Evil Genius 2 gets one thing right about James Bond villains: a slick, stylish exterior hiding something very different. The base management and building game comes 17 years after its predecessor, a spy spoof in the vein of Austin Powers. Though modern players will probably associate it more with Despicable Me. It certainly talks an awful, awful lot about minions and features a mascot megalomaniac who almost definitely helped inspire the Steve Carell character from the Dreamworks juggernaut.
Evil Genius 2 is slightly less family friendly than those movies, but just as silly. The dark humor of the franchise is its most winning smile on a wicked façade. You play as a chosen, very well-sculpted evil genius (though only one was available in my preview build). They skulk about an equally nefarious fortress, glowering at minions and providing them with buffs. These minions are actually pretty efficient, too. They excavate tunnels and build new facilities — worker bees in your hive of world domination.
The actual excavation process looks incredible, too. Evil Genius 2 has a terribly appealing, almost clay-like quality to its world. And the minions tear it to pieces in satisfying fashion with raygun vacuums. Once a room is clear, you can fill it with interrogation chambers, barracks, or bricks of ill-gotten gold. All of which either fuels your evil empire or protects it from do-gooder infiltration. And there’s just something deeply satisfying about watching the clay get scraped away.
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The satisfaction sort of ends there, though. At least in the preview build. I don’t mean the rest of the experience isn’t satisfying. I mean there isn’t much left to experience at all.
All the parts you might expect from a management game are technically here. There are research trees to upgrade, for instance. These are great for training more and better minions — or developing technology to kick pesky spies out of your backyard. You also need to worry about the health and stamina of your employees. The answer, of course, is to build more rooms that fulfill certain needs. The answer is always to build more rooms.
The trouble is that it’s all in the service of moving numbers around. Minions cost time and money to train, so you send them on jobs around the world… Which takes more time and refills your money. There’s very little pomp and circumstance to this “world domination” element. It’s just a big game board version of the Earth, cut into zones to scout and control. Control means spending yet more more time and money reducing another number: your Heat Level. Too much heat will lock down a region, keeping you from making money for a certain amount of time. It all circles back down those two, big drains.
Clicking on regions and waiting for bars to fill can get tedious. Fast. The rest of the game, however, is very slow. You can toggle a fast-forward button, but even that feels too slow at times. I get the sense you’re meant to leave these projects and focus on something else while you wait. Only there isn’t much else to do besides the waiting. Despite the name, your titular evil genius is relatively passive. You can walk them into rooms to give minions bonuses, I suppose. That’s about it.
That’s the thing about supervillains. They’re reactive. They need a 007 or, yes, even an Austin Powers to infiltrate their bases and foil their schemes. Evil Genius 2 lacks imagination in representing how those schemes might come to be in the first place. Here it’s just moving money around and waiting for timers to tick down.
Maybe it’ll feel different with time. The geniuses I couldn’t play sound less passive — more combat-oriented in some cases — than the basic Blofeld. Only I fear the issue isn’t with the manager, but with what’s being managed.
Sharply written blurbs on different scenarios go a long way. I kidnapped a bodybuilder from a reality TV show, for instance, in order to learn his musclebound secrets. But it ultimately boiled down to clicking on one circle instead of another. The outcome and visual treatment were the same when I snagged a wax museum guard, or robbed a bank. I’d love to actually see some of this action, or participate in it in some way, rather than read about it in a mission description. Especially when the game looks as stylish as it does.
A shiny exterior just doesn’t cut it if you don’t have the doomsday weapon to back it up.