Evil Genius 2: World Domination promises to put players in the role of a campy supervillain as you try to take over the world. Seeing your mad dreams come to life, however, can be a serious challenge.
The first Evil Genius game launched all the way back in 2004. Essentially, this game was like Dungeon Keeper but with some critical differences, shifting the setting from fantasy to sci-fi and replacing your demonic underlord with a supervillain who would be perfectly at home in the James Bond movies of the 60s and 70s.
Evil Genius 2 promises to revive the formula and improve on it and I was hoping for a good time after checking out the first few hours of the game. Whether or not it actually delivers, though, is another matter entirely.
Establishing an Evil Empire in Evil Genius 2
Your journey in Evil Genius 2 begins with a helicopter landing on a remote island. Your choice of four geniuses steps out of the helicopter, amply prepared to lord over his or her new secret base. You have a bit of cash and a few loyal minions — these humble beginnings can eventually evolve into a full-fledged empire of evil if you play your cards right.
Evil Genius 2, at its core, focuses on building your base, progressing your technology, and advancing the story through a series of quests. Nearly all of your income is derived from "Schemes" run on a world map. Story-driven missions aside, you're trying to bring in as much money as you can to expand your base and progress in the tech tree without gaining too much "Heat" and arousing suspicion.
It's a simple enough formula and it looks like it works well at first glance. The gameplay is pretty good in the beginning, too. As you progress, however, the cracks begin to surface.
Curses, I'm Surrounded by Idiots
The first major problem with Evil Genius 2 is with the A.I. Whether it's minions or the player-controlled characters, you're going to find yourself sighing in frustration more often than not.
Here's one example: one of the early pieces of research you can unlock is an "Advanced Guard Post." The description of this item says that a Muscle minion — essentially, the big, beefy guards that a supervillain never seems to run out of — will station himself at this post. It fails in practice: I had four Advanced Guard Posts and well over 40 Muscle minions, but the posts were abandoned most of the time.
Minions are rarely where you need them to be. It's acceptable that you can't control them in a dungeon management game, but several other games in the genre have struck a better balance by allowing the player to create rules for behavior or set particular tasks to a higher priority. Evil Genius 2 is sorely lacking in such options, and this is one evolution of the genre that is largely missing from this sequel.
I had four Advanced Guard Posts and well over 40 Muscle minions, but the posts were abandoned most of the time.
The dodgy A.I. applies to the player-controlled characters, too. I selected Red Ivan as my Genius for three reasons: one of his special abilities is a rocket launcher, he's the epitome of the "evil Soviet general" archetype, and he is voiced by the legendary BRIAN BLESSED, a man who is so much larger than life that I'm compelled to capitalize his entire name.
Red Ivan has a melee attack and a ranged attack. I prefer to keep him at a distance and either use his rocket launcher or his explosive rounds to wear down enemy attackers while my hordes of minions fight enemies in melee combat. Unfortunately, Ivan has a tendency to charge into hand-to-hand combat for no discernable reason. I had many deaths because my focus on my Genius momentarily lapsed and he ultimately died — and once your Genius dies, it's game over.
Do You Feel in Control?
Dungeon management games, real-time strategies, and similar genres have two opposing concepts: "micro" and " macro." Macro is the big picture — ensuring a steady supply of resources to your base, constructing new objects, and keeping the whole thing running smoothly. Micro, on the other hand, is the manual control of units. This most often comes up in RTS games, but Evil Genius 2 does have some micro. Regrettably, it's not very good.
I might tell my Genius to return to his desk so that he can recover his health, but he could suddenly turn around and decide to punch an enemy — even though going back into battle would ultimately get him killed.
Ivan's proclivity for charging into battle means that I have to manually move him out of the fray so that he chooses to use his ranged weapon. I similarly have to move Ivan's Henchmen out of the way when their health is low or to get them in a better position. This is made all the more challenging when in "High Alert," causing your minions and Henchmen to run around like madmen. The issues with micro are, in part, an extension of the frustrating A.I. that seems quite keen on making dumb (and often suicidal) choices.
This problem is compounded by the lack of unit policy controls that have been in real-time strategy games for decades. I can't order my Genius or my Henchman to stay in place. I can't instruct them to be more defensive or more aggressive. All I can do is move them where I want with the mouse or try to keep them out of danger entirely.
Even worse, there are situations where your Genius or Henchman will override your instructions entirely. I might tell my Genius to return to his desk so that he can recover his health, but he could suddenly turn around and decide to punch an enemy — even though going back into battle would ultimately get him killed.
Henchmen suffer from the same problem. If a Henchman is escorting a prisoner, they are (rather ironically) held hostage by this temporary assignment. It should be easy for the game to leave the prisoner in place and have a random minion take up the task — it certainly happens in other scenarios — but Henchmen are effectively trapped in this job.
You're Too Late, Mr. Steele
Despite the problems with the controls and the A.I., Evil Genius 2 is still a lot of fun. It's challenging enough on its own and there's a certain joy in figuring out a workaround to the game's occasional jankiness. My biggest problem of all, however, is that doing almost anything in the game takes far too much time.
One of the more egregious examples is the mission "P.E.A.C.E. Corpse." This mission has multiple objectives: you have to fire your superweapon three times and lure two groups of enemies to your base to kill them. That's plenty to do for a single mission as it is, but each firing of the superweapon requires you to send out five groups of minions to get more Doomsday Fuel. You also have to keep your base running throughout this whole mission, adding to the challenge.
The more I played, the more I got the sense that Evil Genius 2 was padding things out. Some of the missions (and the tasks that comprise them) simply take too long; all of the waiting makes it feel akin to one of those Facebook clicker games that wants you to come back in 2 hours before you can progress. This problem is compounded by chokepoints such as having only one helicopter pad to send out minions.
The more I played, the more I got the sense that Evil Genius 2 was padding things out.
I spent the vast majority of my 68 hours in Evil Genius 2 focusing on completing the Red Ivan campaign. I grew increasingly frustrated with each mission — especially as the last half-dozen missions implied that the next step was the be the epic conclusion of the story, only for the rug to be pulled out from underneath me. By the end, I was positively exhausted from getting yet another set of objectives that would probably take an hour or two to complete again and again.
Evil Genius 2 held a lot of promise to me, especially as someone who was a fan of the original. It has more than its fair share of rough edges and I sorely hope that some of these can be smoothed out in a post-launch patch. As it stands today, it has too many frustrating design choices and omissions that never should have been a problem in the first place.
TechRaptor reviewed Evil Genius 2: World Domination on PC using a copy provided by the developer.
- Robust Base-Building System
- Great Execution of 'Secret Agene' Aesthetic
- Fantastic Voice Acting & Music
- Missions and Actions Take Too Long
- A.I. Often Makes Poor Decisions
- Lack of Precision Controls for Henchmen
- Few Options to Set Policies