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Evil Genius 2 review – being the Bond villain


Evil Genius 2 – playing the villain (pic: Rebellion)

After a delay of only 17 years there’s finally a sequel to James Bond villain simulator Evil Genius and its Dungeon Keeper style gameplay.

Video games, like anything else, are subject to the fickle nature of public taste. Even so, the near disappearance of the real-time strategy genre still seems shocking, given the extent to which it held sway in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Nobody realised at the time, but 2004’s Evil Genius essentially functioned as the harbinger of that demise. It certainly suffered from bad luck: by far the most accessible game developed by Elixir, the studio headed by Demis Hassabis (now running Google’s pioneering artificial intelligence wing), it arrived just as its publisher, Vivendi Universal Games, was pulling out of the games industry and got lost in the crossfire resulting from that withdrawal.

However, the ever-enterprising Rebellion recently picked up the Evil Genius intellectual property rights, a mere 17 years later, and so here is Evil Genius 2. The original game never sold in great numbers but its innate quality bred a sizeable cult following and early 2021, with the population still locked down, seems like an unexpectedly appropriate time to rediscover the joys of real-time strategy games, which have always possessed, at the very least, a time-sucking meatiness.

Evil Genius 2, like its predecessor, actually belongs to a real-time strategy sub-genre that centres on base-building, as opposed to constructing military units and enacting battles, and is characterised by games such as Dungeon Keeper, Startopia, and Theme Hospital. Any fan of the James Bond films will find its basic premise deliciously familiar and inviting, as you’re cast as a Bond style villain, bidding for global domination via the creation of a doomsday device.

Having purchased the obligatory tropical island – already sporting a casino as a cover operation to explain the constant comings and goings of helicopters – you must build your base, before sending your minions out onto the global stage to establish criminal networks, pull off money-spinning heists, kidnap useful people, and acquire the resources necessary to maintain your secret lair.

As you may have gathered from that description, Evil Genius 2 does not take itself too seriously. That’s obvious from the cartoonish art style, which has a strong 1960s influence and includes nods to everything from Spy vs. Spy to The Pink Panther. As such, it follows the blueprint of the original game, albeit with a considerable amount of modern sheen and polish on top. A jaunty lounge-style music soundtrack completes the vibe.

Although it’s not strictly a reboot (offspring of some of the original villains appear here as new characters) Evil Genius 2 closely follows the structure of the first game. That’s only likely to be disappointing to veterans of the series though, who’ll no doubt be so pleased to see a new game that it won’t be an issue at all. There are a multitude of tweaks and enhancements to the original formula though, and you’ll notice a couple right at the start: this time around you can choose between four villains (egomaniac, totalitarian, techno-expert, and spy) and three different islands on which to build your lair.

Once you get past the lengthy tutorial – another new but very welcome addition, which holds your hand sufficiently to give you a deep understanding of what is a pretty complex game – the storylines generated by the different supervillains diverge, albeit within the same framework of building their doomsday devices and holding the world to ransom.

That makes Evil Genius 2 a mighty meaty game: you’d do well to complete any of those four storylines within 20 hours. Factor in a new sandbox mode, which lets you indulge your base design sensibilities without worrying about the world domination aspect of the game, and you have a digital epic in which you can lose yourself for months.

As you start to get to grips with Evil Genius 2, one aspect that stands out in comparison with its predecessor is that it feels much more coherent in narrative terms. Every main objective fulfilled – and there are an awful lot of them – brings a cut scene, as does every side story. The side stories themselves feed into the main plot, bringing essential minion types, henchmen, non-essential but useful exotic minion types, and ever useful loot.

Gameplay-wise, Evil Genius 2 takes place in two distinct arenas, the first being your lair, which you must keep a weather eye on, since different types of agents employed by the opposing Forces of Justice are constantly trying to infiltrate it. You can tag them for distraction in your casino, or termination or capture by your guards. If you choose the latter, you must manually select them for interrogation (which is fatal, although you can unlock the ability to brainwash them).

The second arena is the global stage, a representation of the world split into territories which is reminiscent of a Diplomacy or Risk board. There, you must establish criminal networks in territories, then send your agents out on schemes which variously generate money, result in the kidnapping of individuals with useful skills, bring resources required for building your doomsday device, or reduce the heat applied by local law enforcement. The latter schemes are crucial since even mid-scheme, if your heat level hits a certain point, a criminal network will be temporarily shut down and your attempted heist foiled.

As the game progresses, intel becomes a precious commodity, as you find that you need a certain amount of it to enact the most crucial schemes. While you can research the means of generating a background amount of intel automatically, the quickest way of generating it is by interrogating the agents you capture in your lair.

Thus, the two main elements of the game feed into each other. The global stage has a pleasingly board game like feel to it and at first you’ll probably tend to neglect it in favour of tinkering with the minutiae of your lair. But you soon learn that it’s vital to maximise your activities in order to build the lair of your dreams and keep it and its inhabitants safe.

As well as generating as much intel as possible, it’s also important to always have a research project on the go. Evil Genius 2 has a vast research tree, split into multiple branches, enabling you to improve your base (this time around, for example, you can build multi-level bases, which is great, but first you must embark on research which allows your minions to climb stairs), build ever-more-elaborate traps, enhance the stats of your minions and henchmen, learn to accommodate more staff, and improve your criminal networks.

Research takes time and must be carefully prioritised, otherwise you will find yourself unprepared for the crux points that crop up in the game. For example, when the completion of a scheme results in a super-agent or a horde of robots invading your lair you will need a well-armed complement of guards, mercenaries, and the like to fight them off – not to mention a copious amount of fire extinguishers ready to deal with the arson they will inevitably perpetrate.

Like all such games, you can be sailing along blithely before everything suddenly collapses, bringing the realisation that you forgot to take one simple precaution. Luckily, Evil Genius 2 generates a huge store of regular cloud-autosaves (another welcome new feature) so you can roll things back the required amount of time when that happens.

Evil Genius 2 – taking over the world requires a lot of planning (pic: Rebellion)

Perhaps the demise of real-time strategy games could be explained by their innate complexity, which presumably grated with modern sensibilities tailored towards convenience and simplicity. In that respect, Evil Genius 2’s protracted tutorial is a huge boon.

Sure, it’s a complicated game in terms of the vast number of different processes that are constantly churning away but that tutorial provides a great understanding of all those processes and how they interact, freeing you up to give full rein to your strategic management skills.

Evil Genius 2 is the sort of game that you will sit down to dip into for 10 minutes, before finding yourself utterly rapt and immersed three hours later. Its light-hearted tone is a delight – it’s often laugh-out-loud funny – and it will test your brainpower without ever feeling aggressively cerebral.

While it isn’t vastly different to the original game, Evil Genius 2 is better in every respect. Its base design tools are exemplary and an absolute joy to use. It’s slick, polished, and unbelievably substantial, yet not so complex that you struggle to understand it. It’s also easy to become obsessed with, as you experiment with a number of concurrent playthroughs in your attempts to achieve perfection in your path to world domination.

Evil Genius 2 is the sort of game which you probably thought they don’t make any more. Except, it seems, they do.



Evil Genius 2 review summary

In Short: By perfecting the Dungeon Keeper formula, the best James Bond game since GoldenEye proves that playing the bad guy really can be more fun.

Pros: Beautifully structured, endlessly amusing and with a surprisingly strong narrative thrust. Vast and endlessly replayable but with a great tutorial.

Cons: Not vastly different to the original game and there can be a lot of downtime.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC
Price: £34.99
Publisher: Rebellion
Developer: Rebellion
Release Date: 30th March 2021
Age Rating: 12

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