Over the last few years, we’ve seen a bunch of old games being brought back, like how Streets of Rage 4 resurrected a long-dormant franchise or how Crash Bandicoot 4 brought back an iconic character. Now it’s the turn of Evil Genius, a strategy game from 2004 that had you taking control of a Dr Evil style villain and carving out a lair in which you could plot the downfall of the world. The critical reception was fairly middling but the game earned itself something of a cult status. Now, after years of careful plotting and planning, Rebellion has given us the sequel that the original game so deeply deserved.
The story is as simple as you being a supervillain and therefore needing to take over the world. It all takes place after the events of the first game, although the two are so loosely connected that you don’t need to worry about not understanding anything. And the basic gist of the action is the same, too; build an evil lair fit for a villain of your stature, execute a wealth of devious schemes and eventually take over the world.
Speaking of the first game, while I have played it my experience with it isn’t extensive, so this review isn’t going to be comparing the smaller details between the two games. Rather, I’m just going to be talking about Evil Genius 2 from the perspective of someone jumping straight into the sequel and how it holds up in 2021.
There are four villains to choose from when you fire up the game; the short Maximillian is the classic evil genius, complete with a bald head and scar, but strangely lacking in the cat department; Then there’s Ivan, the big Russian bruiser who reckons violence is always the answer and can field extra security without paying through the nose for it; Zalika comes with the best hairstyle and gives a major boost to science minions, speeding up research by a substantial amount; and finally Emma is more subtle than her counterparts, favouring the route of using the Casino front to redirect pesky agents. It’s hard to investigate rumours of a secret lair when you keep stopping to play roulette and have a drink at the bar.
Planning and building your evil domicile of death is pleasingly easy. You can click and drag to quickly form rooms and then swap over to dropping in items. Your minions will come running in wielding sleek sci-fi devices that let them obliterate rock and dirt, before using similar devices to resize shrunken items that they then dump into the room.
Once you’ve got to grips with everything you can even do stuff like put a room within a room, such as combining a cafeteria with a staff break room to save space and be more effective. As you’d expect for an evil lair there’s quite a lot you need to make everything work; generators for power, control rooms to run nefarious schemes from, barracks to house your hundreds of minions, training rooms, research areas, armouries and, of course, a massive vault to store all your ill-gotten gains.
You could probably think of Evil Genius 2 as more of a human resources simulator. Looking back at some old movies I’m pretty sure the reason most evil villains failed was due to a poorly maintained workforce that had no loyalty to their boss. Keeping your army of goons happy means building places to sleep, areas to relax in, a cafeteria to have some lunch in, plenty of room to train and even small things like decent air conditioning. I might be an evil genius who executes the occasional employee solely because an optional objective offered me $5000 to do it, but I’m a caring boss.
The game doesn’t mention it, but each minion comes with one or two perks, like being a dog-lover or having a great right jab. It’s unclear as to whether these perks have a genuine impact, but I imagine they must do, otherwise, why bother including them at all? You can view them all from the minion roster, and even assign work preferences to certain minions.
As the game goes on you’ll have to start training more skilled minions for your base. For example, your basic guards can be trained to become mercenaries, and then even later on those same mercs can take a few night classes to become full-fledged Hitmen capable of wielding assault rifles and bumbling around in sharp suits. Keeping the right balance of minion types is vital to a smooth operation, although there’s no detailed data available so you have to kind of judge it all by eye and feeling.
Without a doubt, planning and building your own base of operations is where Evil Genius 2 is at its diabolical best. The first four or five hours are filled with new room types and items, leaving you to tinker and design. There’s a freeplay mode, too, if you fancy building the perfect lair of doom without having to fuss about working to a budget. You can even build across multiple levels, adding stairs to get from one floor to the other. Although you’d think some elevators would be better, right? Maybe it’s a sneaky way of keeping your workforce healthy?
You only actually have direct control over your Evil Genius and your group of loyal henchmen, of whom you can have a few. Everyone else is outside of your purvey, so once you give out orders to have something built, for example, you’ll have to wait until some minions are free to work on it. But your Genius does come with a few extra abilities, like how Maximillion can boost a minions training speed massively or how Ivan can whip out a rocket launcher. Because most things can be solved with a rocket launcher. Each villain feels quite distinct in the way they play, giving the game a good amount of replay value, although I do wish the dialogue was tailored to each villain rather than shared across them.
The voice performances are quite solid across the board, especially for this style of game. It’s suitably hammy and over-the-top, which is exactly what I want from a supervillain. While the game isn’t story-heavy you do get a reasonable amount of cutscenes spread out across the campaign, especially if you delve into the optional side-missions. These side questions typically have some of the best moments in the entire game, be it battling potential henchmen or trying to steal cool loot. At one point I jumped into a quest to steal some special bees, only to discover that once I had them I didn’t actually have anything to put them in. But since I was already researching something else (you can’t cancel research, which can be very annoying at times) I couldn’t get my scientists developing anything to contain the buzzing little bastards, so for about 30-minutes a hive of angry bees roved across my base, stinging random minions and basically making the working conditions a lot less nice.
