June 11, 2010 8:28 PM | Michael Rose
I am literally brimming with excitement to divulge details on a new indie game coming to PC later this month. LITERALLY.
Every now and again, an indie title will come straight out of the blue and knock my socks off. Except this time, it really shouldn't have been that big of a surprise - I mean, it's got Blue right there in the title.
Vertigo Gaming's The Oil Blue is a simulation title set for release on June 22nd. I will now explain why it should sit firmly in your 'do want' list. Here I go.
Set in the not-so-distant future, you've been put in charge of a drilling crew for a huge oil company, United Oil of Oceana. The company finds abandoned oil-rig islands and claims them as their own. You'll spend your days firing up machines, digging deep into the Earth's crust and pumping out barrel upon barrel of the black stuff.
This involves using a variety of machinery, each with unique and satisfying interfaces. You'll spend the majority of your play balancing your time around these machines, flipping between them and running each as efficiently as possible. Each one needs constant attention, yet as you fall into your role and learn the ins and outs, it's surprising how quickly it all clicks together.
The Groundwell is your first port of call, and revolves around balancing the use of energy cells to pump oil from below. Depending on the speed of production, the cells will deplete at different rates. Starting at 100, once a cell hits 0 it will shutdown and recharge slowly.
Multiple cells can be activated simultaneously to share the load, and up to eight cells can eventually be unlocked. The idea is to balance the speed of production with clever useage of cells to achieve maximum productivity - and create an environment which you don't have to check back on too often, since there are a few more machines that need your attention!
The next machine in line is the Oil Derrick. This one is a lot more hands-on, and requires lots of attention. A panel on the right shows the drill digging down, and air pockets rising up. As the pockets move past the 'visibility line', their contents are shown.
A pocket with a X signifys no oil - however, a solid pocket means you want to drill there. At this point, you must slow the drill down, move it into position, and then start pumping. This is made all the more tricky by the machine's stress levels. If too much pressure builds up, stress will begin to overload the engine, and you'll have to shut it all down.
To combat this, the pressure must be released every now and again - a warning sound indicates when the pressure is getting dangerously high. If everything goes to pot, there is an emergency key which can be turned to shut the whole system down.
There are a number of other machines, each with their own methods of drilling, including the Pumpjack and the Drilling Rig - however, I won't go into details for the rest, as they become much too difficult to explain. Fortunately, there are a number of brilliant tutorials that go into exactly the right amount of detail, teaching everything you need to know and then throwing you into the deep end.
What I've described up to now are the workings of everything below the surface - however, there are a number of areas that need your attention above sea level, too.
On each island, you're given a goal you must complete before moving on - usually 'collect x number of barrels in y days', sometimes with a side mission too. While you're working the pumps, your company's stock level is displayed in the bottom right of the screen, and will constantly be rising and falling throughout each day.
When you believe the price is at its highest, you'll need to venture to the surface and sell off the barrels you've obtained. The more cash you make, the better the upgrades for your equipment.
Machines are also upgraded through a lovely leveling system. Starting at rank 50, with all your machines at level 1, every button press and every barrel of oil salvaged will advance your levels, giving you faster, more reliable machines. Leveling up is incredibly satisfying, with notifications popping up with a fanfare to let you know the boy done good.
Whether or not you destroy your machines through stress, they'll always need a little fine tuning each day, and this is where Zero Hour comes in. Very early each morning, before your workers arrive, you're given a short amount of time to fix each machine at the surface through a few different mini-games.
The mini-games are a mix of memory and quick reaction tests, and work well with the tension of the Zero Hour. It's not essential to have each machine fully restored each day, but it definitely helps.
This is pretty much The Oil Blue experience in a nutshell, although it's a lot more fun and frantic to play than my explanation has probably made out. The gameplay is only part of the experience, though. Vertigo Gaming has created such a polished and beautiful environment, that it's hard not to lose hours of your life to the whimsical setting.
Machines slowly awaken from their binary dreams and boot up in a very Bioshock-esque way each time you use them; Bubbles fill the screen as you dive below; the sea sparkles with the reflection of the night sky; Warning sirens blare and lights flash as machines reach their breaking points.
It just all looks fantastic - and the sound-scape backs the looks, dealing out a phenomenal mix of calming, watery melodies, with piano scales crashing along as the going gets a little tougher. Put this together with the engaging gameplay and it's sheer gaming bliss.
What I'm trying to tell you is this - I've had a huge amount of fun with The Oil Blue, and with good reason - it's challenging, it's gorgeous and it's by far the most unique experience I've played in a good while. This is something to officially 'be excited about' - I know I am.
The Oil Blue will be released on June 22nd via a number of digital distribution channels, and will cost $14.95.
If my words haven't been enough to get your attention, here are a couple of videos to change your mind. The first shows part of a typical 'day', drilling for oil via a number of different machines.
This second video shows one of the 'situation challenges' - a game mode separate from the main career mode. Each challenge asks you to pump a certain amount of oil in a set time limit.