Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Elixir Studios
Release Date: September 28, 2004
Pre-order 'EVIL GENIUS': PC
About a year ago (give or take) the first mentioning of Elixir Studio's upcoming title Evil Genius was heard, and not long after the first screenshots were up for viewing. A group of friends and I all really enjoyed titles such as Dungeon Keeper 2, and immediately began to toss ideas back and forth in a "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" fashion. Lo and behold a few weeks ago when I was granted the ability to finally get my hands on a preview copy of the title, and frankly I found out I wasn't prepared for it. You see, Evil Genius takes the addictive gameplay of games such as Dungeon Keeper, spoofs the spy genre in the same sense as Monolith's Noone Lives Forever or the movie Austin Powers, and fuses it all into one incredibly fun and insanely addictive title. Thanks Elixir, you've just effectively murdered my sleeping schedule.
In Evil Genius you take control of one of three megalomaniacs bent on, what else, world domination. The first and most easily recognizable of the three is Maximilian, a Dr. Evil lookalike whose quick temper and utter insanity are coupled with technological supremacy. Then there's Alexis, a wealthy and beautiful heiress who wants nothing more than for the entire world to bow before her beauty. Finally there's Shen Yu, a sage-like Oriental man with a history of being a criminal, then an agent, then a criminal once more, and armed with plans equally as complex. There are really only subtle differences between the three characters, at least in the preview build, so the choice seems to be more cosmetic than anything else.
The basic set up follows a plot based around your evil genius coming out of hiding with the ambitions to once again try to take over the world. Starting off for the first time you quite literally have nothing in terms of your base past a simple entrance, the beginnings of a hallway, and an exterior strong-room building built on the island. The island itself contains one or more depots which are the way tourists and your minions enter and leave the island, as well as serving as a pickup location for when your minions needs supplies to complete purchase orders or excavate new rooms. There are three overarching types of characters under your control, your evil genius him/herself, henchmen, and minions. Minions are made up of different types such as construction worker (clothed in yellow jumpsuits), guards (clothed in red jumpsuits with a snazzy black beret), valets (staff hotels and generally perform any non-combat tasks), and technicians (who fix and research things) to name a few. Henchmen are much, much stronger than minions, cannot be completely killed unless by an enemy super agent, and gain experience with which can be used to purchase new abilities for them. The henchman range from the sort-of typical such as a Russian hulk of a man, to the off the wall such as a granny with a taste for torturing victims.
Base building is much as is in Dungeon Keeper 2, where you essentially build control rooms, corridors, armories, and other rooms in a tile-based format. Once the blueprints for the room's size are complete you must then select and place objects to put in the room, such as beds, lockers, mainframes, security desks, and reclining chairs. Finally, a click on a pull tag (complete with a stylish beaded pull chain) gives the order for any available minions to begin excavation, construction, and completion of your build order. There is quite a bit of strategy involved as you don't want to put sensitive equipment or rooms too close to an easy entrance point, or spread rooms your minions use too far apart. Rooms cannot be destroyed but any objects can be destroyed or stolen by robbers, agents, soldiers, or anyone else that deems you a threat.
Ah, those lovable agents. The come parachuting down to your island, perhaps flying in on expensive jet packs, and then proceed to snoop around your island looking for evidence or to take you down. Investigators merely want to take pictures of nefarious things and get them back to their headquarters, while agents actually want to go after your evil genius self. Robbers just want to try and take a few gold bars or expensive trinkets, and bands of soldiers will bear down on you and just start to level everything they see. The lovable bit stops however when a super agent descends on your island. It takes quite a bit of heat to bring a countries super agent to your shore, but once there you have to batten down like it's a hurricane. Super agents can lay out minions in a single blow and are the only enemy capable of killing one of your henchmen once and for all. Of course, super agents can be knocked out, but can only be killed once you find the agents specific weakness.
