Equal Opportunity Evil — Evil Genius 2: World Domination review

Being in the crime business is hard. The economics of running an evil empire never gets easier, and sometimes it means 17 years between outings. As we all know, evil never sleeps, so it’s time once again to build up our empire and put those do-gooders in their places. Let’s dig deep into our secret volcano lair and check out Evil Genius 2.

First and foremost, I want to express my appreciation for developer Rebellion Developments for reaching deep into the archives to bring this game back to life. It’s beloved by many (including me), and one of those games that you never would have expected to see a sequel — the original (and now defunct) developer Elixir Studios left very big shoes to fill. Well, I’m happy to say that Rebellion was up to the task.

Evil Genius 2: World Domination is all about taking over the world (naturally), and the best way to do that is with a massive doomsday device buried deep in your secret lair, just as it was in the first game. Before you can get to all that evil, however, you’ll need to choose your genius — there are four, and they couldn’t be more different.

If you played the first game, you might remember the first Evil Genius — Maximilian. Maximilian is able to generate gold faster, and can push minions to train instantly — fantastic for training a ton of troops very quickly. This short-of-stature but large-of-menace villain is the only returning main boss, but there are plenty of familiar faces. We’ll get to them, but let’s talk about the other three geniuses. The first new boss is Zalika. A scientific genius, she offers bonuses to research that allows her to unlock new tech quickly, multiplied by her special inspiration to make minions work harder in her presence. She can also unleash a repair wave that puts out fires and repairs everything in a radius around her. Next up is Red Ivan, as played by the brilliant Brian Blessed of Flash Gordon fame. This military monster was a henchman in the first game, laying waste to enemies (but mostly your base) with a massive bazooka. Well, he still has that bazooka, but he’s been promoted to full evil genius status. Outside of staggering firepower, he can also order his minions to “Just do it!”, causing them to finish whatever they are working on nearly instantaneously. The final boss, Emma, is a former spymaster (and former mentor of thorn-in-your-side Agent Steele), so her powers revolve around making your minions do precisely what you’ve told them to do. “Pay Attention!” makes your minions prioritize work in her vicinity, just like Zalika, but with the added bonus of making them more effective at peering through enemy disguises. She also can bolster her henchmen, resetting their cooldowns and buffing them slightly — a real boon in battle. All four of them also have an affinity for specific minion types, granting additional bonuses like being able to clear heat more efficiently on the world stage, or making their underlings more combat effective.

With our evil genius chosen, our next choice is another big one — location, location, location. I say it three times as you now have three evil islands (can islands be evil?) to choose from, each with their own unique layout and characteristics. It’s here that we see our next major upgrade — verticality.

In my first outing with the sequel I built like I had in the first game; setting up a sprawling base with a clean and controllable layout. As I unlocked stairs and tunneled out additional floors (a brand new feature for the game), I then set up secondary floors, but with only the one stairwell. This is a mistake, funneling your minions through a single access point between the basement and four floors above it. This is incredibly inefficient and makes their reaction to events that much slower. Instead, think about placing staircases throughout your base and begin to think vertically about your construction. There is no reason why evil things can’t happen in the basement, with a restaurant above it, and a staff room above that, capped by an infirmary up top. While you will have to keep an eye on any new stairwells and corridors you open up, having better access paths is worth more than trying to lock down a single path in and out. Since you (thankfully) will no longer have to switch islands mid-campaign.

With your layout in mind, and an island selected, we set off for our deserted casino — our new cover operation for our evil schemes. Instead of a hotel, you dive deeper into evil by opening up a defunct gambling den. Once you’ve recruited the right team to do so, you can even turn the front into a real casino, either burning away enemy resolve and distracting them until they forget that they are there to investigate, or you can simply fleece the tourists for additional cash. Naturally all the swanky helicopters flying in and out of a defunct location attracts the eyes of do-gooders, so you’ll need to build up a workforce to deal with that.

Another big change for Evil Genius 2 comes in the form of a diverse and somewhat respected workforce. I say somewhat as you can still execute them on the spot just to motivate the others, but now they come in all shapes and sizes. Male, female, and every race and creed, these valuable team members demand to actually be paid for executing your evil will. Unlike in the first game, you’ll need to balance your payroll against the cost of your crew. Now that we know we have to actually take care of them for a change, let’s get to know them.

Every minion has a trait or two — these are meant to give you an idea of what they like to do, which helps you pick what sort of job they might like. Still, managing 300 of them (the maximum amount) means you are likely going to give up hand-selecting their jobs fairly quickly. Can I just recruit an evil HR manager, please? Besides, it’s your henchmen that’ll need more of your direct attention.

