One of the things so remarkably cherished about late-90s/early-2000s strategy games, particularly those where base-building and expansion of such plays an integral role in success, is how compulsive said gameplay loop can get. How the simple act of developing, researching and subsequently incorporating structures of varying purposes can grow to near-unhealthy levels of obsession. As someone that will go out of their way to make sure one’s grand design encompasses at least some significant degree of symmetry, organization and otherwise-orderly presentation, it’s both a blessing as much a curse that a game like Evil Genius 2: World Domination clearly preys on people like myself. People — regardless of their personal devotion or knowledge of the grand strategy genre through the ages — of whom take great pride and pleasure in the very act of building outwards (and upwards, given the multiple-floor structure) from virtually nothing.
That unfathomably perplexing proposition on where one even starts is of course commonplace across the vast array of strategy games. Past behemoths like Command & Conquer to momentary stand-outs like 1997’s Imperium Galactica (though the latter could very well classify more as the 4X brand of game) have always made it clear that the elegance of one’s bases/colonies (or lack thereof) will eventually find their way into influencing some modicum of success. But what Evil Genius 2 does, however, is take that subtle suggestion on order — and in some cases intentional chaos through complexity — to its next logical step. Where once it was all about constructing the most elaborate, well-served base. Satisfying both you the overseer as much the countless-hundred grunts under your control. Here, the premise isn’t just building the best…but rebuilding it, over and over again. Restructure, reorganize; ditch the former conventions on where the ideal spot for all your power generators, holding cells and vital components to your base would’ve been. Break it all down, just to build it all back up again. Most startling of all: maybe it’s worth leading those pesky intruders further into one’s base so that trustee laser trap or pool of sharks is best served. On paper it’s an absurd suggestion to take even remotely seriously, but developer Rebellion have somehow made it work.
Obvious a statement it might seem to note Evil Genius 2: World Domination is a game all about expansion — building towards that inevitable endgame through plentiful assortments of materials, upgrade levels and necessary staff traits. It’s how Rebellion translate this vital component in real-time that’s perhaps one of the most enjoyable diversions of many an hour, be it through any of the four Evil Genius’ campaigns or simply in the accompanying Sandbox mode. While Evil Genius 2 is still a game built on a web of interconnected necessities — to unlock this, you need that, which in turn can only be acquired upon achieving this and that much earlier in the figurative daisy-chain of sorts — Rebellion have approached this particular execution of objectives in a rather smart way. By encouraging players to think carefully on the very spaces and rooms that make up your bases’ vital categories.
None of this would have as much the same effectiveness were the mechanics wind up far from stream-lined as they fortunately are in Evil Genius 2. Unlike most RTS entries, base-building here is distilled into that of a literal grid of squares. Dragging-and-holding one’s cursor over a required lot is the means by which rooms are manifested. Once the basic shape is decided, items and furniture can then be placed/rotated depending on whether their spatial requirements are purely on ground or may in fact attach to the walls. The best thing about all this is though, is that players in Evil Genius 2 are rarely (if ever) punished for taking their time adjusting minor mistakes or simply deciding against a room being too small/too big. Because spending one’s currency doesn’t take place until the player confirms all their choices on the main interface, it means players can spend as much or as little time as they want on each room.
But again, Evil Genius 2 makes sure to balance the flexibility and freedom of its space with the subsequent cost of how long it’ll take to develop. As none of it is instantaneous — meaning, a room chock full of equipment won’t just suddenly materialize raring to go upon confirmation — what it means is that players must take into consideration the time it’ll take for your units to get to that specific spot and beginning filling in (or erasing as the case may be) all those individual spots of rock or dirt. Items notwithstanding, though fortunately the game approaches this rather charitably by having all types and class of objects requiring a single unit to place it in the required space.
Beyond this, Evil Genius 2 is still very much a case of investing in as many categories as possible, all while making sure to account for any unpredictable, outside events that may trip you up at the least-expected times. The best thing about all this though, is that for anyone who might little-to-no experience with strategy games, much of the presentation, interface and communication is smartly-handled. Seldom feeling overwhelming or delivered in a way that would imply that not meeting but one meager criteria spells disaster across the board. For those who may come to this perplexed, maybe a little anxious about the many menus, options and choices to consider at every turn, perhaps the most prized part of Evil Genius 2 is its ease of use. Made even more beneficial by way of a well-orchestrated, step-by-step tutorial segment early on in the campaign, as well as a general understanding (on Rebellion’s part perhaps) that not everyone coming to this game, will be as entrenched in the genre, as others.
