Evil Genius 2 seems wacky and clever in concept: you control a maniacal lord who tries to take over the world by building a sprawling base full of throwable minions and devious traps. Plus, it’s all wrapped up in sleek audio and visual riffs of ’60s spy movies. It was also the same pitch as its predecessor (released in 2004), but the sequel exploits new features and technologies to bring the concept to a modern audience. However, inelegant systems and unsatisfactory progression throw a wrench into the grand plan.
I reviewed the original Evil Genius for Game Informant, but you don’t need to familiarize yourself with the first game to understand this one. In fact, Evil Genius 2 hits so many similar notes that you’ll probably like it more if you get into it again. But whatever your previous experience, Evil Genius 2 shines the most during the opening tutorial. It gradually introduces an array of different options for your base, such as an inner sanctum with your impressive throne, and the ability to train guards to defend your hallways. This regular unlocking of buildable devices and subordinates to train left me excited about the trajectory of my lair and how my operation would eventually expand. Unfortunately, once all of the basic room types are available, everything trays; you spend most of your time doing slight variations on the same repetitive tasks.
The main campaign is a series of missions that take you through the process of taking over the world (each of the four geniuses available has a unique doomsday device, which I like). But instead of hatching blueprints in blueprints, Evil Genius 2’s limited mechanics make every mission feel like the one before it. You can’t organize “capture someone, seek something, train someone, build something” in different ways before they start to bleed together.
Some objectives are also tied to completing tasks on the world map – an abstraction that tries to make you feel like you have overall control, but only provides a frustrating and busy job through missions. initiation and waiting that allow progress to other tasks. Your interactions on the map consist of clicking pins and launching missions to earn money; it’s a tedious combination of the superficial and the necessary, requiring just enough babysitting to be entertaining, but not enough depth to be interesting.
When you’re not pursuing formal goals, you’re usually trying to get more of something. You need more power for your sustaining cells. You need more traps to fend off the undercover agents. You need more broadcast power to upgrade your criminal networks. This kind of boost can be expected from a strategy game, but the problem is how few of those upgrades make for some interesting changes in your routine. They just have the impression that the numbers are increasing with no significant effect. And buffs that make a difference (like minions automatically attacking intruders or the ability to cut through hard stone) aren’t available until several hours after you recognize the need for them. They’re still nice when you get them, but the pace of progression feels weirdly choked.
For all my complaints about the experience, Evil Genius 2 always taps into a simple vein of evil entertainment. It presents a funny and cartoonish representation of evil. I chuckled as the agents set off traps, cheered on my robotic assistant as she interrogated the intruders, and wiggled my fingers as I activated my doomsday device. The pleasure of optimizing your layout and allocating your workforce is pleasant; it is often simply buried under inconvenience. For this reason, I especially recommend that you start a game in sandbox mode after completing the main tutorial. This mode gives you unlimited resources and unlocks various options that you normally have to play for hours to get them. While the sandbox mode also doesn’t have the clear structure to propel you forward, it at least allows you to enjoy the fun of base building without many of the hassles that hold the campaign back.
While playing Evil Genius 2 I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie Austin powers. It probably seems natural at first; in terms of characters and overall aesthetics, both poke fun at the early James Bond films. But that was not what I was dwelling on. At one point Austin powers, Dr. Evil (who has been cryogenically frozen for many years) suggests a paltry ransom of “one million dollars”. His henchman has to explain to him how times have changed, and such a request doesn’t really meet infamous standards anymore. Much like Dr. Evil, the name Evil Genius has been on the ice for a long time, and while full of nefarious intentions, the methods in this sequel seem outdated on today’s world stage.
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