Evil Genius 2: World Domination is the long-awaited sequel to 2004’s real-time strategy simulation title, Evil Genius. The original game was developed by Elixir Studios, and challenged players to set themselves up as a James Bond-style villain, building elaborate lairs and concocting devious schemes. Evil Genius 2, which will launch on March 30th, expands on the features of the original while also taking steps to update the classic gameplay.
The news that Elixir Studios was working on a sequel to Evil Genius came only months after the game’s launch. However, the studio closed down a year later, and the project was cancelled. In 2006, the intellectual property rights were bought by Rebellion Developments. Despite this, the franchise remained dormant until 2010, when Rebellion released a pair of mobile-titles, Evil Genius: WMD and Evil Genius Online, which simplified the gameplay into the popular FarmVille model. In 2014, Rebellion revealed that it had failed to interest publishers in a fully-fledged Evil Genius sequel, but that it intended to keep trying. Finally, in 2017, development began on the title, utilizing the studio’s own in-house Asura engine. For this preview, Geisha411 was given access to a preview build with limited features.
Evil Genius 2 is set in an alternate version of the 1960s/70s, in which devious villains attempt world domination while being opposed by the Forces of Justice. The game features a stylized, cartoonish aesthetic, with most décor being reminiscent of 1960s Atomic Age designs. The music is similarly stylish, and does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the golden age of espionage. While the look and tongue-in-cheek humor of Evil Genius 2 is certainly more Austin Powers than James Bond, there’s also a dash of Pixar’s The Incredibles and even Universal’s Despicable Me in its uniformed Minions, tropical Lairs, and over-the-top villains.
In terms of gameplay, players take on the role of a villainous Genius, managing their Schemes and Lair in real-time from a top-down perspective. Most of the time is spent in the Lair, digging out new rooms, placing furniture, and training Minions. It’s possible to then dispatch these Minions on Schemes across the globe, though drawing too much attention will cause Investigators and other do-gooders to come snooping. Ultimately, Evil Genius 2 is a strategy game that is all about expanding a villain’s Lair and embarking on bigger and more devious Schemes, all while keeping the Forces of Justice from shutting the whole thing down.
Just like in the original Evil Genius, the villain themselves is at the heart of Evil Genius 2. Players begin a new game by selecting one of four colorful Geniuses, although in the preview version only Maximillian the Mega Rich Megalomaniac was available. Maximillian is the all-rounder choice, and recommended for new players. His look is classic spy-movie villain, complete with the scar and plain grey suit favored by Jame Bond‘s Blofeld and Austin Powers‘ Dr. Evil. He gives bonuses to Minion Capacity, and his special abilities allow players to prioritize jobs in certain rooms and instantly complete Minion training.
The other three villains, Red Ivan, Zalika, and Emma, lean toward combat, science, and social playstyles respectively, and each will feature their own unique campaign in the final game. Once players have picked a Genius, they’ll next have to choose an island to build their Lair on. There will be three of these to pick from in the final game, each with its own layout, advantages, and disadvantages. In the preview version Crown Gold was the only choice, with rich seams of gold to be discovered, plenty of space for excavation, and charming beaches to distract tourists.
Once the game has begun, Evil Genius 2‘s in-game tutorial does a good job of introducing players to their new Lair, helping them lay out rooms and provide for their loyal Minions. Building is done in a style which will be familiar to players of titles like Two Point Hospital or Rimworld. First, the player designates where and how large the new room will be, as well as where any furniture should go. If they’re happy with their design they can hit confirm, and their minions will spring into action, carving the new room out of the rock and placing the furniture to the player’s specification.
There are sixteen different rooms to build in Evil Genius 2, ranging from vaults for storing ill-gotten gold, mess halls for feeding hungry Minions, prisons for holding and interrogating annoying do-gooders, and even a casino to provide a convincing front for the Lair. All of the rooms have their own unique aesthetic, which gives the Lair a colorful, inviting look, and free décor items can be placed to further customize their design.
