advocate of the genre — and I’d have loved to be able to recommend Oil Rush as a title that offers a low barrier of entry to newcomers. But, as it stands, the decisions that make the game a success on paper, have been implemented in a way that breaks some of the fundamental aspects of strategy.