In 2004, thankfully near the start of summer holidays, Elixir Studios launched Evil Genius. Thrusting you into the role of Bond villains like Blofeld and Goldfinger with an absurd twist thanks to the influence of comedic spy-fi films in the late ‘90s and early 2000s (thanks, Austin Powers), Evil Genius quickly became a cult classic.
You played as the titular Evil Genius hell-bent on destroying the world and defeating the Forces of Justice. Through indirect control of your minions, you concocted heinous schemes and fought off the do-gooder agents of the international alliances arrayed against you. You ordered around powerful henchmen, usually akin to Bond villain lackeys like Jubei, the disgraced samurai. You faced better agents, too, like obvious Bond analogue John Steele or Mariana Mamba, an Austin Powers-like spy who used her raw sex appeal to sway your minions from evil.
It was a fantastic game rich with flavour and character, and a sequel was in the works until developer Elixir Studios went under in 2005. Then Rebellion suddenly announced the sequel was back on in 2017 and, despite the global pandemic slowing things down, Evil Genius 2: World Domination finally released on March 31, 2021. 17 years after the first, Evil Genius finally receives a successor that isn’t a free-to-play mobile reboot – but alas, it has its issues.
Evil Genius 2 takes place in the aftermath of the original: the Big Bad had seemingly succeeded but, at some stage, let it all slip through their fingers. The Forces of Justice have returned and it’s time to take over the world – again.
Set years after the first game, the Cold War setting has been replaced with a map less delineated by the 1960s. You can choose between four Geniuses this time around, including the original Blofeld-inspired Maximilian and Red Ivan, a henchman from the original promoted to full Big Bad status. Meanwhile, spymaster-turned-rogue Emma makes a worthy replacement for Shen Yu, my favourite Genius from the original, and Zalika adds a scientific option to the offering. Unlike the first game, where you had two islands that you progressed between, you can select between three islands to set up your base of operations.
As Evil Genius 2 stands now, four geniuses and three islands offer a total of 12 distinct playthroughs, which is a great deal of content for prospective players.
Appreciated and inexplicable updates
Base building in Evil Genius 2 is much like the original. Minions need places to sleep, to grab food and to restore their smarts through book learning. You also need facilities that let you pursue your evil schemes, such as control rooms to run missions and a laboratory to research better ways to plot evil or devise traps to keep those pesky “good guys” out of your hair.
Your base can now span multiple levels in Evil Genius 2, addressing a peeve I had with the first game where you would frequently run out of space. You’ll need to complete research in order to expand deeper or higher, and while you won’t have the whole floor to work with initially, you can eventually change that. Like in the first game, you also have a designated place to put your evil Doomsday Device of choice, and it’s truly impressive to watch as you expand your base further upwards and downwards during the course of the main story. There is a certain lack of polish, which I’ll address, but overall, building your base in Evil Genius 2 is fun once you get the hang of things.
Another appreciated update is that minions can now train themselves. In the first game, you had to have an instructor, which necessitated costly expeditions. In the sequel, however, a minion can figure it out as long as you have the right equipment. It’s a huge quality of life change that means you aren’t crippled if you lose all of a minion type. Especially during missions that fuel up the Doomsday Device, this meant I didn’t have to constantly perform kidnappings and drain my skill pool even further.
Likewise, the room design mechanic is much more seamless. You can now edit rooms after the fact using the construction of “dirt” if you decide you need a camera nook in a corridor, and also refit rooms as you gain better tech — for example, equipping your power station with upgraded reactors.
That’s not to say I’m thrilled with base-building in Evil Genius 2. Far from it. The inexplicable inability to collectively tag agents in a group is immensely frustrating, because you could do exactly that 17 years ago. The lack of explanations for objects, effects and auras is infuriating, too. I don’t mind figuring out the proper ratios and placements of items in a base builder — that’s the entire point of the genre — but having no explanatory text to show which items generate heat, which therefore generate suspicion and the like, is frustrating.
Similarly, the game doesn’t address what loot items actually do at all. If these items do have an effect — which, apparently, the majority do not — you’ll find out about it purely through trial and error. Those pieces that include an effect are neat, though, like the Dodo and Giant Egg being free minion trainer equipment or the Tsar Bomb acting as a power generator.
A Lack of Risk
Meanwhile, the world map of Evil Genius 2, where you actually carry out your dastardly acts of evil, is similar to the original game. The five global alliances make a return in a post-Cold War (and post-Evil Genius) world with new super agents to replace the old, while the actual map itself is a pleasant upgrade over the wargames-like board of the original. Its terrain and borders are rendered in beautiful graphics, but it does feel designed for a mobile game app at times.
