Oil Rush [Review]

Oil Rush puts a new spin on the real time strategy genre.

The world is broken. It’s been years since anyone’s feet have touched dry land, at least the way it was once known. Now, children are born not even knowing what ‘land’ is. There were once people who laughed about global warming; now their corpses lie drowned beneath the seas that rose up and swallowed their civilizations. People salvaged what they could, whatever could ride the waves, whatever salvage floated to the top. Some unlucky communities are built on nothing but garbage now, floating above the skeletons of once great cities.

Others fared better – retaining some of the technology of the old world and adapting it to the new. The technology needed to be powered though, and so humanity began to extract the last natural resource not lost to it: oil. Oil is everything now; not only does it power the boats and new cities above the waves, it has become a currency as well. Those who control oil, control everything.

This is the world of Oil Rush: a naval real-time strategy game that is also part tower defense. Don’t be alarmed by the length of that description because the game is simple to grasp – even for those new to the RTS genre. In fact, from my experience, it is veterans of the genre who will need to adjust most to Oil Rush‘s intricacies.

New or old, the majority of a player’s re-education will come from the campaign mode. In it, players take the role of Kevin – a newly minted officer in a faction known as the Sharks. The commander of the Sharks (a friend of Kevin’s recently deceased father) puts Kevin right to work, tasking him with crushing the enemies of the Sharks and obtaining more oil. Truth be told, the campaign mode’s story isn’t bad, it’s just very “by-the-numbers.” A player will have already known for a couple of chapters what was going to happen by the time the “big twist” in the story is revealed. The story takes the player to a variety of environments in the ruined world, but ultimately, it is only a vehicle to give players deeper knowledge of units and tactics that will help while playing multiplayer.

Each chapter of the campaign is devoted to warring with a different faction starting with weak, but pesky, raiders. The first chapter introduces basic units as well as the basics of gameplay. The first thing to understand about Oil Rush is that structures aren’t built, or destroyed, like in most RTSs – they are only controlled. This goes not only for oil rigs that produce resources, but also structures that construct units. The structures under a faction’s control also determine how many total units (and units of each type) can be fielded. This makes holding platforms especially important and is also where the tower defense portion of Oil Rush comes in.

With the exception of oil rigs and oil storage, every other structure can be outfitted with five defensive turrets. The turret types vary, starting with bunkers and artillery to handle light and heavy naval vessels, but later expand into anti-aircraft emplacements and being able to upgrade all turrets to increase their level of efficiency at death-dealing. Turrets are the main mode of defense for structures and it takes some adjustment to get used to shipping off all of a structure’s created units and leaving only the turrets standing guard, especially for RTS vets.

Units can certainly bolster the defenses of a platform, but playing an extremely defensive game is counterproductive given the way Oil Rush is designed. A unit limit based on controlled structures means that troops are put to much better use expanding territory than sitting guard. Oil always needs to be protected, and that must be accounted for in any battle plan. This constant push and pull of needing to secure platforms while protecting the ones already under control makes quick response the order of the day in Oil Rush and makes the game feel very active and engaging.

Because of the need for rapid response, there’s not a lot of clicking and dragging to select multiple units, or setting units to hot-key groups (the option is available; however, I just never had to make any use of it in my time with the game). Clicking on a structure selects all the forces around it at once and the game includes simple toggle functions on the interface to decide how much of a force to send – 100%, 50%, or 25% – and which type of units to send. Sending forces from more than one structure works the same way, except the mouse is dragged over multiple structures in the mini-map to select them all at once.

The same sort of painless navigation is standard for Oil Rush in other phases. Unit manufacturing is automatic and the interface for building and upgrading turrets is built right into the onscreen action. The only screen that breaks from the action is the technology tree, which earns points to put into it by destroying enemy units in combat and capturing platforms. The tree is made less convoluted by the lack of needing to build structures and individual units and instead, focuses on general upgrades and abilities. The upgrades encompass both passive and active abilities; with the passive ones enhancing things like unit attack/defense/speed and turret attack/defense. The active abilities cover a lot of ground, such as: a radar skill that can reveal what is happening on a hidden part of the map, a skill that temporarily weakens enemy defenses, another skill which calls in repair vessel to fix up naval units, or even launching a nuclear warhead.

Passive abilities become active the moment the technology points are spent, but active abilities require spending oil each time they are triggered – another reason to keep oil reserves under tight control. The overall technology tree has 24 options available split evenly across three branches. The top-most abilities on those branches must be unlocked as a requirement to reach the more powerful abilities beneath. Campaign, depending on the mission, will limit access to these abilities.

Oil Rush‘s campaign is at its best when it uses scenarios to demonstrate the different experiences possible in the game and would be a perfect complement to multiplayer, if not for a few problems. The campaign works for familiarizing players with aspects of Oil Rush, but the game breaks its own rules far too often. It is a common occurrence to use radar to scan the last platform an opposing faction controls, only to find the computer sitting on a diverse army of units with more entering from off-screen to attack. The rule-breaking is done for a purpose, but that doesn’t outweigh the feeling of frustration in fighting an endless tide of enemies. The computer’s rule-breaking also means that for many missions, there is only one “correct” way to do them: the kiss of death to creativity. In the strategy genre, being able to come up with alternate solutions to a problem should never be a liability, but it’s turned into one during the campaign.

The campaign also features some terrible voice acting that is compounded by the forced accents of the characters. The combination is like the start of a bad joke, “An American, an Australian, an Asian man, and a woman who talks like a robot all walk into a bar…” There’s never any punch line though; the characters are meant to be taken seriously. The only upside to the voice acting is that there isn’t more of it and that it doesn’t expand into the multiplayer.

Multiplayer, on the other hand, has only one flaw: a lack of customization options. The mode does have 14 maps suited for different players and situations, but beyond that, the only option is whether or not to play with AI opponents. Playing against others is great fun and shows off just how much strategy there is in Oil Rush‘s unique world, but it would have been even better with options to change the type of platforms on a map, or limit what technologies are available. Rushing down the tech tree to get nukes is a common tactic to see in multiplayer, and it’s so rare to see – or be willing to use – any other tactics when such a powerhouse ability is sitting and waiting.

Despite the slight missteps, Oil Rush was a great experience; one that has a gameplay flow unlike other RTS games on the market. The Unigine engine is capable of great graphics full of little details that convey the shattered aquatic world left behind after the seas rose. Combine the high-end graphics with the engaging gameplay and the insistent, resonating soundtrack and Oil Rush is easily a winner. This may have been the first title to be released by Unigine Corp, but with an excellent effort like this it’s easy to see it won’t be the last.

Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams

MASH Veteran

The only things Rob has been doing longer than gaming are breathing, sleeping, eating, and reading. RPGs were what made him view games as an experience instead of a distraction, but these days he likes and plays every genre gaming has to offer. Outside of his usual reviews and articles on MTB, you can find Rob on the weekly Mashcast and frequenting Twitter.

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