Review Date: June 24, 2010
Developer: Vertigo Games
Publisher: Vertigo Games
Drilling for oil might not sound like the most interesting concept for a game, but in The Oil Blue, it's surprisingly addictive.
Set in the not too distant future, the game has you going from island to island, searching for oil and operating heavy machinery. But while initially the game may feel like a slow, methodical simulation, it eventually reveals itself to be a fast-paced and frantic experience with a heavy emphasis on time management.
Drilling For Oil
As a new recruit of United Oil of Oceania, it's your job to travel across the ocean in search of abandoned oil rigs, which you'll then attempt to reclaim by tapping them for oil. The game is set at some point in the future; references are made to events like the "oil price crash of 2024," but no specific date is given for when the actual game is set. As you settle on each island you'll be given a goal and specific time frame in which it needs to be completed in. You might be asked to sell a certain number of oil barrels or earn a certain amount of money all within a pre-determined number of days.
To do this you'll need to drill for oil far beneath the ocean's surface. You'll be given access to several complicated machines, starting with just two, before a few additional ones are added to your arsenal. Each machine operates differently but the results are the same: they give you oil.
Operating and maintaining these machines makes up the bulk of the game and while at first it seems like a fairly daunting task, it soon becomes second nature. For the most part, operating the machines involves carefully monitoring certain meters. You'll have to relieve the pressure when it gets too high, switch power cells when they start running out, and start the oil pump when you come across some of the black stuff. The real trick lies with operating several machines at once, which involves quite a bit of quick thinking, planning, and careful observation.
Thankfully the game features a lengthy but very helpful hint system that explains the ins and outs very clearly.
A Sticky Business
In addition to operating the machines, you'll also have to repair them. Daily wear and tear takes its toll, and putting unnecessary pressure on the equipment only exacerbates this. When it comes time to repair your machinery you'll have to first complete a mini-game. There are several different mini-games you'll get a chance to play over the course of the game, unfortunately this is by far the weakest aspect of the game. The games are either far too simple or far too frustrating and rather jarringly take you out of the experience.
Selling barrels of oil, naturally, will earn you money. But how much you earn depends on when you sell it. Each day you can monitor the going rate for a barrel and wait until it's high before you sell. But you also have a limited amount of storage, so you'll have to balance waiting to sell at the right price with making sure you don't run out of space. Additionally, each island you overtake will net you regular payments, which, unfortunately, are taxed pretty heavily by UOO.
The Oil Blue puts a much heavier emphasis on gameplay than it does storytelling, but even so it manages to create a compelling world for you to inhabit. The various mission briefings you'll receive in between each stage feature a dark sense of humor, and this is further expanded on through numerous small details littered throughout the game. Some of your machines will notify you of their wildly out of date warranties and each time you gain a new level of experience you'll get a new title, starting with "expendable asset" before eventually moving on to "fairly useful leech."
The Bottom Line
In the end, The Oil Blue isn't for everyone. It starts out slow and for the first few hours seems overly complex. But if you can push through the early portions of the game -- which do an excellent job of introducing the various gameplay elements -- you'll be rewarded with a rich and rewarding experience that's really unlike any game out there. It doesn't hurt that it also looks great and features a wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack that really helps add to its unique tone.
If nothing else, The Oil Blue manages to take the process of oil drilling and turn it into a fun and addictive game experience.