Evil Genius is such a dumb game.

Woo let’s get the mineshaft back to meaningless video game rants. I’ve been playing a game called Evil Genius recently. The premise is a bit like the old Dungeon Keeper games. You play as one of those Bond villain types with a ridiculous island lair and a group of henchmen and minions and whatnot. You need to organize evil deeds all over the world while making sure that secret agents (and tourists as well) don’t stumble on your hidden base.

This is TOTALLY my kind of game… in theory. I like strategy management type stuff, but at a certain distance. I don’t like Sim City quite as much as something like Stronghold or Tropico. What it comes down to is how close I feel to the little people. I like games with bustle, where I can watch my little people running around the streets, grabbing things and doing their job and being all helpful. I kind of enjoy the “evil lord looking down on his kingdom” type feel, even in games where it’s not encouraged, but in this game it is encouraged so it should be great.

I’ve done a bad job at hiding that Evil Genius disappointed me, but where exactly did it go wrong? Well… for starters, you really only manage one screen. You manage your island in a great amount of detail. When you conduct evil deeds around the world (often with silly villainy goals like kidnapping maids or stealing monuments), you move minions onto a risk style world map where they just sit there until you later receive a message saying you won or failed.

This is more or less the same set up as Tropico 2, where you run an island and only do a little bit of strategizing about what happens outside it, but what happens outside it deeply affects it. Thing is, Tropico offers a waaaay higher amount of customization and makes more sense thematically. In Tropico 2 you’re running an island full of pirates and their captives. You load up the ships with guns and whatnot and make sure the island has lots of booze and women for when the pirates come home. You aren’t the captain of the individual ships, you’re the pirate dude that runs the island. In Evil Genius, you’re the genius! You should have something more to do with the plotting and executing the plans other than just sending x amount of minions to a certain location.

The game also features the idea that the more you’re successful, the more your “notoriety” increases. As secret agents discover things and get away, your “heat” increases. Eventually, this means more and more agents show up on your island. This can be either extremely time consuming if you’re good and extremely frustrating if you’re bad. I set up fancy poison gas chambers rigged to pressure plates in my front hallway and INEVITABLY the agents would touch the pressure plates and the gas chamber would lower over my dumb minions instead. They quite often sabotage your stuff, and it is often very expensive to replace. The speed at which resources can be gathered seems rather slow as well. I spent several hours just kind of treading water, spending all my money on just holding the status quo and not making any advancements.

Then the game introduces super agents, which are spoofs of various action stars that show up from time to time. They cannot be killed until a very specific point in the game’s “narrative”. Until then, you either have to keep them busy using some silly exploit, or just endure them until they get bored and leave. Thing is, the better you do… the more of these guys that show up. It’s a horrible feeling.

I know somewhere in this review I probably accidentally made this game sound good. It happens all the time with this game. I bet I sound pretty petty. Until you actually play this game though, you have no way of knowing how frustrating and uninteresting it can get.

Maybe I can still get into the henchmen’s union though…


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August 2009
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