Discovering the minions is half the fun, so I won’t ruin that for you, but there are some familiar faces. Jubei makes a return, though the master swordsman has gotten a bit older and a bit wiser. His powers include Windwalk, allowing him to teleport to anywhere in the map, and Flow making his attacks multiply the longer he attacks. He is an absolute monster in direct combat — age has not slowed him down at all. Eli Barracuda Jr. is the son of Eli Barracuda from the original game. His weapons are Silver Tongue and Silver Gun, with the former charming anyone, damaging their overall resolve while recharging his stats. When that doesn’t have the desired effect, it’s time to break out the Silver Revolver, blasing up to six highly-lethal rounds into would-be trespassers. Newcomer Janet is your pro-level hacker. She can target and remote detonate enemy weapons. This is especially useful against saboteurs, setting off any explosives they might have. Her Scramble Evidence power wipes all suspicion, preventing any evidence from making it back to the good guys, keeping your heat in check. In the first game you could simply pay to have these henchmen join your team, but now they’ll expect to be courted a bit — it’s been a long time and they had to find their own jobs, becoming minor crime lords in their own right. You’ll have to set off on missions to recruit them (usually through antagonizing them) and then convince them that it’d be better to work for you. Ultimately you can recruit up to five of them, with only the first one being required. That said — you’ll want to have them on your team, because they can be painful when they aren’t.

Alright — base, check. Minions, check. Henchmen, check. Time to branch out and do some evil! Setting out on the “World Stage” you’ll be able to slowly expand your criminal network to build your influence and income. Building a Control Room and populating it with computers and radio repeaters will allow you to scout out a region of the world. Dispatching your minions lets you set up a criminal network, unlocking all manner of schemes to earn you money, bleed off heat from the authorities, and much more. As your scientists unlock better equipment you’ll then be able to upgrade these criminal networks for better heists and opportunities.

Back at base, it’s time to really think about layout. We are thinking vertically, but it’s also worth considering that you won’t likely stop the forces of evil before they get a glimpse at something. In the beginning you’ll likely be in a mad scramble to just get up and running. Instead, take a few moments and really plan your layout. Your cafeteria, barracks, break rooms, and infirmary aren’t that abnormal, and when do-gooders get into your base, they won’t generate a lot of heat being photographed. You’ll want to place these near the entrance to your base, just in case. Your more sinister things need to be behind another layer of security, preferably with traps and heavy duty doors.

Each room type (there are 15 types, including standard corridors), will keep your adversaries plenty busy, but here’s a free tip — don’t ignore the extras. Sure, everything you need to set up a room is in the Items tab for construction, and the decor tab sounds entirely optional, but simply placing chairs and water fountains around your base makes it a little more liveable, keeping your minions close to their workstations instead of trekking back to the kitchen for a drink. It also improves their stat decay, so they’ll stay working longer. Each minion has a health stat, morale, and smarts, and if those fall enough they’ll desert (if you let them survive long enough to make it out the door that is). They’ll recharge these stats by sleeping, eating, relaxing in front of a TV, and other relaxing activities. That said, we do need to talk about the AI in Evil Genius 2.

Most of the time my minions are expendable. I didn’t even realize they had names until I happened to notice one on a body bag. Still, they are a valuable resource to my schemes. When I need something heavy moved from here to there, minions will take care of it. Digging out a new portion of my lair? You can bet I’m not getting MY hands dirty. When enemies make their way into our base, however, things begin to fall apart. If I don’t sound the alarm, enemies will wander through the halls taking pictures, and completely unmolested unless they happen across a guard. Even then, sometimes they couldn’t be bothered unless I’ve designated the space a no-go area. If I sound a red alert throughout the base, literally EVERYONE comes running and surrounds the enemies. What you see below is what happens in that scenario — dozens of dead minions while my guards stand by and wait their turn to rush the enemy. A recent patch helps mitigate some of this, but it’s still rampant. It would be nice if the henchmen had enough sense to try to keep the good guys busy, and then disengaged and left the beatdowns to the professionals when they arrive. Given that your minions have a mind of their own (How dare they?!), it’d still be nice to be able to more directly give them orders like “stand here and don’t move” or “get out of the hallway, you incompetent boob!”, or “stop charging towards the woman with the machine gun!”. I don’t want to micromanage them completely… I’d just like them to prioritize removing the corpse from the primary door into the base.

Minions are split between three primary discipline archetypes — Science, Muscle, and Deception. Each of those categories can further train into four additional disciplines like Valets, Guards, and more advanced variants that I won’t ruin. All of these advanced minions start out their life as basic peon minions, requiring sophisticated training rooms to transform them into more useful fodder. In the beginning of the game you’ll only need a handful of each, but as you upgrade your various bases around the world, more complicated missions that require a wider variety of minions emerge. A constant flow of minions that turn into advanced versions is a must. At the end there are specific minions that require training from Type A to B to C, only to be dispatched permanently (your minions don’t come back from many minions, for base safety reasons). This can make some of the latter missions an absolute slog unless you have Maximilian as he has a power to insta-train any minions in his wake.

