Review: Evil Genius 2
By: Stephen Machuga
The original Evil Genius came out in 2004 and absolutely blew me away.
There just weren’t many games out there since the original Dungeon Keeper where you got to play as “the bad guy.” It was unique in a way that many games in that era just weren’t. It was also cribbing extremely heavily with a 60s-70s coat of retro paint that got put on stylistic, somewhat silly James Bond-style first-person shooter The Operative: No One Lives Forever. It really was as if the two games had a baby and out popped Evil Genius nine months later.
You played as Maximillian the supervillain (a carbon copy of James Bond’s Ernst Blofelt...or a better reference nowadays, Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil) who was building an evil lair to create his doomsday device while fending off the forces of justice from thwarting him. Hire minions, lay traps, plot schemes on a global map, and generally be a thorn in the side of the forces of good until you were ready to launch your end game on the world.
Here we are, 17 years later, and developer (and publisher?) Rebellion Interactive has decided to dig up the corpse of my beloved game and shock it back into life with a fresh coat of paint and 17 years of lessons learned in the games industry. You may be more familiar with its more recent work of the Sniper Elite series (or less familiar with Strange Brigade), but it turns out Rebellion was the creator of the original Evil Genius game (I’m typing this as I’m figuring this out, by the way. Huh).
Well, in an era where people are clamoring for remakes of their old favorites, Evil Genius 2 delivers on all fronts.
While I know technically it is a sequel, it feels like a re-imagining of the original game. For instance, when Capcom put out the Resident Evil 2 remake and blew everyones’ heads off, everyone was probably thinking the same thing: “This is exactly what it felt like when I played it in the year 2000+.” My brain was doing a little fancy “misremembering” and mixing up my memories. I actually went back and looked at footage from the original Evil Genius after playing through most of the Maximillian campaign. I remembered all the major notes; all the general gameplay beats were there. I even remembered strategies that I employed to counter enemy agents I thought I could get away with (which Rebellion has since cleverly countered).
So what is different this time around? Well, I might as well get it out of the way now: yes, despite being a $35 purchase on the store, you can buy a “Season Pass” of added content...which, now that I’m typing that out, could actually be a lot of fun. New Supervillains? New traps? New minions? New Super Agents to do battle against? Huh.
Evil Genius 2 already comes with a ton of replayability. While Maximillian returns from the original Evil Genius as a generalized talent, you have the option of three other masterminds to take over the world with; Red Ivan the “combat” mastermind, Emma the Spymaster, and Zalika, the Scientist. Each one has their own passive abilities and their own end game Doomsday Device. Unfortunately, the base rooms that you’re building won’t change at all, and the Masterminds don’t have any unique rooms or minions to control, which is a shame. I mean, even skinning them differently would have been a nice touch. I could see the Scientist Mastermind having guards running around with laser rifles or, instead of human guards, using spider drones?
Apart from the four Mastermind campaigns, there are three different islands you can start on, each with its own drawbacks and benefits. For instance, the island I started on, and likely the one that most people will start with, is the base that starts with gold seams underground, a late-game boost to your gold reserves. There are also three levels of difficulty, and if medium is any indication, it’ll be good enough for me for quite some time. Every time I got comfortable with the game and felt like I had Evil Genius 2 well under control, the game would throw a surprise curveball at me I’d have to deal with that I wasn’t prepared for.
Evil Genius 2 is more about controlling your minions to build, defend, and research technologies to make your base more powerful, leading you to finally craft your Doomsday Device. Like many base-building games like Oxygen Not Included or Rimworld, you do not have direct control of your individual minions, but you direct traffic like the Mastermind you are. If you build an extension to your gold vault or want a new nuclear generator brought in, you simply put it in place, and your minions scramble to do your bidding.
Apart from your generic yellow-jumpsuited goons, there are three types of base minions you can train: guards, scientists, and valets. Guards and scientists are pretty obvious what their jobs are, but valets are a different matter. Your base has a casino attached to it as a cover story for your fortress, and your valets are critical for maintaining that veneer of a legal business to throw enemy agents and investigators off the scent should they be poking around. If you’re able to keep intruding agents from infiltrating your base while plying them with drinks and baccarat, they will report back to their higher-ups that the nice island casino is nothing more than just that and your regional heat level will go down.
So, regional heat brings us to what Evil Genius 2 calls “The Global Stage.” This is a map of the globe as it’s divvied up into five jurisdictions of Spy Agency: PATRIOT for North America and Japan, HAMMER for Europe, SABRE covers Africa, while SMASH has Latin America, and ANVIL is the Koreas and China. In order to make that sweet, sweet gold, you need to build the base of your dreams; you start pissing off these different global intelligence agencies by sending trained minions from your base to embed themselves on their turf and conducting operations. Obviously, you start small, and then, as your intelligence network grows, you can grow more elaborate schemes for more loot and rewards. However, the more these agencies treat you as a threat, the harder they will come for you. Low levels of heat will have them sending investigators to snoop around and confirm what you’re doing, whereas upsetting these organizations off enough will have them lock down all of your operations in their area and send in some heavy hitters like armed troops or amped up one-person armies known as Super Agents.
Another interesting new addition to the game is that bases are now multi-floor ventures. There is literally (and laughably) an ability for your scientists to research that allows your minions to use stairs. Yes, you pay a lot of money, and your scientists spend a great deal of time researching a staircase to get you to be able to build extra floors onto your base of doom. Ironically, one of the techniques from back in the day was to turn your base into one giant serpentine hall of traps and then set your actual base as far away from the entrance as humanely possible. In Evil Genius 2, your valets have to interact with your casino cover location; as well as new minions are dropped off and trained minions go out for the Global Stage via helipad on the main floor, it makes it extremely difficult to have your entire base of operations four floors away from where a third of your workforce is going to be running back and forth to on a regular basis. Well played, Rebellion.
One thing that it definitely does well is giving the player information. Base and colony builder games are rife with charts, graphs, and overlays, and it is absolutely critical that it is easy for players to understand what their minions are doing at any given time. Why is causing the morale to plummet in this part of the base? How much money is going out vs. money coming in per tick? Do I have fire extinguishers covering every part of the base (fires are a big part of Evil Genius 2, if your technicians are not maintaining equipment, over time, they will degrade and catch fire :P)
I’m very interested in restarting the game, and blessedly, you can either do Sandbox mode or go back through one of the four campaigns and skip the tutorial. That said, the tutorial is very well done, but like many base building games, it somewhat tells you where and how to set up the beginnings of your first base. Now that I’ve got my Evil Genius muscles warmed up, I want to start over again with what I’ve learned dealing with this Evil Genius with a fresh coat of 2020 paint on it and zip to the good parts.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with Evil Genius 2. There are a few minor issues, but it feels like the game I fell in love with all those years ago all over again. I feel like I should be in a Viagra ad right now, lovingly staring into the eyes of Evil Genius 2.