By – Leland Flynn III
I have always been a fan of the RTS genre. Ever since the first day I played the demo of Westwood’s Command & Conquer for DOS on a friend’s computer I have been addicted. I love that you have all of these separate systems depend on each other; which require balance, finesse and strategy. Of course the younger me who was playing the original C&C wasn’t fully aware of these things yet; he just liked to blow crap up. As I’ve matured so has my gameplay. I’ve learned to study the nuances of the games that I play and adapt my strategies accordingly. It is safe to say though that most RTS games follow very similar paths in terms of gameplay and controls. You build this structure to get that unit; you amass an army and then send said army off to destroy other units. Rinse and repeat. I don’t say this to disparage the RTS genre. I really do love the feel of a well designed RTS but, I do often find myself wanting something fresh; something a bit different. Enter Unigine Corp’s naval RTS, Oil Rush.
Oil Rush is set in a post-apocalyptic future where it would seem that mankind has all but nuked itself into oblivion. Apparently somewhere along the way the melting of the polar ice caps accelerated and flooded out the planet leaving very little dry land left. The surviving population has since taken to the sea and lives on small platforms out on the open sea. These remaining factions have apparently not learned from the mistakes of their brethren however and continue to war with each other over the only thing of imagined value that’s left; Oil. Your goal as the almost anonymous “Kevin” is to command the fleet of your faction, The Sharks, at the behest of your master and commander and collect all of the black gold that you can.
My Kingdom for a Decent Line of Dialogue
At first glance I found the story concepts of the game to be interesting but, sadly my interest did not hold up to scrutiny. The story, dialogue and static cut scenes of Oil Rush are tertiary to the game itself at best and boring at worst. As previously mentioned and as is so often the case in this genre, you play a new young commander, named Kevin. A very brief intro sets the stage with you meeting with the as yet unnamed Commander reminiscing about your training and asserting that you are ready to take control of the fleet. Apparently some rogue factions are hoarding oil and the Commander simply will not have it. From the start, the game does one thing well with the story and that is casting your leader in a stark and cruel light.
After each battle you will routinely be presented with a static cut scene complete with poorly written and poorly delivered dialogue. Command & Conquer or Warcraft this is most certainly not. Often times the captions that accompany the spoken dialogue have egregious grammatical errors. To make matters worse, many of these seem to have made it into the voice actors’ scripts and were spoken aloud and put into the final build of the game. I would say this is inexcusable but, I have a suspicion this all may be due to the game being produced in Russia. That’s not to say that Russian game development is all bad (I look to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro 2033 here), just that it is highly likely that the voice actors and writers did not speak English as a first language and this could account for some of the dialogue problems. While seriously distracting from the game, this does not make the game less fun.
A Beauty to Behold
Possibly the most striking feature of this game are the graphics. Everything in Oil Rush looks amazing. The textures of units and structures are beautifully detailed; everything looks distressed and beaten by the sea. Being a naval game, one would assume that the water would at least look passable. You would not only be right, you would be making a drastic understatement. The water in this game is some of the best I have seen in quite a while. I actually had a few close calls with enemy units because I would stop and hover over an area of the map to watch my units bob and surge through the waves. Perhaps one of my favorite things about the art direction of Oil Rush was the occasional sighting of a crumbled skyscraper lurking beneath the water and seeing its decimated visage warped by the ripples of the waters that buried it. Touches like this, in particular, do much to give the game an ambiance and a tone that not only reminds the player of what has happened to this world but, what that means for its survivors.
Unigine has clearly intended to showcase the power of their engine of the same name here and done so in stellar fashion. What’s more players will be able to get the most out of it with relatively modest specs. I was able to run Oil Rush at stable frame rate on my system (2.9 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM and, ATI Radeon HD 4850) with all graphical settings maxed. I was impressed with how good what is arguably a budget title looked on my system.
Unique in its Sameness
To some, the gameplay of Oil Rush may feel oddly familiar, to others it may feel completely alien and (I fear) to some RTS purists it may feel like a sin. I say this because Oil Rush has no structure construction, direct unit construction or direct unit management. The style of play could actually be likened to games like Galcon Fusion. For the uninitiated, this means that you begin each level with a few structures that automatically pump out units up to that structures maximum capacity. You then can direct these units to take control of other structures by selecting their location, selecting either 25%, 75% or 100% of the units and then sending them to a neutral/enemy structure. In games like Galcon the combat is literally a numbers game. Whoever gets the most units to a hub gets control of that structure. Oil Rush follows a similar model with combat in that your number of units per structure are limited but, certain units are more powerful than others and are more effective against certain types of units. Another tweak to the base gameplay model here is the addition of defensive turrets. These can be built around most structures and upgraded as you collect oil from derricks around the map. Oil, being the only resource in the game, is everything to you. It will dictate what turrets you can build and what unlockable abilities you can use. You are not able to build turrets around your derricks and believe me; control of them will always be contested. Most missions rely on map domination. The strategy of the game lies in how you go about capturing structures, how you utilize the units that you have and how well you can defend your oil.
Unit types are well varied and function in unique capacities. You have your light and fast types like the Piranha jet skis, the slower moving but mortar equipped Angler boats and the tank-of-the-seas, the Hammerhead. Add to this flying units, submarines and you have a respectable number of interesting units at your disposal. Learning when to use each unit and how to use them effectively was one of my favorite parts of the Oil Rush. This was surprising to me considering you cannot control your units accept directing them at a new target. An interesting feature of the gameplay is the ability to set your camera to follow any unit. Doing so will have the camera chase whatever unit you select and attempt to show the battle in a dynamic and cinematic fashion. This is a great way to take advantage of the time that one might normally spend just watching the battle play out overhead. It makes everything more engaging and entertaining. It also does a hell of a job showcasing the game’s engine.
Closing Thoughts – Is It Worth Your Money?
I’ve had a lot of fun with Oil Rush. The graphics look gorgeous and really show what Unigine Corp can do. The gameplay is deceptively simple and very satisfying. The story, dialogue and cutscenes on the other hand are absolutely abysmal. They were boring and poorly delivered distractions from an otherwise great game. For the asking price of $19.99, I am willing to overlook these shortcomings and focus on the real strengths. Even if you have a passing interest in the strategy genre, I would highly recommend that you give it a go. The gameplay is extremely accessible and should be easy to pick up for most players. As a side note, I could never truly hate a game that makes it a point to be available for Mac, Windows and Linux. This is a definite buy in my book.