The game has you playing as the CEO of an oil company immediately after World War II. Your have one goal: maximize your profits by selling oil to America, or else your board of directors will have you fired. To accomplish this goal, you have to keep America hooked on oil to fuel its economy, which means greasing the palms of politicians to make them pass bills friendly to your business and unfriendly to the environmental movement. Eventually, you can get America to invade other countries for their oil, have anti-terror legislation passed to silence environmentalists and social justice advocates, bribe Third World dictatorships to drive out the tribesmen who stand in your way, and use other nefarious means to get as much oil as humanly possible.
As you may have guessed by now, this game takes a very particular view of the oil industry. At the same time, however, what other game affords you the opportunity to play as a card carrying Captain Planet villain, Laughing Mad at your computer while poisoning lakes and killing caribou?
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: That would be you.
- Crapsack World: Keep America hooked on oil, and it will slide deeper and deeper into this, eventually culminating in World War III.
- Cruelty Is the Only Option: The game forces you to be an absolutely evil jackass. When the Ogoni start protesting and blocking your oil fields, can you find a peaceful solution? No, your only option is to bribe the government to Kill 'Em All. And you cannot get to invest in Iraq without manipulating the US government invading them. And lets not even get into the part about the environment.
- The only way to avert this is to aim for the "green" ending right from the beginning, which can easily be achieved if you do nothing to keep environmentalism from spreading (by systematically skipping the elections and not "oiling" the representatives) and let oil demand regularly outstrip supply in order to have energy-saving acts approved, only opening new wells to placate your shareholders and avoid getting fired. By using this strategy, it is possible to retire as early as 1975, without even having reached peak oil in Texas.
- Day of the Jackboot: You can organize and fund one in Venezuela if you manage to corrupt the U.S. president.
- Eagleland: Type 1 if you don't have the government in your pocket, and Type 2 if you do.
- Earn Your Bad Ending: A given considering your actions are a direct threat to life on Earth. The optimal ending leads to Mutually Assured Destruction, but the other ending, Farewell West, ends up being an unintentional case of this (see Guide Dang It!).
- Failure Is the Only Option : Of the four endings, one involves you getting fired and another one involves the end of the world (and text saying "you spend your last days in darkness, pondering your role in creating this mess"). The third involves a happy ending for everyone except the Villain Protagonist player; an ending in which reduced reliance on fossil fuels renders the oil industry less important. The last involves keeping the western world addicted to oil but not actually supplying it, crashing the GDP so hard that modern civilization slowly collapses due to a permanently ruined economy. It does not appear to be possible to make the game last forever without eventually running into one of these endings.
- There are some more minor examples as well. If you do offshore drilling in Alaska, there will be a spill no matter what you do, and you will get fined for it no matter how much you corrupted the politicians. If you drill anywhere in Nigeria, the pigs and fish will die (whether or not you ignore environmental regulation), the people will start demonstrating, and the Ogoni will eventually turn violent (whether or not you get the government to attack them first). Once Iraq is invaded, there is no way to prevent an insurgency from beginning.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Your oil company starts off as a small post-World War II business venture and goes to... well... an oiligarchy that keeps the entire world oppressed, feeding it untold amounts of money to pay for oil obtained through everything from human rights abuses to burning live humans to make more of it once you hit Peak Oil.
- Guide Dang It!: The Farewell West ending. It can be reached (although the creators belived otherwise when they first discovered the issues in obtaining it), but one can generally only do so by blowing up all of your oil wells just as Peak Oil is about to hit, and maintaining a near-100% oil addiction through your savings. As soon as the GDP reaches -12% growth, it's yours.
- It is possible to reach it more conventionally by careful management of oil supply and demand. After the peak, carefully keep oil supply just below oil demand. The price will rise slowly, as the GDP falls. Your job is to keep the oil supply close enough to demand to keep the price rise as slow as possible, without ever letting oil demand outstrip supply at any time (in which case GDP growth returns to +3% and the ending becomes impossible). If you keep this up for several decades without reaching $300/barrel, you can reach the Farewell West ending.
- Global Warming: Shows up around the midpoint of the game. It doesn't really affect the gameplay, though.
- Green Aesop: If we don't stop relying on oil to run our society, then we will a) start nuking each other for oil, or b) start using each other to make oil.
- A subtle one regarding Alaskan oil drilling: once you explore for oil up there, you find that there isn't nearly as much as there is in places like Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq. Perhaps it's the developers' way of saying that "drill baby drill" won't solve our oil problems?
- HeelFace Turn: You're encouraged to pull this off halfway through to get the "retirement" ending instead of the "nuclear war" ending.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Saddam Hussein, by virtue that he will neeever invade Kuwait unless you push him to by persuading the Kuwaitis to drill illegally.
- Human Resources: Late in the game, once oil starts running low, you can start making "biofuels" by processing humans into oil.
- Multiple Endings: In the "best" ending, the US breaks its oil addiction and converts to clean energy, and you go out of business. In another, as the world runs out of oil, World War III breaks out for the last remaining reserves, and you hide in your bunker to ride it out. In yet another, all of Western civilization collapses due to the economic strife you caused and because you can no longer supply enough oil to keep it running. Finally, you can simply be fired before reaching Peak Oil if you fail to bring in profits.
- No Party Given: The two political parties are referred to as the Donkeys and the Elephants, with no real difference between them. They will both happily pass oil-friendly bills so long as you fill their pockets with oil money.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: One of the consequences of peak oil is that, once food distribution networks break down, people will turn to cannibalism for sustenance.
- Post-Peak Oil: You eventually reach a point in the game where you can't sustain oil production. What eventually happen is you start processing humans into oil, Western civilization collapses due to a crash in GDP growth, nuclear war, or simply a less-oil dependent world.
- Sleazy Politician: Bribing Congress to pass oil-friendly, anti-environmental bills is a major part of the game, and the only real way to progress past 2030 without being made obsolete by green energy.
- Toxic, Inc.: Your oil company causes the likes of animal life dying off.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: See Cruelty Is The Only Option.
- Villain Protagonist : You, the "protagonist of the petroleum era."
- We Have Reserves: Mercenaries cost only $50. This is nothing compared to the profits you make each year, so you can just throw away their lives carelessly - they're easy to replace.