As tycoon management sims go, I can’t think of a less “modern day” approved context than an oil rig platform. Not to get all Greenpeace, but it feels like a tonal anachronism to be pleasantly clicking around a voxel-based cutesy crude oil drilling platform, trying to squeeze the most profit out of black liquid gold while we’re all sipping our iced coffees through paper straws and trying to save the sea turtles.
Still, it’s fiction, and it’s not inherently evil. What is evil though is what can best be described as a “mobile game” UI wrapped around a deceptively complex sim strategy. You can tell from the outset, where everything has those chunky flat-shaded borders and each level comes with a three-star ranking system, that this would be right at home on your iPhone or equivalent.
It isn’t a particularly elegant user experience, and I found myself more than once clicking on the wrong structure or feature because the nature of an oil rig means you’re building a lot of things near each other. Things become very cluttered, very quickly.
On the topic of ‘not very elegant’, the tutorial is one of those ‘infodump’ moments where you click through fifty text boxes and try everything out once as if that’s somehow going to make it stick in your brain. You don’t need most of the stuff it tries to teach for quite some time anyway, and you’d be much better off popping into the ‘free play’ open-world endless mode and just clicking around until you vaguely understand everything.
Steep learning curve aside, Drill Deal does a good job of presenting everything you’d want in this sort of game. You have a drill, obviously, and various refineries or other manufacturing processes that turn your raw fluid wealth into something more specific, like petroleum or propylene. This is another moment where the cutesy inoffensive presentation butts up against the actual context because the employees and NPCs all resemble voxel-based Funko Pops while they scurry to their job at the chemical sulfur refinery. It’s a bit like having a water treatment plant staffed by hamsters in little party hats – although everything works, it’s still visually jarring.
You’re doing all of this to produce materials that you then sell via contracts to companies called Chung Lai, Panama Oil, and Lyndejard, further cementing that weird dissonance in the context, because every single one of those sounds like the evil corporation in a cyberpunk movie. In fact, that’s my biggest disappointment with Drill Deal – It doesn’t take advantage of its setup to aim at the very open goal of a wonderfully sardonic comedy game, where you’re unintentionally funding The World’s Worst Evil Megacorps. Instead, it’s played entirely straight and pedestrian, even though it quickly includes things like pirate raids and ghosts.
Not to mark a game down for not being what it wasn’t trying to be or anything, but there are so many points where it nearly does something interesting. Take, for example, your employees. The employee system is where most of the moment-to-moment strategy comes from. They’re all slightly better or worse at certain parts of the process than others, demand higher or lower salaries as a result, and need certain criteria met to stay happy. I don’t know how many real oil rigs have cinemas, but yours certainly will. You need to assign them jobs in places you’d expect, like the drill and the refineries, but also in places you wouldn’t, like the kitchen or the gym, and so much of your performance and success comes down to not just their proficiency, but their happiness. Not in the sense that you’re filling up a bar, but that they have to be allowed to go and spend recreational time doing things they enjoy or resting up because they’re tired, or only working day/night shifts because of the importance of the work-life balance.
Furthermore, you have upgrade trees, which are standard for this genre. Things like improving production speed, unlocking higher-tiered buildings, etc. But there’s also one for employees and human resources, which you need to invest in to expand the pool of people who will show up as available for hire. It’s very nearly making a point about the importance of good labour practices and job satisfaction but stops just short because everything’s randomised, and you can kind of scuff your way through with whoever’s available.
‘Stopping just short’ is about the summary of my time with Drill Deal – Oil Tycoon. It nearly has a good UI, it nearly does interesting things with its mechanics, and it nearly sets up a relevant, modern, humorous parody context. It was, in effect, nearly great. Sadly, it’s merely alright.
Drill Deal – Oil Tycoon is out now on Steam with console releases to follow.