Schemes — originally called Acts of Infamy — are still very tongue-in-cheek. This includes such gems as creating the ultimate minion to compete in an Australian all-you-can-eat barbeque competition, or stealing treasure using a map scrawled on the back of the Declaration of Independence. I do miss being able to choose the exact breakdown of who goes off into the world, though.
Where part of the world map falls flat, though, is that all schemes of the same type share a colour. This can make it difficult to pick out the one you want; more than once during side stories and even the main missions, I found myself madly clicking all the schemes in an alliance’s regions to find the one specific plot I needed to advance the story. Even plots the game deems to be “important” aren’t distinct enough to be immediately obvious. Basically, scheme colours need more variation. Main objectives should have their own colour, as should active side story missions.
Unlike the first game, there isn’t any real risk associated with super agents patrolling their areas because they only react if you’re foolish enough to do a mission while they are present. Unless you want to encounter them, super agents are simple to avoid as you just do missions in other areas. There is virtually never a reason to trigger a super agent by accident. I didn’t do this once in over 40 hours, meaning that I never had an issue of unexpected good guys rip-roaring through my base and killing everyone.
Honestly, the lack of risk is a problem with Evil Genius 2 in general. As long as you have the minions and enough heat left on the bar to get the job done, it will succeed. This means a lot of the waiting for new minions to train is something you can just throw on fast forward, grab a coffee and send off the next wave when you come back. It feels very much like a mobile app in design philosophy, which bugs me a fair bit.
Facing a slog
Overall, I like the fact that Evil Genius 2’s campaigns are broken into easily digestible chapters so you always have set goals to aim for. Each genius having their own individual campaign is also a worthwhile update — Emma’s hunt for a former-friend-turned-nemesis is one of the best parts of her story so far. The narrative is engaging and there’s never a moment where I’ve said “but why am I doing this?”; your plots are always moving inexorably forward; and the campaigns being broken into objective acts with some breathing space built in means you won’t get completely overwhelmed and overrun unless you stop paying attention.
Side stories are a nice addition, too, bringing small adventures that run alongside your larger overall plan of dooming the world through dastardly evil. They’re all flavourful and provide smaller, bite-sized goals to accomplish while you wait for other things to tick along. However, the fact that there’s no warning that you can lock yourself out of side stories by progressing your evil empire to a more advanced level means you can easily end up losing out on loot or even new henchmen. This is frustrating to say the least because you might miss out on someone you were excited for completely by accident (looking at you, Full Metal Jackie).
I also have a gripe with the fact that you can only have one side story active at a time, which you must finish to unlock another. This can lead to points where you face a slog that you just have to push through, such as with one particular henchman candidate whose gimmick is hiding as a pot plant and respawning multiple times. I can understand the limitation since some side stories interfere with one another, but one at a time only encourages you to keep fast forward switched on. Now that minions are “expended” like a currency instead of having a chance to die during missions, completing multiple missions becomes a slow crawl. Side stories are dragged out and the entire game is slower as a result.
Lastly, I’m not happy with Evil Genius 2’s changes to research. In the first game, pieces of loot had purpose beyond being cool shiny things to steal from the forces of good. They had research potential and part of their fun (as well as a large part of why the mid-game didn’t get overly tedious) was figuring out which pieces of equipment would yield results. In this game, research is laid out into tiers and — once more — feels like a mobile game. It’s not terrible, but I’m not a huge fan.
Because of the tier system, it’s also possible for your research to be locked behind a progression wall in the main story. Even the research specialist Genius has no way to avoid this wall, and it can make your progress even more glacial than it already was.
Still, although it’s a little rough around the edges in its current state, I like Evil Genius 2: World Domination. There’s quite some merit to the criticism that it’s taken on a sort of “freemium” design philosophy, but at the time of writing, Rebellion has already released a few hotfixes to correct some of the issues the community has been reporting, and taking its feedback on board. Evil Genius 2 is not a masterpiece, but there’s a great deal of room for improvement and with a committed developer working on at least one season pass worth of content, we can hold out hope that it’ll become one over time.
While the dastardly villain simulator is in need of a little TLC to truly come into its own, Evil Genius 2: World Domination makes countless improvements to the original cult classic.
Lucas reviewed Evil Genius 2 using a retail PC code purchased on Steam.
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