While new rooms unlock over the course of the game, most only come with a set of basic furniture. To get more advanced items, as well as unlock many other upgrades, players must build a lab and perform some interesting research. Unfortunately, the basic worker Minions aren’t exactly known for their creativity, so before players can research they’ll need to work out how to train specialized Scientists.
While the villains themselves may be at the heart of Evil Genius 2, they can’t do much without an army of handy Minions to call on. The basic type of Minion is the Worker, whose duties range from constructing new rooms to disposing of bodies. To gain a more advanced form of Minion, players will need to complete a Side Story quest to abduct a specialist from somewhere else, then interrogate them to learn their secrets. After that, all players need to do is build a training room with the appropriate equipment and they can begin converting Workers into the new Minion type.
The three types of specialized Minion available in the preview version were the Guard, Valet, Technician, and Scientist. The muscle-bound Guards are security specialists able to take on tougher invaders, the Valets work in the casino front, distracting tourists and spies, the Scientists perform research, and the Technician’s perform maintenance. Calculating how many of each minion to train is a large part of Lair management, and can be difficult to do once the Lair expands beyond the tutorial. There will be eight other types of specialized Minion in the release version of Evil Genius 2, which have yet to be unveiled. Apart from their duties around the lair, Minions are also used to perform Schemes on the Global Operations map.
Schemes are the way in which players interact with the rest of the world in Evil Genius 2. They can only be performed in regions in which a Criminal Network has been established, which requires a special room in the Lair. Schemes cost time and Minions to complete, with the Minions being unable to return to the Lair afterwards. However, the cost is worth it, as Schemes allow players to unlock new features, misdirect the Forces of Justice, or simply earn huge amounts of Gold. In the final version of Evil Genius 2 players will be able to use Schemes to do everything from steal famous works of art to build doomsday devices.
Each successful Scheme generates Heat in its region, representing the attention of the local Forces of Justice. There are five of these do-gooder organizations in total, each covering a different part of the globe. Certain Schemes can be used to reduce Heat, leaving players with the tricky but satisfying balancing act of maintaining a good income without drawing too much attention. The higher the Heat with a particular Force of Justice gets, the more likely they are to send a James Bond-esque super-spy to investigate the Lair.
The real-time combat in Evil Genius 2 takes place solely on the Lair map, as players need to fend off invaders from the Forces of Justice. These invasions can be as simple as lone operatives taking pictures, or as difficult as full-blown raiding teams, depending on the Heat level. The preview version was limited to Investigator agents, who arrive undisguised and mostly just try to gather evidence. Although research can eventually make it possible to detect intruders automatically, early-on players need to spot them and mark them for distraction, capture, or termination. Minions will ignore invaders who haven’t been marked, so it can be quite frustrating to find one wandering around freely while Guards look the other way.
One way to deal with unwanted guests is by setting up traps. These are one of Evil Genius 2‘s highlights, and allow players to construct creative and deadly mazes of traps that bounce enemies between them, seal them in bubbles, or freeze them into cubes.
While traps and Guards can protect the Lair well enough, Minions aren’t the only characters that a Genius can recruit in Evil Genius 2. There are also Henchmen, unique and powerful characters with their own special abilities. These Henchmen are recruited through Side Stories, and form the strong right-hand of their Genius. Players will be able to recruit up to five Henchmen at a time, and can directly command them to move and attack. In addition to being powerful defenders in the Lair, Henchmen can also unlock new Schemes and bonuses on the Global Operations map.
There’s still over a month to go until the release of Evil Genius 2, but from what we’ve seen so far the game has all the hallmarks of a worthy successor to Elixir Studio’s cult classic. The game’s tongue-in-cheek humor and stylish presentation do a great job of capturing the feeling of an over-the-top 1960s spy spoof. Fans of the original game and fans of strategy sims in general should keep an eye on this one.
Evil Genius 2: World Domination launches March 30 on PC.