There are so many games that allow you to play the role of the hero, it’s a wonder more don’t take the villainous approach. Sure, there are games like Prototype, inFAMOUS, and Overlord that cast you as comically overpowered supervillains, but there’s a real dearth of titles giving you the true evil supervillain experience. Dungeon Keeper lets you construct and maintain your very own subterranean dungeon complex, but what if you want that same gameplay experience transported to a 1960s-era over-the-top James Bond-style spy universe? Step right this way, Evil Genius.
The original Evil Genius game launched way back in 2004. Unlike most RTS games, Evil Genius gave you an avatar to identify with, making the micromanagement and strategy gameplay feel a little more personal. It was a cult smash, leading to demand for a sequel, but the property disappeared for an extended period of time. Sniper Elite developer Rebellion picked up the rights to Evil Genius back in 2006, but it subsequently lay dormant for several years, with Rebellion attempting to shore up the funds for a full sequel. Fast-forward to 2021 and Evil Genius 2: World Domination is finally here. Will it live up to the dastardly reputation of its predecessor?
Although we described Evil Genius 2 as an RTS earlier, it’s perhaps better described as a hybrid game of real-time strategy, tower defence, and resource management. All good RTS games involve resource management and a degree of tower defence at their cores, but Evil Genius 2 juggles them perhaps a little more obviously than its compatriots do. Effectively, your goal is thus: build an evil base, staff it with henchmen, researchers, and other essential personnel, and stop the forces of Good from discovering what you’re up to and putting a stop to your schemes.
When this works, it works well. Evil Genius 2’s tone is masterfully crafted, ping-ponging between James Bond-style derring-do and a comedic style somewhat reminiscent of mid-2000s shooter darling TimeSplitters. Unfortunately, not all of the jokes or tonal reaches land. Sometimes, the game just isn’t funny, and that’s a problem in a game that’s shooting largely for comedy. Perhaps the problem is one of gameplay repetition; Evil Genius 2 is, by its nature, fairly repetitive, and some of those jokes and minion descriptions are going to wear very, very thin when you’re having to read them numerous times.
Perhaps we should back up a bit and explain the central gameplay loop. Here’s what you do in Evil Genius 2. You’re the titular evil genius, and you must build and manage your headquarters. This involves researching new technology to build facilities, traps, and other things that will be helpful for you. Eventually, you’re aiming to build the Doomsday Device, which, as you can imagine, is the ultimate goal of any evil genius. That’s the final goal of the game, but it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination here. Some of the best moments in Evil Genius 2 are simply drinking in the visual style and how your well-optimised base is operating.
The best parts of Evil Genius 2 involve building elaborate traps to outfox and defeat agents that will try to infiltrate you. When you construct a series of fire walls, shark tanks, and oversized pinball table elements to completely dunk an agent before they can reach you, that’s satisfying, and it’s when the game shines. Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of busywork to get there. At its core, Evil Genius 2 is a resource management game, but it doesn’t have much to say in terms of new mechanisms for gathering said resources.
To acquire cash, you’ll send teams of workers out on idle missions, Dragon Age Inquisition-style. This involves the use of a map you can use to send workers to different places and gather things for you. In the end, this amounts to literally clicking a map for some money, waiting a while, then clicking the map again. Given that you’re supposed to be an all-powerful evil mastermind, this doesn’t feel like a very interesting way to gather resources, and it turns one of the game’s core mechanics into an annoying chore rather than a reason to keep coming back.
To put it simply, Evil Genius 2: World Domination’s economy systems feel like they need a lot of work. Money feels simultaneously like it’s hard to come by and like it vanishes in a flash. Want to spend money training up new recruits? They’re expensive, and you’ll often find that you don’t have cash when you need it. The drip-feed of money feels almost mobile game-esque in its delivery; you’ll be waiting a long time for money at some points, which will leave you with pretty much nothing to do as you wait for your automated systems to do what they’ve been designed to do.
At its best, Evil Genius 2: World Domination is a fun little time-sink. At its worst, it’s a grindy, boring, and frustrating slog. Designing devious traps and watching agents fall right into them is delightful, and it rarely loses its appeal, even as your progress down the tech tree starts to slow down and you find yourself wishing the game was moving faster. Sandbox mode alleviates some of these problems, but it’s also a much less directed experience, so if you’re looking for narrative satisfaction, you’ll have to sacrifice gameplay cohesion to get it.
Evil Genius 2: World Domination isn’t perfect, but it does serve as a serviceable sequel for those who’ve been waiting a long time for a new instalment in this franchise. If you loved the first one, you’ll be pleased to know that Rebellion has pretty much carried over the tone and feel of that game verbatim to the new Evil Genius. However, if you like streamlined, well-crafted RTS games, you may not find what you’re looking for here. You’ll have to give Evil Genius 2 some time to explain its world domination plan in detail before you subscribe to it.