I often complain about the recent lack of innovation in the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre. It seems that in recent years, even the truly noteworthy franchises like Command and Conquer have little or nothing new to offer, never mind the numerous and glaring flaws that such franchises have yet to address. You know that something is up whenever overcomplicated gameplay mechanics, inherently ugly and generic maps and a total lack of any real context to proceedings are the order of the day for anyone who makes the ill-considered decision to pick up a AAA RTS game. You know something is scarily wrong whenever all of the big RTS developers seem to be in an increasingly ridiculous race to make the genre as inaccessible as possible, a race that shall finally and tragically end when only the utterly godlike “200 Actions-Per-Minute” toting turbo-ninja-maniacs are catered to in any measurable way.
So I guess it’s up to the indies to set things right. Enter Oil Rush, a brand new and very interesting sea-based RTS from Unigine Corp, creators of the Unigine, um, engine.
Oil Rush is a game that seeks to bring new life to the RTS genre by distilling down and arcading up many of the game mechanics that are so hopelessly convoluted in other RTS titles. Things like unit selection, defence construction and camera movement are handled in a refreshingly polished way. I particularly loved the ability to issue commands and use abilities directly or via the minimap and the incredibly slick “action camera” that allows you to easily observe different parts of the battle instantly. The game also features a lot of visual garnish (particularly with regards to the water effects and the incredible detail on individual units), a plethora of well-designed maps with varying but always beautiful environments, plus a large number of different and interesting units to play with.
Sadly though, all of that isn’t enough to disguise the things that really ruin Oil Rush. For a start; there is no driving force behind the game whatsoever, what vague and clichéd story the game provides is marred further by insurmountably awful writing and voice acting. I doubt that lines such as “The planets has changed quite a bit” and “Go and finish off raiders” could even have been delivered well by genuinely talented voice actors, although evidently none were at hand to prove my point. Frankly your supposedly plucky pilot friend “Firefly” has all the energy and enthusiasm of a robot, trying hilariously to imitate human emotion. Even the more convincingly voiced characters in the game just get annoying very quickly, most obviously your commander, who issues orders as though he is in the middle of passing a particularly challenging stool, that is to say; angrily and with utterly bizarre intonation.
Another huge problem with Oil Rush is that the very game mechanics it set out to simplify are now incredibly imprecise, for example: the complete inability to issue orders to your units while they are between platforms is just surreal. What if I realise that I’ve accidentally sent all of my weakest units to a painful and inevitable death? Huh? What then, Unigine Corp? Sure I can call them back from a platform’s command menu, but what if I forget which platform they came from? There are around five in every single map after all, besides, how can you even explain such a stupid problem? Are my soldiers being given their orders via notes on their base’s fridge? No, of course they aren’t, Unigine Corp, you just made the game wrong.
What’s perhaps most frustrating about these faults is that they are completely typical of the RTS genre, it’s that what disappoints me most about Oil Rush; here we have an exciting new and ambitious take on the RTS formula, but one that cannot shake loose many of the genre’s typical faults and manages to invent a whole slew of its own at the same time.
So much potential, and a complete failing to deliver on any of it.