To be clear from the beginning: Oil Rush is very, very good. So good, in fact, you could call it a yardstick for the next generation of mobile games. It’s not perfect, but it does so many things right it’s hard not to think it is at times. At the very least — and this is a small very least — it’s the best marriage of complex gameplay and simple controls mobile gaming has seen to date. Oh, and the graphics are phenomenal, too. If you’ve ever wanted to spend $7 on a Play Store game and somehow feel like you ripped the developer off, it’s worth checking out.
There’s a good chance you’ll spend the first two campaign missions wondering what the heck this review was on about. Outside of some breathtaking visuals, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot there at first. Then it adds another concept. Then another. Around the fourth mission you’ll find the thought of putting your device down a little scary. By the end of the tutorial you’ll start thinking of your play sessions in hours instead of minutes. And this is all assuming you’re like me — a person who generally doesn’t care for strategy or future-military games.
I was disappointed to find you don’t directly control the various units individually. The feeling faded when I realized what I was looking at: A 3D RTS concept designed for (or adapted to, as I found later) the mobile platform. At a very basic level, the goal is to collect resources, capture points, and defend those points against a smorgasbord of raiders, robots, and other bad guys. The game’s main resource, oil, pays for unit upgrades and defensive structures. Combat plays out in the standard rock-paper-scissors style most other mobile defense/strategy titles use. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s simple. In fact, remembering all the strengths and weaknesses can be a bit overwhelming due to the sheer data you have to absorb to succeed.
Another surprising (and, I’ll admit, vaguely saddening) fact: Oil Rush is a port of a PC game. I haven’t had the chance to try the desktop version, but I can’t imagine the UI being any friendlier than it is on a touchscreen. Oil Rush uses an innovative combination of swipes and pokes and two-finger gestures that nails the platform so well it’s hard to see any mouse catching up. When you’re controlling dozens of units across a huge 3D battlefield, the precision of, say, twisting on the screen with two fingers to adjust your camera angle can be a godsend.
It’s hard to draw a line between UI and controls in a game that’s played almost entirely through navigating menus and maps. Here the distinction blurs a little more because both aspects are great to begin with. Imagine playing a fairly complex RTS on your phone. You’re using the touchscreen to, say, send 15 of your 32 jet -skis, which are all scattered across the map, to one specific point. Similar games have struggled with tasks like this on pretty much every platform out there. In Oil Rush, it’s as simple as tapping two or three icons and sitting back to watch. Really, if you’ve got much smartphone experience at all, pretty much everything you do should be intuitive like that (or at least a lot easier to figure out).
I’m not exaggerating about any of this, mind you. I sat here for a good ten minutes and tried — like, really tried — to think of something I didn’t like about the game’s navigation scheme. The one item on the list? If you’re playing on a phone it can occasionally be difficult to zero in on the minimap. It’s barely an issue on the smaller screen and not one at all if you play it on a tablet. For a game that requires lots of different input types, that’s a very impressive thing.
I can’t think of a game that looks better on my Galaxy S III’s screen. Taking that a step further, I don’t think one that looks as good and performs as well exists yet. Even without direct control of your units the camera (especially in Cinematic Mode) does a lot of moving and turning. To see it cut through battle so fluidly with so much going on is an impressive thing indeed. The few slowdowns I encountered would have been a minimal annoyance on a game that looked half as good. That isn’t a knock on every other title. It’s just another indicator of how pretty this one is.
Remember when I said the game isn’t perfect at the top of this review? Well, it isn’t. I found the campaign’s story to be a snoozer, for instance, but the game was so fun I’d probably have skipped the dialogue even if it was interesting in the interest of getting back to the fight. Learning all the different types of units and their strengths and weaknesses versus other vehicles can be overwhelming, too. Finally, the ingame tutorial regarding defensive structures was a little weak, with most of the pertinent info buried in dialogue. I’d rather have seen direct instructions about what each gun did.
If this review seems a tad effusive, well, it’s because it’s about a really good game. Prior to this, I would have laughed if you told me I’d fall in love with a $7 military strategy game. Buying it for review forced me to approach it with an open mind, and now it’s one of my all-time Android favorites. That’s saying something.