Evil Genius 2: World Domination preview – being the Bond villain

The video game about running your own supervillain lair has returned and it’s looking like being one of the best strategy games of 2020.

Ancient video game franchises returning from the grave with modern updates has become commonplace nowadays, even if the 15 year wait since the first Evil Genius is particularly extreme. But what’s most surprising about the series’ return is the fact that there’s still a healthy sized community of people playing the first game, despite the fact that both the original publisher and developer are no more. And good for them, because that’s one of the main reasons there’s now a sequel.

The rights to the franchise have been acquired by Sniper Elite publisher Rebellion, who are making the sequel themselves and unveiled it for the first time at E3 last week. They did so via a pre-rendered trailer, that didn’t show any gameplay, but behind closed doors they did have a hands-off demo that showed the game is looking good and is already perfectly playable.

Evil Genius was the best of a flurry of games influenced by Bullfrog’s classic Dungeon Keeper in the late 90s and early 2000s. The idea in Dungeon Keeper was that rather than playing the hero in a dungeon crawler you play the dungeon itself and all the creatures in it, mining out the dungeon, creating an infrastructure, and filling it with minions and traps in order to defend against waves of invading heroes. Evil Genius is the same idea except with a James Bond villain’s secret lair.

The promotional artwork for Evil Genius 2 implies four separate supervillains will be playable in the end, although at the moment Rebellion are only talking about the Blofeld-esque Maximillian and Red Ivan – who’s been promoted from the role of henchman in the original game. Their main area of obfuscation though is how you make money in the game, which in Dungeon Keeper was achieved by finding gold when digging out rooms and in the original Evil Genius revolved around completing ‘Acts of Infamy’ via a World Domination screen.

A slideshow overview we were shown pictures a minion (the human kind) robbing a bank, and since we were also not allowed to see the World Domination map we assume something similar is happening in the sequel. Especially as the press release talks about ‘diabolical objectives’ such as ransoming off the British royal family and baking Alaska with a superweapon.

In the demo though you’ve also got a sideline in running a luxury island casino, although this isn’t primarily to make money but to hide the fact that there’s a secret base underneath – filled with hundreds of minions and the machinery of your global criminal enterprise. Which means at its heart Evil Genius 2 is a business simulator, not dissimilar to something like Theme Park.

As such, much of your time is spent constructing generators, housing and training for your minions, research and development laboratories, security posts, and traps. This involves a process which Rebellion refers to as ‘furniture Tetris’, as you try to not only fit everything in but also make your base look as appealing and professional as possible. Your considerations aren’t just aesthetic though, as making the layout as logical as possible – such as putting a barracks next to a generator room, in case anyone tries to blow it up – encourages the best response when you’re infiltrated by the ‘Forces of Justice’.

The final game will allow you to design multiple floors at a time, although we’re only allowed to see one in the demo. But even then, rather than a staid set of menu screens the base in Evil Genius 2 is always full of life, with minions moving around fulfilling their daily duties, as you monitor their progress and individual stats. You can even step in for some personal management intervention (i.e. shooting them) if you feel any of them are underperforming, which you can do with characters such as Maximillian who you can control directly.

Basic minions can be trained up into a variety of specialist roles, with three main career paths categorised as science, muscle, and deception. From there your minions can be promoted to everything from hitman to quantum chemist. Minions are just minions though and the most talented underlings are named characters such as Eli Barracuda Jnr, the son of one of the characters from the first games. These are the only people other than the main supervillain you can control directly and are vital to fighting off a concerted invasion of spies.

In the demo there was only one spy though, who had disguised themselves as a lowly minion but could be spotted because they’re running around instead of enjoying the leisurely stroll of real employees. Producer Ash Tregay set up a simple set of traps based on the reveal trailer, with a pop-up fan at one end of the corridor, then a laser grid, and then a shark tank at the end. This does the job admirably well, providing you with a neat little body bag to dispose of in the incinerators.

There are many other traps planned for the final game, including a pinball like contraption and the wonderfully named Venus Spy Trap. Curiously, there’s no confirmation of a monorail yet though, which it seems impossible to imagine won’t be in the final game, with Tregay already hinting that an inactive volcano is one of the other possible lair locations.

The fact that people are still playing the original game says all you need to know about the appeal of the concept, so all the sequel really has to do is update the visuals and interface and not mess up the gameplay. There’s an obvious love for the concept amongst the developers though, so there doesn’t seem much chance of that, which mean that world domination really is within Evil Genius 2’s grasp when it’s released next year.

Formats: PC
Publisher: Rebellion
Developer: Rebellion
Release Date: Early 2020

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