Review: OIL23 Apr 2018 0
Released 04 Apr 2018
OIL is a game purportedly inspired by the P.T. Anderson film There Will Be Blood, which was in turn inspired by the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! which means that OIL is really about Oil! which was about oil on the American frontier, and there is a lot of said oil in the game but there is no blood, which is a little disappointing. Also, there are no milkshakes.
The game is a variation on Battleship, which is its first problem. Battleship was never a fun game, except insofar as it was the only board game Grandma would let you play that had some military hardware in it. The fundamental mechanic is guessing, and OIL can only add so many other elements to try to deepen what is at its core a game of random chance. And not a satisfying one either.
In OIL, the two players share a field and have to first hide their oil on tiles and then dig it up in turns. So, one aspect of the game is just remembering where you hid your oil. Then, if you and your opponent unknowingly put oil on adjacent tiles, they will be joined together in a block that only the player that digs the last well will be able to claim. The game tells you how many of these there are and what shape there are, so another level of the game is deduction about where the doubles and triples might be. If you dig an empty spot, but there is oil adjacent to it, the spot will bubble a little, so there is also a bit of Minesweeper in figuring out where the oil is. On the other hand, if both players put oil on the same tile, that tile will explode when mined, losing you one point. Since its impossible to deduce where these tiles will be, there's a big element of luck there.
Some of the rules aren't really clear. For instance, the shapes of the blocks are limited to sets of two or three, so if you have four or more adjacent tiles with oil, you won't be able to predict which ones will pop up together. That makes it tough to get your opponent to tap the second to last one. Also, the little spurts that indicate adjacent oil--is the opponent supposed to see it? Playing with the AI, you can see when the AI player finds a clue, but with a hot-seat partner, the oil spurt is too short for them to see before you hand the phone over. Getting those clues can make a big difference for finding your opponent's oil.
OIL has those trendy pixel graphics with skinny characters and flat colors that have been everywhere since Sword and Sworcery. With all the white it feels almost Scandinavian in its minimalism. That makes it even more awe-inspiring when oil and fire spout from the ground. Then, at the end of a round, a dust storm will roll across the screen to clear the space. Oddly enough, it looks better in portrait mode than landscape, which makes OIL a good game to play with one hand.
Unfortunately, the pretty graphics interfere with actually playing the game. The isometric spaces are difficult enough to touch at such a shallow angle, even without considering the variations in elevation. Then, the oil wells you build will block your access to the spaces behind them, and even though they pop up when you tap them, they are still in the way. You can spin the playing field around, but that will just leave you confused about where you left your oil, since the minimalism means one tile looks very much like another.
Other interface elements are also frustrating. Even though one side has enough points to inevitably win, you still must uncover every oil tile, which means waiting for the little oil-drillers to run out and strike the ground again and again. There's no way to instantly replay if you lose a level or don't have enough wins accumulated to unlock the next one, so you must go all the way back through the main menu to get back to playing.
The easy level AI is genuinely easy, totally forgetting where it hid its own oil and unable to deduce where the remaining oil must be, but the higher levels will present something of a challenge. It's more of a pleasure to play hot-seat, where you can try to anticipate what pattern your partner might put their oil in, leading to some bluffing over multiple rounds.
But, in the end, some nice visuals and a little deduction can't save a basic gameplay idea that's just too random. Overall, there's not enough deduction and bluffing added to the Battleship formula, leaving the game with a frustrating random feel.