Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun.
Actually, my plan has always been to melt the polar icecaps. This would raise the global sea level by about 250 feet. While the world map doesn't look too different, it turns out most major cities would be under at least a hundred feet of water, including New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Istanbul, Seoul, Bombay, Rio De Janeiro, Manila, Jakarta, Hamburg, Palermo, San Francisco, Lisbon, Edinburgh, Singapore, Taipei, Honolulu, St. Petersburg, Portland, Seattle, Sidney, Perth, Bangladesh, San Diego, Venice, Boston, Johannesburg, and Washington D.C.. Not to mention the entire state of Florida, and the entire countries of Holland, Denmark, and most importantly, filthy Belgium.
A friend of mine once asked me if my plan was to buy the land that would become the new beachfront real estate.
"Real estate?" I asked him. "Mwahahahahahaha!"
Thus, I was pleased when Evil Genius fell into my sinister, vise-like grip. If you long for global domination, if you appreciate the iron fist, if you have always rooted for Oddjob, Jaws, Blofeld, copycat Dr. Evil, or even just the Flying Monkeys, Evil Genius is the game for you.
The game draws from all the classic 60's spy movies and TV shows you may or may not remember - James Bond, The Avengers, I Spy, The Prisoner, Mission: Impossible - but instead of making you the intrepid hero, you take on the role of the diabolical villain. And when you think about it, that's not so bad. You get a cool evil base, evil henchmen, vast wealth, and hot sidekicks like Pussy Galore. (Author's note: Dear readers, please exercise great caution when searching the Internet for "Pussy Galore.")
There are three different Evil Geniuses to choose from: the deranged industrialist Maximilian, the deadly and beautiful heiress Alexis, or the mysterious and inscrutable Shen Yu. Your choice gives you a small bonus towards wealth, loyalty or global influence, but has no real effect on gameplay.
Of course, you don't just magically start off with an evil underground lair. You'll have to build one, which is precisely what you do for most of Evil Genius. With a remote island as your canvas, you design the base of your dreams and have your minions carve it out of the rock. Although you only begin with a few different room types (corridors, barracks, training rooms), you will eventually unlock the secrets to building sinister laboratories, control rooms, and numerous diabolical traps.
The traps are really the hallmark of Evil Genius, from basic pressure pads and gas traps to motion sensors and subterranean piranha tanks. You'll need them, too, because pesky secret agents will always be snooping around looking to foil your nefarious schemes. The various world governments keep your island practically crawling with spies and investigators depending on your global notoriety and the level of "heat" you are currently attracting.
There are several different types of agents, but they all behave essentially the same way: they snoop around your island hideout looking for anything suspicious. Investigators will take pictures of what they find, which will in turn generate more heat. Saboteurs will try to blow up your base if they find their way inside. Thieves will try to snag your ill-gotten plunder if they can find it. Hey, if I went to the trouble of shrinking the Eiffel Tower and stealing it, I'm not letting anyone steal it back. This island's only big enough for one.
And then there are the Super Agents, such as Mariana Mamba, who can seduce your minions nearly as fast as she can kill them. Jet Chan, the kung-fu master, can kill with a single blow and will wreak havoc in your secret base if he finds his way in. In fact, the Super Agents are nearly unstoppable. It's best to mislead them with your more social minions and lure them away from your base.
If you're lucky, however, the agents will fall prey to your traps. By combining different traps together in devious ways, you can really mess up an enemy agent and gain bonus cash to boot. The problem is that you can't really set traps in your own base. As long as you keep your minions alert by keeping the base well stocked, they'll usually know not to set off traps, but when agents sneak into your base and set them off, it's likely some of your nearby minions will get caught as well. The best way to deal with this is to build a second false base with nothing in it but traps. That's just not much fun and your minions are always running over to the false base anyway to clean stuff up and fix things, which they do entirely on their own.
While Evil Genius appears on the surface to be a standard RTS, it doesn't play that way. It's much more like Dungeon Keeper or Majesty. You cannot order you minions around; all you can do is provide them with ideal evil working conditions and they go about their own business of eating, training, researching, etc. You simply sit back behind your impressive evil desk and order things built. You can also "tag" any agent for death, distraction, or capture, and when a minion happens to run across them, they'll try to do your bidding.
There are several different types of minions too, in three main categories: combat, research, and social. In order to train a basic worker up to a higher position, you'll need to kidnap a victim with the appropriate skills and torture them for information. (There are tons of ways to torture people; this was clearly given a lot of thought.) Once you have, say, a mercenary and the appropriate training facility, your mercenary can train your guards to become mercenaries themselves. Lose all your mercenaries, though, and you'll have to kidnap and torture someone else to start the process again.
Unfortunately, this training scheme often leads to having to reload a saved game. One of your social minions, the Valet, is the only one capable of putting out fires. Every once in a while a group of skilled agents or a Super Agent will cause a little destruction to something you own somewhere, and your Valets will all run there to put out the fire only to be slaughtered mercilessly, leaving you with no Valets, no way to train more, and a fire only they can put out. And you can't send in any combat minions to support them because you can't actually order them to go anywhere. You feel cheated because despite having not made any mistakes, a random event can ruin your base and force a restart.
The only units you can actually order around are your henchmen. They each have distinct personalities and powers, like Lord Kane, who can make your enemies cower in fear, or the scientist Dr. Neurocide, who can reduce the amount of time required to complete missions. It's a shame your henchmen are so vulnerable to Super Agents, though, and suffer permanent death at their hands. You'll wind up afraid to use them.
And what would world domination be without a world to dominate? You'll frequently switch to the global map to send minions out on missions, like kidnapping a skilled person to gain a new minion type, or stealing an ancient sarcophagus from a museum in Cairo, or just generally being naughty to gain cash. Unfortunately, this is one of the weakest parts of Evil Genius because you don't actually get to do anything. A particular mission may require four workers, two guards and a scientist, so all you do is assign them the job, toss in a few extra support people to make sure it goes smoothly, and then a timer ticks down and three minutes later, it's done. I wanted to actually break into that museum myself and have my minions succeed or fail with at least a little interaction.
What it lacks in interaction, though, it more than makes up for in style. The graphics are great. Everything in the game, right down to each and every menu screen, is a perfect riff on the 60's spy theme. Zoom in on your criminal mastermind and watch him rub his hands in fiendish delight while you torture some poor agents by dipping them in huge vats of green liquid. Evil Genius scores style points at every turn.
The only thing better is the sound. Evil Genius has some of the best video game music I've ever heard, and again, a spot-on parody of old spy soundtracks. Full symphony orchestras power out the main themes, while jazz bands have great fun with the old-school music they used to play while Mr. Bond was picking a lock. Perfect, just perfect.
Unfortunately, you'll find little else to bring you back to this killer world once you're done with it. You spend a lot of time working with the same base because you only play on two islands throughout the whole game. There is no multiplayer whatsoever, so once you're done there's no reason to do it again except to hear the awesome soundtrack. The game grows repetitive as you slowly build resources only to have your minions moronically stroll to their deaths, thus making you go back and replay the last ten minutes.
Still, Evil Genius is the rare success of style over substance. It has everything an Austin Powers movie offers, but draws it out over twenty hours instead of two. There are sparks of genuine delight that make you wish the game was balanced better. In the end, Evil Genius left me well shaken, but not stirred.