Building a criminal empire isn’t all fun and games, you know. In Evil Genius 2, the sequel/reboot of the 2004 cult classic strategy game, running a casino and super-secret volcano lair with a doomsday device takes vision… and the ability to manage an army of minions. It’s a management sim that requires careful planning and timing; you need to build a base that runs like a well-oiled machine that can mint the resources you’ll need to conquer the globe. To succeed where every Bond villain has failed, the base needs to double as a labyrinth of wild traps like shark pits and laser walls that can keep nosy secret agents from bringing too much heat down on you. Though aspects of the game can feel like they’re at cross-purposes from time to time, Evil Genius 2’s goofy, lighthearted vision perfectly captures a cartoony retro spy vibe that lets you revel in pretending you’re the ultimate evil boss.
Taking advantage of nearly 20 years of technological advances since the original, Evil Genius 2 makes good on the promise of making a Bond Villain simulator. The art, music, and style channel the cartoon camp of ‘60s and ‘70s spy movies and TV. In cutscenes, the Genius banters with rival villains and super spies or berates his minions, who maintain a sheepish, aww-shucks attitude. All of this paints the Genius’ rise to power as a fun, free-wheeling romp. The swanky lounge soundtrack, punctuated by dramatic musical cues likewise feels like it’s pulled out of the early-era Bond that permeates every pore of the game.
The ’60s and ’70s spy-movie vibe permeates every aspect of Evil Genius 2 to great effect.
You can feel it most acutely in the characters. Though you are the mastermind, there are actually many Evil Geniuses. At the start of the game you can choose one of four to be your avatar. From the gold-obsessed Maximilian to the metal-armed Russian General Red Ivan, the geniuses all have the larger-than-life international crime syndicate boss look and feel. You can also recruit “henchmen,” unique lieutenants with similar powers and Bond villain personas. Lastly, each region of the world has a singular Super Agent who can disrupt your base pretty handily and deliver some of that crucial hero-villain banter.
Technically, each of the Geniuses has their own story, but they all seem to revolve around one thing: constructing a giant doomsday device in their base and using it to conquer the world. Each Genius has their own world-breaking apparatus, though, so you do get a different flavor of mad rise to power with each telling.
Don’t let the vibe check fool you, though. Running a criminal organization gets complicated. A fully operational base has a lot of moving parts: You need a power plant, a vault to store your gold (villains prefer gold), and a lab to research upgrades. You also need minions to handle all these jobs, so they’ll need living quarters, a mess hall, and a break room for video games, among other things. Lastly, you also have to run a casino as your front business to keep your island lair secret.
Though literally putting the base together is easy–everything’s drag and drop–building a lair effectively requires careful planning. All of the rooms need to be built small at first, but with room for expansion as your organization grows. Every part of the base requires resources from other parts–electricity, various minions to handle different jobs, money–and some of those resources, like workers with advanced jobs, take time to build. There’s a dance to scaling up the right pieces by the right amount at the right time without experiencing any workflow hiccups, like losing power to the whole base or finding your security cameras are unmanned because you don’t have enough guards. It doesn’t feel like it most of the time, but the base should take care of itself if you build it well and don’t overload it.
In fact, it has to: Other than using the Genius and their lieutenants, you cannot control the individual workers. You can prioritize certain types of jobs, but that requires wading through an unwieldy menu. You are truly a manager, here, not an omnipotent control. (This is best expressed by the Geniuses, who can all use an ability to yell and force the minions in their immediate vicinity to work faster.) That can be frustrating at times, like when a guard leaves their post when you know an intruder is coming or when a technician chooses to repair a trap instead of a power generator when both are on fire. It makes the small hiccups feel more frustrating than large problems because you lack control. On the one hand, the machine will almost always correct those kinds of small problems on their own, but on the other, it’s hard to meticulously watch every aspect of your base and see that it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.
Then again, the base is only part of your operation, so you have plenty of things to distract you from those problems. To make story progress and earn most of your money, you need to send your minions out into the world to run “schemes.” Schemes are a meta-game–they’re timed. For example, you send three workers to Western Europe, and over the next 30 minutes they’ll make you $20,000. When you send minions out into the world, they don’t come back after finishing a task, so you need a constant flow of new workers to train, maintain the base, and send out when the time is right. And, again, there’s a knack for knowing how many minions you can send out before it starts to impact your base’s operations.
As schemes progress, they draw “heat,” filling a meter that, when filled, can get the job cancelled, limit your earning potential, and potentially trigger a visit from some investigators or a secret agent who can make a mess of your base’s zen-like flow. Heat fills gradually between schemes, too, and only goes down after a lockdown period or if you run a scheme specifically to cool things down. All the same issues with carefully balancing your resources apply: The story will constantly push you to expand the number of networks you have and put more resources into schemes, while also putting in more obstacles. You need to be mindful of which regions can support long-term moneymaking schemes, which ones need to be cooled, and which ones you should simply leave alone. Plus, like construction, there is a gap between the moment you’ve assigned a scheme and when your workers fly to the site. That gap only grows when you load up a bunch of assignments at once, so you really need to be mindful of when you’re clicking on schemes and in what order.
Though you are constantly working–adjusting, tweaking, assigning–Evil Genius 2 rewards patience, arguably above all else. Often, a story-critical scheme you need to accomplish will wind up being guarded or in a region on the world map that’s about to lock down, so the best recourse for you is to simply wait until you have a better chance at success. In building, assigning tasks, and navigating the world map, it rarely pays to force things. That can make the game extremely frustrating when the timing on story objectives doesn’t line up and you’re left having to change course and spend time raising money or sacrifice upgrade progress to prep for an unforeseen new objective.
Luckily, the problems can be quite amusing. No matter how well you play, you will inevitably get visitors–investigators, soldiers, and super spies who come to your base looking to cause trouble. Depending on the type, they’ll steal your money, destroy key parts of your base, or just kill everybody, all of which are quite disruptive. When the heat arrives, you have three choices for how to deal with them: You can try to distract them before they reach the base using the trappings of the casino and specialized minions like socialites who chat them up; once they find the base, you have the option to kill or capture them. To prevent intruders from escaping and bringing back more aggressive enemies, you need a security system that can stop the average low-level intruders without your lifting a finger. You need to assign guards and cameras to watch key points, which is completely practical and necessary, but you also have access to wacky traps like killer bee dispensers and poison dart launchers, which are far more amusing. Watching an investigator get caught in a giant bubble or frozen into a giant ice cube as you intended elicits a certain gleeful satisfaction.
While traps are among the most distinctive elements of Evil Genius 2, they’re more amusing than efficient; most slow intruders, but few kill them. Your opponents also level up often and quickly learn to dismantle each level of trap with the push of a button. The most powerful enemies–super agents and crime lords (aka henchmen you haven’t tamed) simply ignore all traps. While they’re fun to fool around with, the traps feel too benign to take center stage in the story. There’s a sandbox mode that lets you build bases with traps without constraints of the story mode, which is great if you love to tinker for tinkering’s sake, but it’s a shame that they don’t fit into the primary game more effectively.
Evil Genius 2 is an intricate game of spinning plates and building, building, building to make the numbers go up smoothly, which manages to capture the spirit of its Bond villain simulator conceit. Though its management gameplay creates momentary frustrations, the tight rapport among all the different elements of the Genius’ organization make for a challenging, long-term management puzzle that requires you to both move quickly and take your time. Plus, you can use a giant magnet to drag your enemies into a flamethrower, which is pretty damn whimsical. You know, in an evil way.