Oil Rush
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Oil-based warfare abounds!

Oil Rush is a game that has two things really going for it. Firstly, it’s just about the best thing to ever be loosely based around Kevin Costner’s massive failure Waterworld, and secondly, it’s a showcase for the powerful new Unigine graphics engine, of which we will no doubt be seeing more in the future.

Other than that, though? Well, it’s pretty hard to say.

In the last couple of years, the world has gone doo-lally for tower defence games. With the possible exception of Plants vs. Zombies, however, it is my opinion (and therefore a correct statement of fact) that tower defence is as dull as the proverbial dishwater. Upgrading one’s weapons, for example in a FPS or RPG, is a sublime moment of joy where you get to shape your character and decide on the path you want to take through the game. In a tower defence game, it’s absolutely compulsory, and is generally done with little fanfare, more or less all the time. When upgrading your stuff becomes a chore, something’s gone horribly wrong.

Of course, I’m dimly aware that there are people out there who seem to actually like this type of game, fighting off waves of opponents from a series of little bases (just like Space Invaders, only with less control of the defender’s movements). Comparisons can be made with RTSes, naturally, and Oil Rush proudly paints itself as a hybrid between the two genres.

Here’s the setup: Everything takes place at sea. You control set points on the surface such as oil rigs and construction facilities, and these control points not only provide you with your capabilities, they’re also the points on the map to which you can send your units. Oil rigs continuously generate oil, which is the money with which you purchase turrets and upgrades. Each of your production facilities will automatically spawn its own type of units, up to a set ceiling, mercifully freeing the player from having to manually click a ‘build’ button.

The bad guys control any points that you don’t, so it’s all about moving enough of your units to their control points to overcome their turrets and wrest control away from them, while at the same time making sure they don’t do the same to you. In the early game, the enemy is pretty placid, essentially waiting for you to wander over and duff him up, but suddenly, without warning, you hit a level where they go ape and you find yourself on the back foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the so-called learning curve is more like a massive learning doorstep in oil rush.

So, gameplay’s perhaps innovative in that it mashes a couple of existing genres together passably well, but as I mentioned it’s really a showcase for the Unigine engine. What this all amounts to is a game that feels like an indie game in terms of polish, but with graphics that far surpass those you usually find in indie-land. That said, the much-vaunted graphics didn’t exactly blow my hair back: the little chaps you can see bimbling around on the rigs loading boxes and whatnot don’t even have faces. No faces! Zoomed out it all looks OK, if not particularly stellar, but if I was showcasing a new game engine, I think I’d have to insist the characters have faces. It’s not like my computer couldn’t handle it at the top setting, either – the Chillaxe wasn’t really pushed by Oil Rush.

But I’ve got to admit, there is an imaginative mind behind the setting. Your units whizz between rusty barges laden with villages made up of old cargo boxes and ladders, and your flyers dogfight against a backdrop of shattered skyscrapers jutting from ice-choked oceans. Stylistically, I really liked the look and feel of Oil Rush.

But here’s another thing: The dialogue. Plot is delivered through little text boxes accompanied by thumbnails of a handful of fairly one-dimensional characters. The dialogue itself is either poorly translated or awfully written – if this is the sort of thing that bothers you, I’d prepare for the worse. It really beggars belief how easy this would be to fix, as well. I could have their dialogue straightened out, typos fixed and grammar looking ship-shape, with a couple of hours’ work. How many days of work went into the design of the graphics for Oil Rush? Weird. But there you are.

The whole thing had a feel somewhere between a graphics demo and an unfinished game. One of the early missions requires you to build up a stockpile of 400 units of oil. As you get close to the total, the character you play – Kevin – exclaims excitedly how we’re getting close. Then you hit the total, and nothing happens, you just keep going. I tried this mission three or four times, moving all my units from place to place in an attempt to trigger some unmentioned objective and move on, but no. Nothing. Also, despite the RTS foundation, you can only move your units between control points. Which means that sometimes the enemy can just float their fleet merrily past your first line of defence on their way to your soft underbelly, and your fleet just watch them sail past because you can’t post them to defend a set waypoint.

Oil Rush will appear in a boxed retail form from Iceberg Interactive on the 24th of February. It is imaginative in its presentation and blending of existing genres, but limited in its long-term appeal for the hard-core.

Can you run it on your rig? (Bwah hah!)