Despite a very clean and vastly improved interface, occasionally the game is very obtuse. I have three stations manned by minions that are charged with monitoring three cameras each. I have placed five cameras, and somehow the game says I have zero “Spotting power”. The cameras are all in working order, but it’s completely beyond me how to fix it. I can also have those security desks manned instead by guards. Does that provide a bonus? Otherwise why would I use a more expensive guard for the job? Similarly, in the research tab I’m told that I don’t meet a requirement to grab the shark traps. What is that requirement? It’s having not unlocked enough of the previous tier, but it’s hardly spelled out here. How much power does a battery backup capacitor give you? Numerous times I was asked to do something like “Quarantine” a device and had no idea what the game wanted from me. I ended up selling nearly an entire floor of equipment to “clean” it of a virus that had infected it as I couldn’t figure out how to handle it any other way. Similarly, if I have to hear that “something is wrong with either the minion or the training room, boss” one more time I’m going to go nuts. Usually it means my trainee had tottered off to get food or sleep, but my AI wants to inform me every damned time. It’s hard to get good help these days, and clearly some UX/UI work is needed.

There are a few bugs that remain at launch. I’ve had dead bodies pile up at the entrance to my base, one even propping open a critical door because my minions couldn’t be bothered to clean up the dead. I wouldn’t normally care, as it sends the good guys a message, but it also has a severely detrimental effect on the morale of my minions, making desertion more common. I’ve also launched schemes (sometimes at high cost of minions and money) and then checked in later only to find that the scheme was never executed, though the resources were consumed. It’s another nit, but “Quit to Title” quits the game instead of going back to the main menu, and loading your last save after your genius dies just crashes the executable. Even when you beat the game the application just…closes. Let’s get some Evil-brand bug spray in here, please?

Thankfully, the bugs and the “mysterious” upgrade paths at times resolve themselves over time. Usually I was missing a minion type, but hadn’t found the mission to obtain that person, or something similar. I hit another bug where I had almost 60 minions lined up to leave on the helicopter for days, severely inhibiting my ability to make money or complete missions — they just would not “get to da choppa!” no matter what I did. Ultimately I ended up cancelling all missions (at great financial penalty) and re-queued them, causing the log jam to free itself.

Beyond the unique main mission campaign that each Evil Genius has, there are a rather large number of side missions to tackle as well. These can be kidnapping a particular expert so you can then train minions of that type, heists for money, big-ticket loot that you can put in your base (because who wouldn’t want a 10 foot tall maple syrup dispenser?!), and many more. Eventually you’ll also start seeing the more dangerous superheros of the various do-gooder organizations flitting about the globe to gather up intel on your base before trying to break in personally. You can try to stop them before they gain enough ground to launch a devastating attack. It’s very easy to lose sight of your goal for world domination and sink into a comfortable pattern of chasing side missions, but how will you ever realize world domination if you do that? Let’s talk about doomsday weapons.

The previous game only let you fire your ultimate weapon at the very end of the game. Now you can build your doomsday device (each of the four have their own unique weapons that I won’t ruin), and you can then fire it as often as you have fuel to do so. The best solution for mouthy do-gooders is a healthy dose of space-based death lasers. Dance, fools!

Well, we can’t just fire space lasers all day, can we? We need to finally talk about the heart and soul of Evil Genius 2 — traps. There are 17 in total, ranging from the hilarious but simplistic stunning power of a giant boxing glove on a spring to the classic pool full of sharks. There are more beyond our befinned beauties, but those are for you and your researchers to discover.

Aesthetically, Rebellion and returning composer James Hannigan have brought this new game to life without losing step with the original. The faux-70’s style remains, but mixes nicely with the updated graphics that scale beautifully at 4K. The plastic-figure look of the predecessor is buffed with tons of detail without losing its charm. Similarly, the music that Hannigan brings to life delivers brass, drums, and a full orchestral sound that show that he has not missed a beat. My only wish was that there were more tracks.

There is an incredible amount of replay value in Evil Genius 2, and I’d argue it’s an order of magnitude higher than the original. I’ve put entirely too many hours into Evil Genius, but the campaign in Evil Genius 2 took me 34 hours to complete the first time. Yes, I believe the last two hours were heavily padded with repeated trips to the World Stage to solve fairly repetitive missions, but everything up to that point felt just right. Undoubtedly the other three campaigns would take just about as much time, as would planning out a proper base on the other islands. There is a LOT to explore here, and that doesn’t even talk about the “Season Pass” roadmap post-launch that is all but certainly bringing new Geniuses, bases, traps, and more.

With such an expansive career mode, it was a surprise to see an included sandbox mode. There are times you just want to build without dealing with all of the “needing money” or “research” business. You are, after all, an evil genius and you don’t do “rules”, so sandbox mode is for you! With unlimited funds, everything pre-researched, and other prerequisites removed from the equation you can build to your heart’s content.



Evil Genius 2: World Domination

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In some ways falling short, but in many ways vastly exceeding the original, Evil Genius 2: World Domination is everything we wanted in a sequel to one of the best evildoer simulators ever made. It recaptures the spirit of the original, brings it up to modern standards, and lets us play in an evil sandbox of our own making.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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