Who hasn’t dreamt of absconding to an isolated island in a tropical part of the world and living out the rest of their days amidst the sun, sand and palm trees…. while plotting the downfall of the various world governments? It’s a retirement plan that’s out of reach for many a Millennial, but anyone who’s seen classic Bond films knows it was all the rage back in the 1960s and 1970s and now Evil Genius 2 is bringing that dream back for the rest of us.
Following in the footsteps of the 2004 original (and Dungeon Keeper before that), Evil Genius 2 casts you as one of four, well, evil geniuses, all intent on upending the world order. You’ll build out your base in the heart of a dormant volcanic island, hiding behind the front of an exotic casino while your minions feverishly dig out new tunnels and installations, guards patrol (or sit around playing cards waiting for something to happen) and scientists research more and more devious doomsday devices.
You have to start small, though. While a modern-day tech start-up can seemingly secure billions in venture capital just from the strength of their CEO’s handshake, your evil genius is beholden to bullion. Carving out a vault room for your gold reserves will be one of the first things you do, alongside quarters for your minions, a cafeteria, power, control rooms, and on and on.
Funding this has you turning to the world stage, a map of the world where you can sending minions out to set up underground cells for your operations, from which you can launch money-making schemes to refill your coffers. These take time, though, and the schemes always have you balancing the number of minions that you commit (and who do not return), the reward and the time taken, not to mention the heat level that they can build. You’ll constantly be swapping between money-making schemes and those trying to reduce your heat level.
Everything you do, you see, is done while trying to avoid the attentions of the Forces of Justice – four do-gooder agencies that will seek to uncover and foil your plans. There will be regular visits from Investigators trying to infiltrate your base through the front door, who you can seek to distract until they give up, capture and interrogate, or simply kill and chuck into an incinerator (along with any minions that end up in body bags).
Initially, you’ll have to do this manually, marking incoming agents for your minions to deal with as and when they notice them (you can’t just direct a minion, but have to rely on their wits and your camera and trap network to deal with incursions). One of the first orders of business is to diversify the minions available to you, letting you train your basic grunts to become Valets (ideal for deception in the casino front), Guards and Mercenaries to deal with incursions more forcefully, and Scientists to research new items, weapons, traps and more.
Those traps get pretty wild and wonderful. You start off with a standard big punching glove that will wallop intruders in the side of the head, but you can kit out your corridors with all manner of freeze rays, poison dart guns, laser walls, and silly slippery walls and pinball bumpers.
The four Geniuses also have their particular areas of expertise, each with buffs and abilities and passive boosts. Maximillian (Glen McCready) is the all-rounder who excels at earning cash, Red Ivan (Brian Blessed) the combat-focused Russian, Emma (Smantha Bond – Miss Moneypenny from 1995-2002) the deceptive and embittered former spymaster, and Zalika (Rakie Ayola) the scientific mastermind. The fundamentals are the same between them, but there’s a leaning to different play styles.
You can’t just rely on minions though and will want to recruit henchmen to join your inner circle. Each is recruited by taking on their side story, sending your minions our to the world to bring them to your lair or investigate, confronting them and bending them to your will. Once you have them as an ally, they have their own skills that will help you in various ways, whether it’s Eli Barracuda Jr. with his silver tongue helping keep up the casino front, or IRIS the robot who can act as a security camera and summon guards to any covert threats she uncovers.
Playing the game on Medium difficulty, there’s a decent balance that regularly puts you under pressure with agent incursions. It could probably go a little easier on you in the opening hour – it was quite a surprise when five investigators showed up all at once when I’d barely had an opportunity to unlock, let alone train any valets or guards – and you’ll be forced to micromanage the world stage when Super Spies turn up and start snooping around your operations. Symmetry was a constant thorn in my side if I completed a scheme she chose to watch, suddenly spawning right in my vaults and causing me huge amounts of trouble to deal with through her high-powered accomplices. Only micromanaging my Genius and henchmen, going into full alert and reloading a save or two let me deal with her. I suspect this element will be tweaked and rebalanced after launch, but you can customise the difficulty in a number of ways.
Though you can also play in a more purist sandbox mode, playing each Genius in the regular game mode puts a narrative spin on your progression to world domination. You’ll have Emma tilting against an upcoming general election winner, deciding that developing a world-ending neural agent is the only way to proceed. It’s often window dressing to the fundamentals of the gameplay, drawing you to the world stage and demanding you send various minions out into the world, while also tackling the side stories to recruit new henchmen, acquire special loot, and more.
The modern reimagining of the game has a fair bit in common with the excellent Two Point Hospital as well. There’s a chunky cartoony style to the character designs, there’s even a similar slapstick tone and sense of humour (though to nowhere near the same degree). It’s generally pleasing to look at, and James Hannigan’s return to compose the soundtrack provides a number of catchy motifs that really add a Bond-esque stature to the 60s kitsch of the minion jumpsuits and barmy contraptions and traps.
If there’s one area that it all falls down (or at least doesn’t delight) it’s in the occasional interstitial cutscene moments. There’s a back and forth conversation between your genius and a minion or henchman, and they occur several times during the opening hour as you unlock more minion types and are then interspersed throughout as you start and complete new story missions, but the voice acting plays out over canned animations, which feels a little… impersonal? It could have been far more stylish.