As you become more notorious and begin to spread your tentacles across the globe you’ll encounter the various agencies who begin to investigate your little island in the middle of nowhere. There’s a subtle way of dealing with the agents that don’t just come in guns blazing, and that’s the casino you have out front. Every evil genius needs a fake business to hide behind, and yours is basically a tourist trap. The idea here is that agents will come skulking in and as they engage in playing card games, having a drink, taking in a show and gambling their lives away their resolve meters will go down. Once that hits zero, they’ll just leave. So if you can get your casino running well, you can ignore a lot of the agents coming in through the front door. You can also tag agents to be distracted should they go somewhere you don’t like, and eventually, research lets you automatically tag agents for distraction, capture or death. But even if your casino doesn’t distract agents entirely it will drain their skill, making them easier to clobber or much more likely to die via
Just like the original game, you’ll also need to consider laying down some traps to defend your home from interloping twats. A huge part of the fun of the game is creating a diabolical deathtrap worthy of Dr. Evil himself, and your options are quite varied; freeze rays, shark tanks, boxing gloves on springs, just to name a few. There are even pinball-style bumpers that can bounce agents around and into some killer beers or a wall of lasers. And if a couple of hapless minions accidentally get blown to bits or something, well, that’s just the cost of being evil, isn’t it?
These traps are wicked when they work, but right now it seems far too easy for agents to disable them. Regular agents can have their skill stat drained in the casino, making it harder for them to disable traps, but agents who come through the rear (heh!) don’t have this issue. Each trap will drain their skill but you end up in situations where you have to have huge, long corridors packed with traps so that the agents might eventually get hit by some of them.
The most deadly enemies you face are the Super Agents who are capable of leaving a trail of body bags in their wake. Getting invaded by one of these guys or gals is a proper headache, especially Symmetry who teleports straight into your vault and starts pilfering your gold. Eventually, you can take these agents out complete, which is immensely satisfying to do if you’ve run afoul of them a few times before.
To combat the forces of evil you have a few choices. We’ve already briefly touched upon traps and the casino, but you can also train muscle minions who can go toe-to-toe with the invading twits. Your regular minions will jump into the fray as well, but they’re more like cannon fodder and will die by the dozen, leaving you understaffed and your floor covered in body bags which HR insists on telling me is a tripping hazard. You can also begin researching the likes of batons, pistols and rifles, although your minions have a nasty habit of not picking those up and using them. If a guard grabs a baton when he first arrives he’ll keep holding onto it throughout his training, and so you wind up with Hitman walking around with little sticks in their hands. It really is hard to get good help.
The World Stage is a global map screen and is where you execute your mischievous schemes and acquire the gold you need to keep an evil lair ticking over. The map is split into areas that you can dispatch minions to scout and set up criminal networks in, opening up schemes or accessing objectives you need to complete. You then send minions off to do these schemes where they’ll send a flow of cash to your vault over a period of time before disappearing. In this sense, minions are like a form of currency, and the more advanced schemes require your more highly trained and valuable employees. But schemes generate heat with the forces of justice, and if you build up too much heat in an area it locks down for a while. So you need to either throw a few people at schemes designed to reduce Heat, or spend cash to lower Heat instantly.
Super agents add a final layer to the World Stage. These pesky bastards will turn up and start occupying regions on the map, and doing a scheme in that area will draw their attention, even if it’s a scheme to reduce Heat. To get them to move you have to execute a scheme in a different region, drawing their attention elsewhere. It can make completing mission objectives a juggling because you have to shift agents around and calculate whether the Heat from the mission will shut a region down, because if it will you’ll need to reduce the Heat there which could bring the agent back and so on and so on.
The world stage sadly ends up being a major problem for Evil Genius 2. Unfortunately, after the excellent first few hours, Evil Genius 2 begins to slow down substantially. For the first while, you’re constantly doing something, be it plopping down new rooms, picking research, checking out new items, watching out for agents, running schemes, managing your cash, setting up traps and so on. You’re almost always doing something fun and engaging, but then the game hits a weird wall. You’ve finished constructing the majority of your base, sorted out your minions and are now stuck waiting for cash to build up or lengthy research to finish or schemes to be executed. A significant portion of the mid-game for me was spent using the fast-forward button.
Everything you do on the World Stage is dictated by lengthy timers. In the case of earning money, it’s actually a decent design idea as you choose between either shorter schemes that don’t bag you a lot of money or longer ones that trickle money into your coffers over 30 minutes or even an hour. Weighing all that up against the cost in minions can be quite interesting.
