The Oil Blue
It's a varied life, being a Bytten reviewer. I've a virtual CV as long as both your arms tied together, having been a boxing manager, a sorceror, a vigilante superhero, an eccentric scientist, a sheepdog, a space fighter (several times), a space trader (specialising in cassettes and kittens), a trainee witch (with a demon), a private detective (with a ghost) and even a pirate cactus (with a one-ton extendable metal claw). And those are just the highlights. Today I add another job to this impressive array of careers, by becoming an oil prospector.
The Oil Blue puts you in charge of a loyal work crew and sees you visiting a series of islands, on which you'll hunt for black gold. Oil is getting scarce, but demand remains high - so you've been sent out to these abandoned islands to see what you can find with the abandoned equipment there. You've only got a matter of days to work those machines and recover enough oil to please your employers. Do it right and there'll be bonuses all round. Do badly and the men won't be eating tonight. Screw up completely and you'll be replaced by a better crew.
Drilling sees you put in charge of a variety of machines. These vary from the very easy to use to the very complex - all have their charms, and their drawbacks. Over time they'll accrue damage (especially if badly handled) and you'll need to repair them. The difficulty comes in operating the machines simultaneously - working one machine is easy enough as the instructions, even for the most complex, are easy to remember and follow; trying to keep one machine operating when another one starts flashing up warning messages for your attention is another matter. Because you're tight for time, you can't afford to slack off too much, so ideally you need all those machines pumping together.
General operation is controlled by mouse, with machines controlled by clicking on the requisite buttons. There are two areas - above the water, where you can access the markets and suchlike, and under the water, where you operate your drilling gear. You can switch between your drills with the buttons on the left side of the screen, which light up to let you know what their status is (you want to keep them all green if you can). Each machine comes with its own indicators and gauges, but obviously you can only see those while you're operating them. Repairs use keyboard controls, and pressing them in the right sequence and timing can be a challenge. The more damaged the machine, the tougher the repairs.
While there isn't much in the way of animation (the drill displays being the only things that really move), there is a delightfully grimy style to everything, giving the game a more realistic, industrial feel. This is accompanied by a range of background pumping sounds and whirrs to add atmosphere. Background music is present, but doesn't seem to play during the actual drilling - I heard a few stings when levelling up, for instance, but during drilling it's just the sounds of my drills. While I think this is a good thing, as sound is a good way to keep track of how your machines are doing, it's a shame that the rather nifty music I found in the game folder didn't seem to play in the game itself. Perhaps it only plays in certain screens.
Every machine is easy enough to operate, and there are tutorials that explain how to operate each drill (completion of these grants you a licence for that type of machine). The challenge comes from operating them all simultaneously. While some machines require very little maintenance (the most basic, the groundwell, requires only that you regulate the speed and the power cells), others require your attention on a frequent basis. Neglecting these will lead to damage, which takes time to fix - and time is money. You also need to keep an eye on the markets, as you can only store a limited number of oil barrels and need to ship them out before you can transfer more from your drills. On the positive side, as you increase in experience you'll gain additional help, such as upgrades to your machines that help them pump faster, more efficiently or with less need to watch them. Just what you need when you have an extra derrick to watch over.
It doesn't take long for The Oil Blue to get quite difficult. My first proper island had a nice, low target of about 16 barrels of oil. I managed two barrels on the first of my three days, then about five each on the next two. I successfully filled my quota because the oil left in my machines was also counted (so I ended up with about 18 barrels). The second island gave me six days - and a quota of 65 barrels. You can't afford to *not* use any drills, no matter how difficult it gets to keep them all running. But maybe that's just me. It also felt very much like I was on my own, despite the references to my crew - why can't those lazy bums keep an eye on these other machines? There are no images of my men, no interaction with them... perhaps they're not really there at all, and this mythical crew exist as a tax dodge by my employer!
I was a little disappointed to find that the extra power cell I received for my groundwells on the first island did not carry over to the second, and suspect this is true of all such upgrades. I believe it is possible to purchase upgrades, but have not yet been able to do so - either because I'm not yet advanced enough, or because my balance is too low, or I simply cannot find the option! All the instructions are in-game - there is no separate manual - and while the tutorials are excellent at covering how each drill works they don't provide any tips on how to multitask with them. Some general guidance on how to play would be very helpful for new players.
If you thrive on the challenge presented by The Oil Blue, you'll have enough to keep you going for a long time. There are fifty ranks to traverse in career mode, and special bonus content can be unlocked. Each island you visit contains a randomly generated set of machinery, based on your current experience. You can play one day at a time, and there are plenty of save slots (though you can only use one per game - no cheating!). My only real gripe in this regard is with the difficulty curve, which seems rather steep.
The Oil Blue is a well crafted simulation, and surprisingly effective. I shall definitely need to keep this one in mind when our next Ernies come around, as it's a highly original concept. Here's hoping that Vertigo Games have struck (black) gold and I hope to see more from them in the not too distant future.
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