Monday, June 6, 2011

Turn Crude to Ca$h

Big Oil: Build an Oil Empire
Game Category: Simulation, Real Time Strategy
Developer / Distributor: Dartmoor Softworks / Tri Synergy
Release Date: 31 Jul 2006 
Rating: ESRB - Everyone, PEGI 3+

Big Oil: Build an Oil Empire has you in the shoes of an oil magnate (like the great forefather of Standard Oil himself, John "Anaconda" Rockefeller) as you attempt to make cash, cash and more cash in a world that is starved for black gold. It seems that almost every niche area has been exploited with tycoon style games and this game was just waiting in the wings to be released to the world.

Known as Oil Tycoon 2 in Europe, this second iteration presents quite a hefty business simulation strategy game that has you surveying for oil deposits, building trial drills followed by oil towers that continuously churn out crude oil. The oil is then piped over for storage and later transported to refineries elsewhere in your oil empire before being sold to consumers worldwide. A lucrative business indeed.

The game comes with 17 scenarios that takes you from the late nineteenth century till today. Along the way, you will encounter numerous historical events that will have an effect on the game you are playing (for example, the two Great World Wars will cause some inconveniences). You will also have the chance to conduct research concerning technologies for the oil industry.

If you like tycoon style games, I suggest you read on and decide for yourself whether this game is worth your time.

Fill 'er up, please

Game Play
The single player game brings you to a screen where you select from one of the seventeen scripted scenarios. If you wish to, you could select Free Play instead and play a fantasy game to your heart's content. Well, that's not entirely true, the game play in the free play scenario is actually restricted to 100 years, but I am sure that is long enough to build a mega-sized company.

Anyway, you have 8 starting cities to choose from in the free play scenario - Durban, Los Angeles, Marseille, New Orleans, Odessa, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo.

Multiplayer allows you to play on a LAN or the Internet with up to six players. The question you may perhaps ask is, where are you going to find players who are interested in this game. Well, beats me. Anyway, as an alternative, there is enough content in the single player mode to last you quite a while.

Choose from Free Play or a scripted scenario
Every game requires you to select either Easy or Advanced mode. In Easy Mode, you get an AI assistant who will help make some decisions for you. This simplifies the game quite a bit and it does serve as a handy (non-scripted) tutorial as well as a general introduction to the game for beginning players. Once you are comfortable with things, you can dive into Advanced mode and relish the opportunity to go micromanaging every single little detail the game throws at you.

Edward Roth at your assistance...

I will be describing the game play from an Easy mode approach first to give you an idea of what the initial game play is like in Big Oil. Do note that the AI assistant will be guiding you throughout this mode and he will take over some of the more mundane tasks.
  • The first thing you should do is to set up your very own oil field. You must first get a grant from a city to survey the land there for potential drill sites; a small sum of money will be involved.
  • Your survey team will then find a place near the city and perform a trial drill. If oil is found, you will see a cite little animation of black gold gushing out from the ground.
  • The build menu is then activated and you build a drill tower over the oil spring. 
  • You need to next build an oil storage near the city. Building a road out from the city would be a good idea as the cities tend to grow by themselves based on the game's simulation rules.
  • You then connect the drill tower to the oil storage via a pipeline.
  • After a while, your oil storage will be full to the brim and a tanker should be chartered to ship it back to your home city.

My sole drill tower
Now let's talk about the Advanced mode. Take a look at the first two bullets above and compare it with what you have to do below.
  • Zoom out using the mouse wheel and determine which city you want to start with. Preferably choose a nearby city so that oil is shipped to your home city in the shortest time possible.
  • Zoom into the city you have chosen and hunt for the Government building - it's the building with a country flag on a mast. Click on it and pay the fee to a Drilling Claim.
  • Click on the Search Drill Specialist from the group of 8 buttons at the bottom left of the game interface. From here you will employ a specialist who will assist you in surveying the land. You will need to check out his skills and decide if you should hire him.
  • Choose the city that you wish to conduct the survey from. You may have more than one option here because trial drills can also be conducted at sea - this is applicable when you have researched the technology to build oil derricks at sea.
  • Depending on the skill of the specialist you hired, you get at least one to five possible places for conducting the trial drills. It is up to you to decide if you wish to spend the money to construct a trial drill tower at each location.
  • If successful, a gushing oil spring is found. Huzzah!
As you can see, there are a lot more options available in Advanced mode. This is where you need to read the electronic manual to fully reap the game play benefit from Big Oil. 

Shall I hire this guy?

Each scenario can have AI opponents - either Easy or Normal opponents. They are pretty competent at the start, so you will need to work and think fast to catch up with them.

Some of the scenarios will require you to be the first to reach a certain amount of money, and sometimes within a certain number of years. You might even need to have cash in terms of shares, or to maintain a number of drill sites and refineries, or to eliminate opponents by causing them to go bankrupt or by taking over them through mergers, or even to build your own sea tanker fleet or maintain a convoy of vehicular oil tankers.

As you can see, what I have described earlier was only the tip of the iceberg to the many complex situations in the Advanced mode.

Don't forget to conduct research
The graphics is respectably decent in Big Oil. The buildings in the cities look subtly different - for example if you compared Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Durban, you will notice some unique architecture. The landscape looks rather drab and the trees don't really help to break the monotony at all. At least the land is 3D, so you do get to see hills and mountains (unfortunately you can't pitch the camera up to view the Himalayas). The sea reflects clouds drifting by, and if you zoom out all the way, you still see them there.

There is a day / night cycle in the game, but it doesn't add anything to the game. There is also an authentic looking newspaper that appears from time to time to share with you any restrictions imposed upon you (or removed) during the game.

Reading the news

My copy of software had no sound at all while running under Windows 7. I have scoured the Internet and experimented with my application settings but could find no solution to my predicament. I was however pretty pleased with the music clips that I played using an external player - they sounded nice enough outside the game.

  • Big Oil is big in the department of micromanagement, and if you like that then this is probably your lucky day.
  • Big Oil is probably one of a handful of tycoon games addressing this niche area.

Stats to scope out your AI opponents
  • Big Oil features a clunky interface that is rather troublesome to use. You very often have to navigate through many screens just to reach the information you need.
  • You can't rotate the map, so there are times when a building or object gets obscured by something in front of it. It doesn't help when the building has to be done on an extreme slope.
  • A slight movement of my mouse or keyboard would cause my map to scroll way too much. I couldn't find any way to tweak the sensitivity downwards. 
  • The AI assistant is boring. More life could have been injected in this area to give the game a more personal touch.
  • Researching is rather wonky; I couldn't always tell how a technology in the tech tree would help me in the game.
  • I noticed a number of other minor glitches during play as well.  
  • Overall, you can tell that the quality is lacking in Big Oil. It is priced like a budget game and also behaves like one.
  • There is a patch for Oil Tycoon 2 (English 1.13 patch) at Avanquest, but then I didn't care to try it out. Why bother?

Where in the world is Singapore?

Being an Oil Tycoon is a unique experience, but not when it is so sloppily implemented like the way they did in Big Oil: Build an Oil Empire. If you don't mind the mess and can bear with all the problems, you may still be able to derive some fun from the game. I actually played the first scenario - Oil Crisis and must truthfully say that it was quite enjoyable in Easy mode on my first attempt. And it wasn't that easy making 20 million bucks in that first sitting.

And with that note, I leave the decision of purchasing Big Oil: Build an Oil Empire entirely up to you. It may have a dubious review score, but this game just could be that special niche area you were looking so hard to play in.

Time to start building my Oil Empire

Daily PC Game Review Score: 4.5 / 10
Review Date: 6 Jun 2011


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