Credit then to Rebellion for striking an ideal middle-ground that appeals to both genre newcomers and veterans alike. The frequency of threats and risk-imbued opportunities that procedurally appear throughout one’s campaign, constant but never something that feels forcibly overwhelming if you’re not the best at multi-tasking or thinking countless steps ahead. Regardless of how you approach the necessity for accruing money and maximizing the number of avenues available, Evil Genius 2 again makes sure to tailor its gameplay to a multitude of player priorities. Optional collectathon-style quests that reward vital money, acquiring vital staff skills out on the field, even farming money by scouting out particular regions of the world. It’s by no means a cakewalk, not least when a campaign’s latter periods have you constantly (frantically at times) shifting between base and world map alike. Keeping as close an eye on the ample number of Heat levels that denote how close each criminal network is to going into lock-down, which in turn disables the ability to pursue further schemes and operations in that respective region. And may in fact increase the likelihood that agents are sent out to your primary base to try and sniff out what you’re really up to. As elaborate a façade your front-end casino may look.
It’s a classic tale of risk and reward in that you’re constantly on the prowl for any and all sources of intake — be it monetary or otherwise — all the while knowing to push back against the rising red meters, the more you engage with what’s on offer. Sometimes it may involve sending a group out to counter it. Which again, isn’t instantaneous, requiring your minions to actually get to the transport helicopter and literally fly out from your base’s geographical location. Sometimes one finds they have to sacrifice a hefty sum of money just to keep the heat off their globe-spanning activity — either out of desperation, lack of foresight or a combination of the two. While it may ultimately appear too simplified, that Evil Genius 2‘s mechanics are little more than number-crunching and keeping several meters in check, there’s still a degree that welcome uncertainty as to how much is too much. It’s all well and good you’re sitting at $50,000 in the bank, but how much do you keep in reserve for that inevitable slip-up on the horizon? How much do you really want to put towards those ambitious, short-term goals?
Whether that’s training the Worker class of unit, to become either one of the Muscle, Deception or Science class of unit (all of whom have their own stand-alone list of sub-classes); researching abilities and perks that make your escapades out on the World Map that bit easier; even the alluded-to dealing with pesky agents that attempt to infiltrate your base. Evil Genius 2 does make these various paths of expansion easy to apply and get into, but there’s never a wrong or right way to go about it. Better still, the game encourages you to get stuck into the ample options on show and best of all, not be discouraged by those brief spots of insufficient funds. The fact you can put such things like a new contraption or entirely new room on a waiting list of sorts, minor a feature it is, is symbolic of Evil Genius 2‘s focus on the very fulfillment of base-building. On that purest of mentalities that nothing is entirely out of one’s reach.
It’s why the act of shaping one’s vast structure is such a joy to work with and if there’s anything Rebellion should be given credit on with Evil Genius 2, it’s the ease at which this part of the gameplay is applied. How easy it’s not just to get into the mood of overseeing command across the two major interfaces of base and world map alike. But the lack of anxiety one has in ditching the old and replacing it with a base better equipped but more elegantly tailored. Beyond just such things like the fact surveillance cameras are better served when applied to a right-angle corridor as opposed to just the wall of a purely straight equivalent (though again, this small little mechanical detail is brilliantly implemented). Even if some of the back-end calculations can feel like a case of random luck. The act of constructing and even engaging enemies alike often seeming like a pot-luck deduction on who’s doing what. Minions at times, weirdly, ignoring the blatantly-tagged threats you’ve applied as agents are allowed to continue on with their snooping.
It also means that the general tone and potential for something more comical lands low on the pecking order. While it would be foolish to hope for anything remotely ingrained as a game like Two Point Hospital for example — where the presence of black comedy and exaggeration was more integral to its identity — for all its set-up, Evil Genius 2 doesn’t lean all that heavily on the aesthetic its marketing would have you believe is more dominant than it actually is. Which again, isn’t a deal-breaker, but it does mean such things like the focal evil masterminds themselves end up being cast to the shadows of your operation. As occasionally novel some of their relevancy may be — the idea that having a mastermind kill one of your minions in full view of everyone else, “increases their productivity” if you will. There are glimpses of wit and awkward laughter to offer its more emergent moments. Even if this appeal, much like the appeal of the aesthetic, isn’t the main drive.
Even with these brief spots of imbalance — when the Lemming-like behavior of minions can feel too brain-dead or uncontrollable — Evil Genius 2: World Domination is an impressive revival of a decades-old philosophy on strategy games. Whose sequel this year almost makes it look easy in that it lands firmly in that fabled middle-ground. Providing enough twists and turns to keep players on their toes, but doing so in a way that is far from alienating to those who may have little investment in the original Evil Genius all those years ago, or any past strategy title for that matter. And for all the love and affection Rebellion evidently show for this IP, it’s that lack of being blindsided by the source material, where the greatest praise should be granted from a design side. While the visual aesthetic and tonal backdrop may not look or feel that important to proceedings as a result, it’s Evil Genius 2: World Domination‘s cunningly-emergent approach to base-building where a lot of the hidden little joys are to be savored. Conjuring all manner of obsession on shape, size and positioning alike. Never stopping, never wavering and all the better because of it.