This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Evil Genius 2: World Domination.
Speaking as an extremely clever person, I feel a bit personally attacked by the concept of an "evil genius"; anti-intellectualism is rife in the world today, encouraged no small amount by a media concerned that their advertisers' claims that their breakfast cereal induces hallucinogenic bliss in woodland creatures might not hold up to rigorous academic study. Well, let's see how far your fucking street smarts and common sense get you when you need someone to figure out how to turn a city-sized clod of oceanic waste plastic into drinkable water and hospital-grade insulin! Just because I'm smarter than everyone else doesn't mean I look down on people; someone has to make my sandwiches. Just because I can envision a vastly more efficient society with myself as absolute dictator doesn't mean I want to go to that amount of trouble. Just because I ordered the installation of an oubliette in my basement doesn't mean I have sinister intentions for it, so stop asking questions and get your jackhammer out, Frank!
But I digress. Evil Genius was a base-building management game from the before times about being a James Bond villain plotting to take over the world, and now there's a new one covering its shameful nethers with the enticing Seven Veils of Sequel, but it's totally just a remake, fuck you; one that's let a long enough time elapse since the last decent Dungeon Keeper game that it can finally credibly argue that it's not just a ripoff of that with a campy retro-futuristic pulp spy fiction coat of paint. No, obviously, it was inspired by just looking at the way the world is currently being run and realizing that a cartoon global dictator couldn't possibly make things any worse; nor, indeed, could a world government headed by half a breakfast grapefruit.
But anyway, that's all you really need in terms of setup; you're a cackling, white cat-stroking supervillain, and you need to build a base on an isolated island and manage an inexhaustible supply of minions in order to pour resources into heists and schemes on the world map that all sound like they would probably be really interesting, and you can have a lot of fun thinking about what an exciting time your minions must be having as you dawdle around the office, micromanaging the positions of the fire extinguishers. So let's get straight to the core issue of Evil Genius: that its major concerns are 1.) creating the retro camp Bond villain lair aesthetic, and 2.) the logistics of how one runs such a place, and if anyone on the team realized that you need to crowbar "fun and engaging video game" into there somewhere, then apparently, they didn't think to bring it up.
Let's focus on Point Two for now, because there's a lot about base-designing that feels inefficient. You're supposed to designate areas as specific rooms, but I'm unclear on why my minions need a barracks, and a dining hall, and a break room, and an entirely separate kind of break room for replenishing mental health or something; that's what happens when you let the fuckers unionize, I suppose. Furniture for one kind of room can't go in any other kind of room, which makes no sense; would it really break the interior designer's heart to shove a fucking vending machine in the break room so my dudes don't have to trudge all the way to the dining hall for a Twix? And while we're on the subject, why can I only put fire extinguishers, guard posts, and staircases in rooms officially designated as "corridors"? I just wanted a fucking split-level food court! Also, why did I have to research the concept of a staircase?! Where was my evil genius educated, St. Bungalow's School for the Wheelchair-Bound?
It also feels inefficient that my only recourse when I need more power or one point of signal strength is to build an entire new generator or tape-reel computer bank the size of nine fridges taped together, so you need to be constantly expanding the computer room until you've got nineteen of the buggers. Couldn't we just make the tape reels bigger or something? It's like when you need a pound of sausages for dinner, but the butcher is closed, so you just stop at the petrol station and buy nineteen Peperamis.
Funnily enough, the emphasis in this base-building game is on the base-building. There's not much you can do directly; you give build orders, but you don't get to pick which minions are assigned to do the building, nor whether or not it takes priority over squeezing blackheads in front of the bathroom mirror. Evil geniusing is about hands-off management, apparently; it's just about designing your base efficiently enough that everyone can get to where they need to be. I fucked up, because my evil genius had a buff to speed up minion training, but I put the training center on the other side of the base from his room, so he was constantly having to waddle back and forth like a mother duck trying to get her chicks across a busy highway while struggling with ADHD.
I get that the idea is to build a base so efficiently it runs itself, so you can sit on your fat arse shopping around for a new filter for the piranha tank, and that can be interesting, but at the same time, the game keeps throwing curveballs at you, and if it turns out you weren't prepared, there's bugger-all you can do. Being able to select a minion and directly order them to do something would make all the difference when you find yet another squad of investigators freely walking around your base, snapping away like Japanese tourists, while the eight elite mercenaries I painstakingly trained are all sitting in a security room playing Magic: The Gathering.
Suddenly, the hands-off approach is out the window, as I need to specifically click on each intruder and select "kill", at which point, it turns out that only half the bloody mercenaries decided to pick up one of the bloody guns I spent ages bloody researching and developing, because the gun cabinet was more than three feet away and their fingers were slippery with Cheeto dust. So in my experience, if you are relying on guards, you're playing it wrong; it's more fun to use traps and turn your base entrances into whirling labyrinths of death. Although, if you do that, then suddenly those fucking mercenaries will start eagerly running up to invaders and gnawing on their ankles before they can even get to the trap, or just in time to join them in getting decked by a boxing glove on a spring.
In summary, Evil Genius 2 is an inconsistent game; if we need three kinds of break room for the sake of realism, it'd be nice if any of my lads could have a realistic sense of self-preservation, although I doubt any amount would have helped the first time a super-agent invaded my base, who tanked all the boxing gloves and then murdered every single minion before I knew what was going on. I have no idea how I was supposed to prepare for this, short of retraining everyone into a guard and buying them all one gun cabinet each to keep strapped to their fucking head at all times.
But then, when all seemed lost, the super-agent breached my evil genius's lair, and my evil genius just fucking took them apart. And that kind of killed my interest in playing any longer, frankly, because doesn't it undermine the whole theme of delegating, and the challenge of building a base to protect myself? Why bother if I can just stick my main dude behind the reception desk and open fire every time the front door opens? What you'd gain in efficiency would balance out what you’d lose in getting blacklisted by DoorDash.
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