It Takes Money To Make Money

HIGH Bizarrely addicting. Fairly educational.  

LOW Many upgrades are too expensive or unnecessary.

WTF Trained moles??

I have to admit, when Turmoil: the Heat is On came across my desk, I had zero interest in it. I’m not big on sim or economic games, and I’m not excited about something that centers around the oil industry. So many of the problems we’ve gotten ourselves into as a species are directly because of drilling for oil and the greed that ensues, but I decided to give it a shot anyway, and to my surprise I ended up having a great time with it. I also managed to use it as a teaching tool and educated my son about a few things, so… win?

Turmoil takes place around the 1800s, when the oil industry was birthed in America. The player chooses a character and heads out to a small town where the mayor is encouraging entrepreneurship. Starting with a little seed money, the player buys a plot of land and sets out to find black gold underneath the surface.

Gameplay is fairly straightforward, although that works in its favor. At the start of each plot, the player sends out scouts. Once a likely location is found, an oil rig is sunk and a drill ferrets down into the dirt. If a pool of oil is struck, it starts pumping automatically and the player must arrange for horse-drawn carts to take it to market. If they don’t find oil, they need to keep digging until they do, and the drills are fairly snakelike and maneuverable.

Each level generally follows the same pattern of sending scouts, sinking a rig, drilling and pumping. As the campaign progresses, various technologies unlock that aid this process – things like more efficient spotters, faster drills, a sonar that pinpoints oil deposits, and even trained moles (yes, the fuzzy subterranean mammals) that can retrieve valuable diamonds.

While gameplay from level to level stays mostly the same even with the upgrades, there’s an undeniable appeal to it. Working on optimizing techniques and operating at high efficiency put me into a semi-meditative state watching the flow of oil, the pace of my delivery carts and keeping an eye on the constantly-fluctuating prices of the oil markets. There are a dozen little things to keep track of at any time, and being in the middle of it was pleasantly busy, but never overwhelming.

Once back in town, players will count their profits (or losses!) and then buy more equipment and stake a claim on the next patch of land. Drill, pump, repeat. They can grease a few palms to artificially inflate prices (too real!) and after a while, the mayor will start selling shares in the town, so tycoons with enough cash laying around can enter an auction. The person (or competing NPC) who eventually buys a majority stake in the town will become Turmoil’s winner.

Once I found the rhythm of play, I started drilling plot after plot, and I just couldn’t stop — I blew through the base campaign in three sessions. However, there’s an entire second campaign. The additional “Heat is On” content is available from the start menu and gives players a completely separate experience including streamlined systems, a new town, new characters and new things to deal with, like buried treasure and magma.

The mechanics in Turmoil are easy to learn and it’s pleasant to min/max the systems until every competitor is economically devastated, but there are still a few things that could be tightened up. In Turmoil’s main campaign, some of the tech items seem either too expensive or simply unnecessary. I rolled credits with less than half of the available upgrades and had no problem at all – I’m not complaining that it was too easy (it wasn’t) but letting all of these things go unused seems like a missed opportunity to enhance the content.

Another issue I had has apparently been fixed. In Turmoil’s base campaign, natural gas appears towards the end of the game and the player has to ‘wrap’ pipes around pockets of the gas and then activate them with a spendy upgrade. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s poorly-explained, it’s too expensive to fool around with, and by that point the player is coasting towards the finish line – they’re not looking for a new mechanic to learn. The devs have stated that the issues with natural gas have been addressed in The Heat is On based on player feedback, so I expect it’s not a problem for those who play the second campaign.

While the graphics are on the simple side and getting someone excited about the petroleum industry is a hard sell when we’re concerned with global warming and the future of the planet, I still found a great deal to like about Turmoil: the Heat is On. I appreciated its approachability, it led to a few good conversations about economics with my son, and it also helped that the oil I was drilling was just pretend — with no ecological damage being done, I could just relax and enjoy the systems.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Gamious and published by Playdigious. It is currently available on Switch, iOS and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the base campaign was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Tobacco Reference. One of the characters has a cigar, I guess? It wasn’t notable, and there’s no salty language or sexal content. In fact, this game is fairly educational in some ways… No problems with it here.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game muted and had no problems at all. there are no sound cues needed for play and all relevant info is displayed onscreen. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The left stick moves a cursor or selects options from a menu, A confirms, B cancels. The L/R bumper buttons are used to move between some menus and to shift horses between oil buyers during play.

Brad Gallaway
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