I have a soft spot for management games and dungeon builders, so it’s no surprise that Evil Genius grabbed me. Elixir’s 2004 strategy title had a seemingly obvious concept that no one had explored before: what if you were an evil mastermind – a Bond villain with an underground lair running several criminal international schemes hellbent on ruling the world?
The game was launched to reasonable success – the gameplay was far from perfect – but a year later Elixir Studios filed for bankruptcy and Rebellion picked up the rights to all of its IPs. Fast forward to 2021, and Evil Genius’ first fully fledged sequel, Evil Genius 2: World Domination, is out under Rebellion’s banner.
World Domination is more than just the first game’s sequel – it is a proper spiritual successor bordering on a remake, essentially replicating the original’s concept and gameplay while expanding on almost every level. Unfortunately, the development team stuck a bit too close to the roots this time, and all the issues that plagued Evil Genius 1 still remain completely and frustratingly unchanged.
Evil Genius 2 is essentially a base building strategy game like its predecessor, where the player is given free reign to design and build their own multi-level underground lair set inside a mountain on an island. At the moment, there are three different locations of bases to choose from, each with their own layout and characteristics – one island might provide ample building space but allow spies to sneak in from the loading bay, for example, while another might have slightly less diggable rock but be so impenetrable it forces every inbound contact to go through the front entrance.
The actual appearance of the islands is exactly the same minus the positioning of some geographical features, despite them being located in completely separate oceans. Both the Indian and Pacific Ocean islands share the exact same Caribbean azure water from its Atlantic counterpart, and the colour palette and textures of the actual base itself are identical. Curiously, there are several other islands on the map that you can’t choose from, hinting at a potential new base expansion or DLC in the future that should expand the number of starting locations one can pick from.
As well as the island, you also get to choose between four different supervillains to be your avatar in the game: Maximilian, the franchise’s main villain who’s a cross of Dr Evil and 007’s Blofeld; Red Ivan, a militaristic Soviet-inspired Mr. Bison-like figure; Zalika, a technological genius lady; and Emma, a former spymaster turned evil villainess. Each of the evil geniuses have their own campaign objectives and specialties alongside fully voiced unit barks and short cutscene dialogues, helping render a more complete depiction of their personalities than if we just had unit portraits to go by.
Maximilian is a wealth-obsessed multimillionaire without a clear specialty, so his ability allows him to instantly train any regular minions in range into one of the specialty types. Red Ivan is a military-focused genius who can hire and maintain Guard minions cheaply, and also use a 4-shot rocket launcher to instantly take out any intruders to the base. Zalika is science-focused, so in addition to giving boosts to research minions, she also can instantly repair any faulty equipment in her proximity. Emma is all about people, so her niche is focused on deception, distractions, and henchmen.
To give some context to all that, minions and henchmen are Evil Genius 2’s characters and units. Henchmen are special super powered individuals with unique abilities, each with a unique background like hacking, hitman, or being an AI in a metal body. They are limited in number and recruited via special side missions, and can be used in combat as your evil genius’ personal bodyguard when your base gets breached.
Minions, meanwhile, are the bread and butter of your evil lair. The normal minion worker – the men and women responsible for building your rooms and putting the furniture in place – are auto-recruited every 10s or immediately by paying $10,000. They need food, beds, and recreational facilities as well as a medbay, and their number is dictated by the amount of lockers you have in your barracks.
Once you kidnap a specialist in the world and interrogate them in the base, you can train your worker minions in a training room so they can perform those specialist duties. Train guards and technicians to guard your base and repair its equipment, respectively, or scientists and valets to unlock new tech and distract tourists and agents in your casino cover operation.
That cover operation is one of the biggest changes from the original, which required you to build a whole casino elsewhere on the island completely separate from your underground base’s entrances. In Evil Genius 2, that cover operation is baked into your lair – the casino operates as a front to your evil operations and features at least one door leading directly into your base. Tourists and agents arrive by giant yacht into a pier in the entrance of the casino and slowly make their way into it.
The casino can be customised like any other portion of your base and must be guarded, though none of the more overt items like traps or secure doors can be placed in it. Weirdly, cameras also can’t be placed in it – a decision that was done for balancing reasons alone, and which actually hurts the way you can protect your base effectively.
That’s especially important for two reasons: the casino isn’t the only entrance to your island, as there are a loading bay and helipad located near the base; and Evil Genius 2 is so bad at security to the point I’m not actually sure it isn’t a bug. Even though guards patrol the base, security cameras watch over corridors, and henchmen are stationed in security desks ready to spring into action when intruders are spotted, every single character and item in the game aside from traps seems unaware of the existence of enemies.
I spent a week with Evil Genius 2 before the review, and throughout that time, I never saw a security desk actually spot an intruder making their way into the base. I also never saw a guard stop a stranger for questioning, an alarm be sounded, or any sort of reaction happen as a response to the very obvious incursions by the Forces of Justice – unless I manually tagged an intruder to be killed or arrested, everyone on the base just ignored this law enforcement individual as if he wasn’t a clear and present threat to the operation.