Of course, what good would having enemy agents in the game be if you couldn't capture them, mock them, interrogate them, and kill them in traditionally absurd and slow moving torture devices? When you right click on any friendly minion or enemy agent you can give orders to have them killed outright, captured, or confused. When a tagged enemy enters the view of one of your security cameras or one of your minions or henchmen they immediately begin to get attacked by your forces, the ending of which hopefully goes along the lines of you winning and carrying their unconscious body into a lavishly designed prison cell. Once in the cell you can send your evil genius over to mock them, send the request for any available staff to whip out their weapon and shoot them from between the bars, or have them interrogated via any means you have at your disposal. In the preview build the only two means were the blender in the mess hall which spun the heck out of an agent but didn't kill them, and a traditional interrogation chair where they are submitted to such things as taunting them with a cigarette, slamming cymbals on their heads, or being forced to watch the interrogator pull off his best Michael Jackson impression (yes, that's with the sounds and all).
To progress in the game you need to establish a reputation for yourself, being the new evil genius on the block and all. A world map that looks just like a cross between the battle plan tables of Bond movies and the board game Risk allows you to send minions to any location on the globe to steal, plot, go into hiding, or undertake missions. Guard minions are the best at stealing, which is your main source of income and different regions have different amounts of cash flow. Plotting allows you to uncover potential acts of infamy that you can undertake to gain a little notoriety in the world at the expense of raising your "heat" levels in the region, i.e. how badly the region's government wants to take you out. Minions that go into hiding cannot be found by law enforcement but also do nothing, but return to their previous task after a period of time. Act of Infamy require a specific number of different types of minions to even attempt to try to complete them, such as 4 construction minions, 2 guards, and 3 valets, and are often humorously named and described such as the mission "Frikking Laser" which tasks you with stealing a laser projector for research purposes. Survival rates are dependent upon the heat levels in the region; the higher the heat, the more minions will die in the process. If all of the minions die then the mission is failed but can be tried again, and in high heat areas even adding two to every minion type to attempt a mission can still result in a failure. Thus it is wise to stay out of a planned area of attack until the attack itself, then leaving after the mission attempt to let the heat die down.
Elixir Studios has done an exceptional job of capturing the exact mental image of what people would expect such a game to be. The violence is cartoonish, which fits well as it is usually dealt out among men suited up in brightly colored jumpsuits. The control room objects are a hoot in themselves, with their "cutting edge" technology of tape reels, large blinking lights and buttons, and boxy appearances. The game is filled with subtle special effects such as a nice reflection effect on the floors and an excellent lighting engine for muzzle flashes or when your base is underpowered and the lights go out. Even the models of your minions are fairly detailed when viewed up close, indeed the theme of paying attention to the small things is one that Elixir takes close to heart. Minions will trade their berets and helmets for headphones when manning a control room terminal, holster their weapons on their hips or backs when not in use, and instead of magically appearing and disappearing you can actually watch boats and helicopters arrive on your island, watch your minions enter them in a realistic fashion, then leave the island. Basically Evil Genius' visuals are exactly what anyone would expect from a game based around spoofing the spy genre films of the 1960's.
The second you heard the games menu theme you'll immediately have it stuck in your head for quite a while, it being a snazzy blend of orchestral jazz. The music in game changes depending on the situation such as a tense theme when there is combat taking place on the island, a slightly foreboding theme when nightfall creeps up on your island, and a lighter, airy theme when the sun is shining down on your island of evil. Zooming in on an interrogation allows you to listen to a mixture of voices from your minions reminiscent of a mixture of "Sims" speak and regular English. Listening to an interrogator work over a prisoner can be a riot, as can listening to a minion drop to his knees and freak out as your evil genius begins to bear a pistol at him. The narration is performed by a presumably young, perky British woman, another throwback to the very genre the game is spoofing. Even the weapon sounds, which could have easily settled for canned sound effects, have a nice pop to them and actually sound fairly distinct and crisp.
Basically, this preview build has caused me to stay up late into the night playing it, always wanting to see what was going to happen next or whether my newest Act of Infamy would succeed. The preview build was limited and ended at a set point in the game, which only left me wanting more. The game's entire presentation is one of quality, from the menu screens to the brushed aluminum HUD, going the full spectrum from the biggest of aspects such as the overall gameplay elements to the way a helicopter slides across the world map on its post and base. The fact that the game is hopelessly addictive isn't going to help your sleeping habits, but the gameplay is guaranteed to entertain anyone who always wanted to be the evil head honcho in their own island base. What it all boils down to is that if you enjoyed Dungeon Keeper 2 you will absolutely love Evil Genius, though newcomers to the genre will find a lot to like as well, but only if you don't mind getting involved with a game that will most definitely cause a decent-sized sleep deficit.
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