Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

By sticking you in the driver's seat, a game can make you sympathize with almost anybody, including the triple-chinned greedpigs that run today's exploitative oil industry. In Big Oil, you'll learn to respect their right to untrammeled profit as you build your company from a single oil field to a global energy concern. The high stakes and turns of fortune may hook you at first, as you pray that your next claim doesn't spring up on the other side of a desert, and the fate of your fledgling business rests on the price of oil in Marseilles. But you'll quickly run into a bigger obstacle: Everybody is working against you, especially the game, whose low-budget, user-proof interface will defy you at every turn.

Stand back as your assistant, "ol' muttonchops," gives you instructions out of turn. Admire the way your tankers forget your instructions, and your oil wells neglect to tell you that you're a few feet short of pipeline. Clench your mouse in anger as you furiously click around a city, trying to find the harbor. And no matter how generous you felt when you started the game, see how you react when your workforce starts bugging you for an ice rink. When did their quality of life become your problem? Where the hell were they when you almost went bankrupt in Caracas?

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Beyond the game: Big Oil ships with several real-world scenarios that cover war, earthquakes, racial strife, and labor riots. True to form, none of the chaos matters until it hits your bottom line.

Worth playing for: When you finally learn to work around the glitches, you'll get a few moments of excitement as you get your business humming, until a silly but irreversible mis-click costs you millions.

Frustration sets in when: How bad is this game? Well, if you try to ship oil from Alaska to Tokyo, the boat doesn't cross the Pacific, it heads east, around Latin America and Africa. That's right, the game's developers think the world is flat.

Final judgment: If Exxon had it half this hard, they can keep their goddamn billions.