Weirdly enough, even tagging them didn’t spring security into action even as the agents waltzed in front of cameras everywhere – instead, every single minion or guard that happened to walk near a tagged enemy beelined towards it and lost a fight mano a mano, meaning I would consistently lose dozens of minions to every spy as they tackled these highly trained agents one at a time. You would have expected that an intruder would be automatically detected by cameras without a tag or that security would all rush towards the location of a known intruder, but instead, the AI is seemingly oblivious to enemies unless the player micromanages them and tags them. This would be bad enough if it happened occasionally, but since the Forces of Justice relentless send a group of investigators every 5 minutes, the end result is you having to micromanage your security hundreds of times an hour, which ends up being a very draining and aggravating affair.
Speaking of micromanagement, we also come to the global schemes mechanic, where you can establish criminal operations around the world and launch international schemes to obtain money and other bonuses. These schemes range from stealing $10,000 in three minutes to baking Alaska, and they provide an extra layer of depth to the game in the form of conquering countries and delaying law enforcement actions. Unfortunately, even though the map itself is pretty, the actual interface is quite bad – you can often only run one scheme in a region at a time, and you can’t easily tell at a glance which region already has a scheme underway. Given you must manually launch dozens of events every 30 minutes otherwise your coffers will run dry immediately, plus all the special schemes to kidnap people or perform special operations, the end result is a suboptimal layer that ends up being more of a chore than a pleasure.
However, none of those bad points even comes close to the worst aspect of Evil Genius 2: despite being a strategy game, Evil Genius is remarkably terrible at management. The management aspect of the game is nothing short of atrocious; minions will fail to feed themselves while standing in the cafeteria, scientists will constantly walk around without a job leaving research paused and all science equipment unmanned, and guards would rather spend their time walking randomly instead of stationing themselves in the security room to respond to threats. Every single one of those issues is game halting, and as they happen constantly and on top of each other, it resulted in a fair share of ruined games due to the base collapsing as 90% of minions simply stopped doing their jobs and stared at the walls like Sims stuck inside a room.
In one case, I had technicians constantly not repair any items for an hour and walk around the base with “none” as their job status, at the same time my scientists wouldn’t work due to being sleep deprived and kept constantly walking into the barracks and staring at several empty beds before turning around and walking aimlessly around the base again. This resulted in every single item in the cafeteria and rec rooms breaking, which meant every minion of every type suddenly couldn’t replenish any stats and made the game unplayable. This exact chain reaction situation happened no less than 3 times in the week I spent with the game.
A bad AI is a dealbreaker in a management game like this, but the issue is made infinitely worse by the complete lack of control afforded to the player. I felt completely helpless and unable to solve the issue because the game didn’t allow me to solve the issue – in terms of management, you literally can’t do anything. You can’t assign a specific person a specific job, you can’t set job priorities in rooms or stations so minions give preference to a specific duty, and you can’t manually order someone to go somewhere Dungeon Keeper style. The only single way of affecting the behaviour of minions is by walking your evil genius into a room and using his special, time-limited ability to prioritise items in his radius – a ridiculously meek solution to a massive problem that both fails as a gameplay design and as an immersion factor.
As a result, the game enjoyment is halved. What starts as a great and extremely polished experience quickly starts showing cracks, and Evil Genius becomes so stressful that it becomes unplayable. The inability to give a simple order to a meaningless minion when playing as a dictatorial evil supervillain is not only immersion-breaking, but also makes for terrible gameplay when the AI invariably fails to perform its duties.
To its credit, the game does look and sound amazing. Rebellion spared no expense in graphics or sound, and they even brought Brian Blessed and Pierce Brosnan’s 007’s Moneypenny Samantha Bond to voice Red Ivan and Emma. As great as those voice actors are – and they are fantastic – the voice direction was clearly lacking; the dialogues were painfully obviously recorded separately, so cutscenes sound less like a conversation and more like a series of interconnected standalone sound bites.
The music, however, is amazing. James Hannigan returns from Evil Genius 1, and he expands the original soundtrack with gusto. The main theme is given a facelift, with a bigger and more fleshed out orchestra accompaniment, while other tracks in the game range from the 60’s bossa nova-inspired lounge music to a proper spy motif that would feel at home in any of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies.
The truth is Evil Genius 2 succeeds in expanding on almost every feature of the original, but it somehow manages to not fix a single one of its main problems. The original game also suffered from an intense lack of player control and management tools back in 2004, and Rebellion somehow missed all of that when designing its sequel. As fitting and poetic it is for evil to defeat itself through incompetence, it makes for truly terrible gameplay when a player fails at a game because he is not given the tools to succeed when the game misbehaves. It ruins what is otherwise a great and very well produced title, and the hurdles are too big to ignore – Rebellion managed to make the concept of launching international schemes to rule the world a boring endeavour.
EVIL GENIUS 2: WORLD DOMINATION VERDICT
A worthy sequel made unplayable by bad AI and the inability to have any direct impact on the people working for you.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Expanding the base into multiple floors and creating nice chokepoints to circumvent the rather stupid AI.
Base building is fun and spreads across multiple levels
Game difficulty options are quite comprehensive and let you customise multiple factors of gameplay
Zero ability to direct minions to a location or a job, resulting in failure states independent of player action
Base AI is oblivious to intruders unless tagged by the player, making the player feel more like a security camera officer than an evil "genius"
Multiple AI and item failure issues that could be serious bugs or very bad design decisions, but hard to tell the difference
About Marcello Perricone
Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.