Who wants to be a millionaire? Er... me, actually. So long as it doesn't involve any ahrd work or selling various bodily organs that is. And now I've found the perfect way to become one - without risk to life or limb - by playing Oil Imperium. The basic aims of Oil Imperium, the latest game from Rainbow Arts is to make piles (or barrels, in this particular case) of moolah b becoming a JR Ewing clone and exploiting the worlds' natural oil resources.
You play against three other opposing oil barons (either computer or player operated) and can choose to win in one of four ways: by becoming the richest oil baron after three years; by making over $80 million dollars in liquid assets; by bankrupting all three other players or by taking over 80 percent of the market share.
Having made your target choice, you begin with five million dollars (gimme), seated at the office desk.
WHEELIN' 'N' DEALIN
' Now it's time to start wheelin' and dealin'. Pick one of the daunting array of options available and dive in. Each option is chosen from a number of icons which either bring up a further menu of choices, a report, or, erm, something else.
The first thing to do is buy an oilfield (seems logical), and some oil rigs to stick on it. Next invest in some advice on the probable oil yield.
Once you've bought your land, drilling rights and oil rigs, it's time to start drilling. This'll lead you into the first arcade sequence of the game. If you've got the JR touch, then a column of oil will rise up the shaft, and fountain from the top. On the other hand if you're more like Cliff Barnes then you'll probably be presented with a message along the lines of 'Drilling a fiasco. Cost $80,000'. Just the sort of encouragement that a budding oil baron like yourself needs really.
This isn't the only arcade section to the game, two others crop up later on too. The first involves putting out fires on oil wells by chasing round like the proverbial blue bottomed fly, and placing the right amount of dynamite on each well. As for the second arcade sequence, that'll arise when having solid some of your oil, your workers cock it up and you're required to help them put things right. Yup, life's tough at the top.
WHAT A BORE
Throughout the game, seasons will come and go, your pet dog will die, Aunty Mabel will need a new colostomy bag and you'll attempt to expand your empire in any number of ways. Should you, for example, tie half of your output in a supply contract? Get the oil out on time and you will get an excellent price for it. Fail, and as well as looking a bit of a pillock down the 'Wheeltappers And Oil Refinery Owners Social Club'., you could get fines of over $1,000,000.
Alternatively, you could employ spies and saboteurs. They're pretty pricey. But if your rivals' oil wells are destroyed, then you can steal the march and pick up their contracts and trade. If your saboteur is discovered though, then your oilfields will be confiscated, given to the opposing companies, and you won't get 10 percent discount at Shell Garages any more.
You won't be alone in your conniving however, for throughout the month your other three rivals will be hiring spies, buying land, signing supply contracts and selling oil too.
Fortunately, every month a report will tell you each of the other companies' dealings - how much they've invested and how many oilfields or wells they've bought. Checking the newspapers each month will provide more news of the dirty tricks your competitors are up to, and examining the maps will give an indication of who owns what, and what oil wells are up for sale. All vital info to the budding baron.
Have you got the speed, skill and determination to out-JR JR? Would you rather be burning down the opposition's oil rigs or beating them by supplying the best grade of oil and at the fastest speed? Now's your chance to prove that when it comes to oil, you're as slick as the rest. Oil! Slick! Geddit? (You're fired. Ed)
Jonathan: I was understandably unimpressed by the prospect of struggling through an oil drilling simulation. More accurately. I refused point blank. "It's really good, honest!" they told me, so after checking that their fingers weren't crossed I decided to give it a go. But I couldn't. No way, Jose. So I went for a walk round the block, had some lunch and then came back to it.
Blimey! Monstrously good music, graphics nothing short of awesome, heart-stopping action - and not an oil rig in sight. Then it dawned me. Ooops, I'd loaded Xenon II by mistake!
Flogging oil, as it turns out, is a pretty vicious (or should that be viscose?), business. My attempts tended to go up in flames after a couple of months, at least for the first 82 goes anyway. But I loved every minute of it, or most of them anyway. The ones spent swopping disks were probably the worst, the rest were, on the whole, okay.
Oil Imperium has been heavily dressed up I flashy graphics and loads of unnecessary, but desirable features. From the range of offices available, I plumped for the one with the airliner flying past outside and a plastic USS Enterprise on the window shelf. From the comfort of my swivel chair I then set about disposing of the five million in cash I found myself with.
I bought a pleasant little plot in South Wales, which I was assured was rich in 'black gold', as we in the biz call it, and drilled a hole in the middle. Next thing I knew, the whole thing was in flames and I was frantically trying to work out how the fire fighting bit worked (or didn't, and still doesn't as far as I can see).
Definitely the most unnecessary and hence most desirable bit of the game is the simulated ST on which you can carry out your transactions. I'm not quite sure what the head of a multinational oil business would be doing entrusting his entire worldly wealth to an ST, wonderful though they are, but I liked it anyway.
The next best bits are the little arcade games. These usually spell disaster for a strategy game, but in this case they work quite well. Apart from that wretched fire fighting one of course! Actually, I wasn't too keen on the pipe-laying one either - one slip and you've had it. The drilling bit seemed fine, though, mainly because I didn't muck it up once.
Stripping away all the flashy graphics and gimmicks, and examining the strategy at the heart of Oil Imperium, reveals a game a lot simpler than it first seems. All you really have to do to make any progress is invest as much as possible in as many productive-looking oil fields as you can. And if you think it'll help - send out saboteurs to wreck everyone else's.
The rest is really down to how many millions of pounds worth of gear gets blown to smithereens each month. Quite a lot, usually, when you're playing with several players, however, everyone's too out of breath from rushing in and out of the room to avoid seeing what their competitors are getting up to.
Oil Imperium makes are freshing change from shooting things. Although the little 'game' present on the pretend office computer could be called overkill, it manages to turn selling oil into a fun pastime. Unbelievable, but true.
Sean: This is an excellently programmed, thoughtfully presented and addictive game, with quality oozing from every leak. Oil Imperium is not exactly going to get your trigger finger pumping like an Exxon dead bird remover, but it will provide a good few weeks of entertainment. In the short term, it takes quite a while to get the hand of what's going on in the developing stages. Once you've found your way round the various icons though, and have begun to suss out just exactly what's going on, the game really starts to pick up.
Control wise, Oil Imperium is designed so that you use your mouse much more than your joystick, and barrels of thought went into producing a very user-friendly game. The ease with which you can carry out fairly complex actions with a minimum of mouse clicking is certainly one of the pulling points of this game.
The simplicity of the controls, however, belies the fact that Oil Imperium is still a lot more sophisticated than the couple in the Gold Blend Advert. There's tons to do and billions of decisions to make, all of which effects the development of the game.
Surprisingly, the arcade sequences fir in very well. Whereas in most games of this nature the arcade sections are about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit, here they serve to provide a welcome break from all the brain scrambling involved in the game proper. They're well programmed and funny, and failure in these sequences won't affect your progress in the main game to any great extent.
The graphics are also incredibly attractive throughout. Whether you are putting out oil rig fires in Alaska, drilling in the Middle East, or simply collecting the end of month report on what the other oil barons have been up to, you can be sure that the graphical representation will be nothing less than excellent. The tunes, likewise, are perfectly suited to the mood throughout.
My one worry is that there is not enough there to keep you playing for more than a month or so, and that even with the variety of options, it could become a little repetitive over time. This aside, Oil Imperium is a highly playable and professionally presented game that serves as a lesson to other software houses on how a good game should be presented. Now if only all Amiga games were like this.