Managing Heat is far less interesting. You have a choice; either pay a chunk of cash (and Intel, later) to get rid of heat now, or you have to dispatch some minions who’ll take upwards of 20-minutes to finally disperse the Heat. And since you can’t do anything else in the region while the minions are working, it’s pretty boring to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. That would be fine if you were keeping occupied with the base, but as we’ve already discussed after the first few hours your base is mostly done, leaving you watch the tickers slowly tick down.
The World Stage is such a horribly dull gameplay loop that sucks the fun out of an otherwise quite enjoyable game. Even when you aren’t committing acts of unspeakable evil the Heat levels will gradually increase, forcing you to constantly check-in and manage everything. It ultimately feels like you spend more time on the World Stage than anywhere else. I quickly got tired of having to check in every few minutes, and even items and research options that reduce Heat buildup don’t seem to have much of an impact.
The entirety of Evil Genius 2 suffers from this problem, with the mid-game becoming horribly bogged down. It’s impossible to overstate just how poorly balanced the mid-game is, locking you out of new research, items, minions and more for upwards of 5-10 hours as you tackle overlong quest chains that involve little more than watching timers or building up resources. It adds nothing to the game except to awkwardly pad it out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people just stop playing out of boredom. In fact, based on the Steam achievements it does indeed look like players falter a lot during the middle of the campaigns, doubtless annoyed and bored by the extremely slow pace that Evil Genius 2 crawls along at.
While I do think the developers could fix these issues, it’ll take a deep rebalancing of many of the game’s core issues. Reducing timers and such will fundamentally alter the economy within Evil Genius 2, so it’s going to be a lot of work.
Other balance problems rear their ugly heads in other areas. Like, what the hell is up with power in this game? I understand that an evil lair will suck up electricity like a toddler shot gunning juice, but the amount of power generation you need to build is absurd. How can a nuclear reactor only power two computers, a few racks for money and a door? It seems like every ten minutes the game is asking you to build more generators. The massive rooms I dedicated purely to nuclear power were comical. You can construct your base across multiple levels, but to be honest I was afraid to expand into these levels because I was worried the number of power generators I would need might cause the whole bloody island to sink into the sea and possibly even straight to the centre of the Earth where the nuclear generators would reach the molten core and destroy the world.
There’s even waiting built into how minions are dispatched to the World Stage. They run out of your base and then have to patiently wait around for a helicopter to come to pick them up, something else which seems to take forever. It’s a bit annoying to be faced with an event on the World Stage that has a very short timer before it activates and be unable to deal with it because your minions are stuck in a sodding traffic jam. I’m an evil genius with a private island and a pile of gold that would make Smaug jealous, surely I’m capable of building a helipad and buying a second helicopter?
I actually wonder if Evil Genius 2 was designed with microtransactions in mind, at one point. The timers and slow progress are like something out of a mobile game that pushes players to pay money to speed things up. It’s not like this is going to be easily fixed, either, because I imagine the game’s entire economy would have to be redesigned to shorten the timers and fix the pace of unlocking stuff.
If you’re a strategy veteran used to planning cities, running colonies and commanding armies then Evil Genius 2’s lack of detailed information might annoy you. You can’t drill down into a wealth of data, and instead, have to deal with basic stats that don’t always give you what you want. I can understand the developer’s desire to keep the game feeling light and approachable, but it would still be nice to have the data there for players who want it.
The lack of information is particularly annoying on the World Stage where you can’t quickly tell what regions have active schemes. And trying to find specific mission icons is a right pain in the backside.
There’s a lot of nice detailed work in the animations which be appreciated when you zoom the camera in. The goofy walk of the scientists, or the way a prisoner is interrogated via tickling of the toes. Overall, this is a great looking game with a lovely array of colours. And the performance is solid, too. I wasn’t having any troubles maintaining well over 60fps.
At least I didn’t run into too many issues. The most serious is that my guards rarely ever bother equipping themselves with the guns I spent a chunk of cash researching and then placing around the security rooms. Instead, they grab the batons and refuse to surrender them, like a child clutching a lollipop. Even the mercenaries, who are meant to be firearm experts, seem to prefer sticks over bullets. I did have a board meeting refuse to start, but that was solved by activating Red Alert.
Evil Genius 2 is actually quite disappointing, mostly because I wanted to love it so much more than I did. My experience with the first game is minimal, but the idea of building an evil lair, managing an army of minions, constructing a death device and trying to take over the world sounds like the perfect game for me. But that horrible wall Evil Genius 2 hits nearly kills all enjoyment, turning the act of trying to take over the world into a chore.
It’s good to be bad, goes the old saying. Well, in this case, it’s good to be bad, and then kind of boring to be bad. Still, there is something pretty cool in Evil Genius 2. Building a lair is great fun, and designing a maze of deadly traps is an absolute blast. Give it a bit of time and this one might get updated into something even better, but until then maybe don’t bother at full price unless you’re a dedicated strategy fan or the concept of running an evil lair really speaks to you. Or unless you’re secretly a James Bond villain.