Evil Genius 2 review: Dr No Thanks

I was rather looking forward to getting stuck into Evil Genius 2: World Domination. The sequel to Rebellion’s 2004 game Evil Genius puts you in the shoes of a sadistic supervillain who is hell bent on global conquest. You’ll need to build and develop a secret lair from which to launch your evil schemes, recruiting minions and henchmen (henchpeople?) along the way. All the while guarding against the super agents of the world’s security services, who are looking to bring you to justice.

It’s a fun idea – a Bond-esque spin on the Dungeon Keeper concept. Although really, the game’s sense of humour is more in line with Austin Powers than the Bond franchise. It’s got a bright, colourful art style and a knowingly irreverent attitude. Evil Genius 2 also has a lot going on, with multiple, overlapping systems giving a decent amount of depth to gameplay. As such, it took me quite some time to work out why I found the whole thing so gratingly tedious.

To immediately clarify, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with Evil Genius 2. I didn’t play the first instalment, but I’m led to believe it was quite buggy. I saw no such issues with this release. I just found that although there are multiple, complementary gameplay systems to engage with, none of them are actually all that engaging.

The main focus of your attention will be on constructing your lair. You’re given a plot of hollowed-out mountain, sandwiched between the helipad your minions use to get out into the world and the ‘front operation’ (e.g. a casino), which is meant to distract the authorities from what’s really going on (more on that later).

The base-building aspect is in fact quite intuitive and probably my favourite part of the game. You lay out the rooms as you see fit, install security systems and traps, and generally ensure your lair and its occupants have everything they require. Even here though, there are some frustrations.

Rooms can only contain objects that belong to that room type. Corridors are a type of room, and those are the only ones where guard posts and CCTV cameras can be installed, meaning, for example, guards and cameras can’t be placed inside your gold vault. This is particularly irritating when you can see gold being stolen by enemy agents, but you have to wait for one of your minions to notice.

And you’ll have to wait, as you can’t order minions around directly. You can give individual minions specific priorities when it comes to the jobs they do, but you’re not able to give them specific tasks. For instance, lair objects and equipment degrade over time, with them eventually failing altogether. If you see an item is non-functional, you’ll just have to wait for a technician minion to get round to fixing it, rather than just telling them to do it immediately.

It’s irritating. Again, not by any means a deal-breaker in its own right, but symptomatic of the game’s wider approach. It feels like Evil Genius 2 can’t quite decide whether the player should care about minions or not. They’re all named, they have their own morale meters and personality quirks. They get tired and hungry. However, they’re also completely dispensable. If they’re killed or desert, you just hire more, cheaply. You can’t give them jobs and you can’t decide which get trained in what specialities. The most interaction you get with them is in having your evil genius execute them as a motivator for the others.

Your minions are critical for your operation though. As well as maintaining your base operations, they’re also sent out into the world to set up and run criminal networks. For the most part, these involve committing money-making crimes or performing counter-intelligence to reduce the ‘heat’ in a given region in the world. Again though, in practice this boils down to just clicking a ‘do scheme’ button and waiting for randomly chosen minions to leave your lair and never return. The scheme then completes after a given length of time.

You can find and recruit the aforementioned henchmen, which are kind of super-minions. These characters have their own special abilities, and can be directly ordered around, as can your own genius. You’ll need to do so too as, although your genius’s death ends the game, they deal a lot of damage. This is particularly useful when super agents start turning up, hoping to bring you down.

Their appearance is driven by the reports of the more mundane investigators sent to snoop around your cover operation. Of course, quite why your hollowed-out mountain lair actually needs a cover operation is another matter entirely. I would suggest that 50 metres of solid rock would make rather a better disguise than a busy hotel and resort. In fact, I did try just bricking up the casino-side entrance to my base, only to find the game didn’t allow it. Even then, having the ability to lock and bar the doors would’ve been a welcome security feature…

Visits from super agents can be prevented in the ‘world stage’ global map view, from where schemes are also initiated. However, you have to be looking at the map at the time, and notice the counter-scheme appear. Given there’s no notification and they’re only available for 30 seconds, this is another needless irritation; particularly when most of the action is in the lair view. More-specific feedback between the two, for example making it easier to find certain story-relevant schemes, would have made things easier.

All-in-all then, I found Evil Genius 2: World Domination to be more frustrating than fun. As I say, there are a lot of positives to be found here. It’s all very well presented, from art to music. The voice acting isn’t particularly extensive, but it’s good nonetheless. However, for me it’s a game which is less than the sum of its parts. The arms-length control of ‘my’ evil operation left me feeling less of an evil genius and more of a villain’s architect. It’s a game I wanted to enjoy but, ultimately, didn’t.

Evil Genius 2 was developed by Rebellion, and it’s available on PC.

Disclosure statement: review code for Evil Genius 2 was provided by Rebellion. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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