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Do you have what it takes to conquer the world? Look around you: if you aren't in a volcano lair, sitting behind a desk with plans for a doomsday device unfurled in front of you, watching loyal minions run past your inner sanctum's door then, no, you probably don't. But, thankfully, Evil Genius 2 is here to at least give you a taste of villainy.
The first hours of Evil Genius 2 are immediately absorbing. The management game starts you off as the humble owner of a tropical island, in charge of a gaggle of loyal goons, and enough gold bars in your backpack to start constructing a base from which to take over the world. You need to sketch out blueprints for the different rooms that are essential to your base's operations. Build a plant and fill it with generators to power your lair; a barracks stuffed with beds and lockers to house the minions who keep everything functioning; and a command centre kitted out with computer terminals for managing hideouts across the world map.
As your operations expand, the blank canvas of rock you started with is steadily hollowed out into rooms and corridors, which become filled with activity. As you unlock and train different kinds of minions - guards, mercenaries, technicians, and socialites, for example - your base will begin to like a colourful ant farm, with orange-clad guards, white-coated scientists, and yellow-jumpsuited hench-people all running purposefully in all directions.
Of course, you can't take over the world by staying at home. After building your command centre you can begin to send minions out into the world, setting up hideouts in different regions. Hideouts generate a constant flow of cash back to your base, but they also build up heat - as in unwanted attention, rather than an extreme temperature. If a region's heat gets too high then the hideout must lockdown until things cool off, reducing your cash flow.
Building a hideout also unlocks schemes in the region. The basic schemes either net you lump sums of cash or reduce heat in the area. So long as you have the resources and the region isn't in lockdown, these missions are as simple as hitting a button and your minions will do the rest. They'll run from your base to a helipad, fly out to the mission, and a countdown will begin. If they're successful, the reward is delivered to your vault and the minions retire. You'll often also have special objectives for the main campaign or side quests that appear as schemes on the world map - stealing The Declaration Of Independence, for example. These demand a team of specialist staff, but otherwise it's the same deal. Launch the mission and your minions will hop to it.
The main goal of Evil Genius 2 is world domination. You need to research and construct a doomsday device with which to hold the world ransom. There are many steps on the road to your goal, such as kidnapping scientists to devise the device, stealing fuel for the weapon from around the globe, and test-firing the weapon and surviving the Forces of Justice troops who come to investigate.
However, while the objectives may be varied, the actual work is largely identical. To kidnap a scientist, for instance, you find the mission on the world map and, if you have the necessary resources, you start the mission timer. When it reaches zero, the objective is scratched off. Need to steal fuel? Find the mission on the world map and repeat the previous steps. There's no actual challenge to you, the player, to complete these missions. You just need to find the mission on the world map, start it, and wait for it to complete.
Meanwhile, back in the lair, there are periodic incursions from enemy agents. They arrive on the island disguised and packed in with ferry loads of tourists. As you spot them moving through your casino then you can mark them for distraction, capture, or elimination, and as soon as they try to break into your base your hench-people will do the rest. Your lair automatically hires new minions to replace those that have died, and they will automatically train into the different roles you're understaffed in. With very little input from you, the machinations of villainy largely take care of themselves.
What this means in practice is that I'd often find, after playing for hours and dutifully progressing through the objectives in my mission, I'd not actually done much more than activate schemes on the world map and mark enemy agents for termination.
There are moments when Evil Genius 2 breaks out of its routine. For instance, after testing the MIDAS doomsday device and attracting the nervous eyes of the world's governments, I'm given a new kind of objective. I have to develop and build a fake schematic of the superweapon, one that has a fault in it. I then have to let the Forces of Justice steal it so, once they've analysed it, they think my plans are doomed to failure and will leave me alone. Where this mission differs from others is that once I've built the schematic object, I actually have to do something with it. It's not just an objective on a list that's ticked off when a timer completes - I need to place it in my base in such a way that it can be grabbed.
Now, my base is well set up to repel any invasions - no enemy spies have ever got past the entrance hall without being cut down by guards and laser walls. After a few failed attempts by the Forces of Justice, I realise there is no chance of the enemy rogues stealing the decoy. Instead, I have to reconstruct my base's entrance to let the Forces of Justice get far enough in to steal the fake schematic, but no further. This is a mission that actually makes me use the tools and systems of the game to complete my mission.
I sell off all the traps in the entrance hall, place the decoy just inside my base so it's the first thing the rogues see, and reconstruct all the traps further down the hallway behind a new high-security door. Within minutes the decoy is stolen. It's the first time I had to redesign my base. The only changes I'd needed to make before were to expand, making more room for power plants and computer terminals. This was the first time an objective had actually made me reassess my lair. I just wish it hadn't taken me so many hours of playing to encounter it.
Evil Genius 2 has hooked me deep. Often I look at my watch and realise two hours have slipped by. I love the way the game looks: the camp '70s-style Bond aesthetic is colourful and lively, and every minion, agent, and object is full of character. Building out your base is engaging, and watching your minions sprint to follow your orders is always satisfying. But, it felt like I was taking very few active choices. Missions, as I've already said, are most often a case of sending minions off to the world map and waiting for the timer to run down. Base defense, too, largely took care of itself. I could have invested a lot of time into building interlocking traps that whittled down invading agents - wind machines that blow enemies into laser walls, pinball flippers that fling rogues into shark tanks, and so on - but I found setting up a security room next to the entrance and filling it with heavily armed guards did the trick.
I do like Evil Genius 2; it's a loving sequel to an overlooked management game that's waited more than 15 years for a second outing. But it's left me wanting more. The surface is diabolically good, but the systems below it feel shallow and unrewarding.
Pros: charmingly captures the camp Bond films; engaging base-building; game loop has you absorbed for hours
Cons: repetitive objectives; too much action hidden on the world map; too few active choices for you as the player
For fans of: Two Point Hospital, Production Line, Big Pharma
Evil Genius 2 is released for PC on March 30. Review code provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Rebellion Developments
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