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PC Review - 'Evil Genius'

by Alanix on Sept. 28, 2004 @ 1:04 a.m. PDT

In Evil Genius, a strategy/life simulation game, you assume the role of a wicked mastermind bent on achieving global domination through the construction of the ultimate doomsday device. A tongue-in-cheek take on the 60's spy thriller genre, Evil Genius offers the player the chance to be the villain and control a secret island fortress complete with powerful (and strangely dressed) henchmen, mindlessly loyal minions and a wide range of hilarious gizmos.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Elixir Studios
Release Date: September 28, 2004

Buy 'EVIL GENIUS': PC

A suave, debonair secret agent, impeccably dressed in an Armani tuxedo, lies strapped to a table while a laser beam cuts its way between his legs, on its way to…well, you get the idea. "Do you expect me to talk?" he says with a characteristic Scottish brogue. "No, Mister Bond," replies the evil madman controlling the laser, "I expect you to die!

We all remember that classic moment from "Goldfinger", but how many of us would rather be Auric Goldfinger than James Bond. I know I always did. What a great job! Amass an army of minions in a hollowed out volcano, or undersea kingdom, or deep in the bowels of a mountain, construct shock-and-awe-inspiring devices to bring the populace to its knees, ransom entire continents for billions of dollars, and have a hoot and a half doing it.

Now, thanks to Vivendi Universal, Sierra, and Elixir Studios, that dream has become a reality! If Doctor Evil is more appealing to you than Austin Powers, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of "Evil Genius."

From the witty opening cutscenes to the final blow, "Evil Genius" captures the feel of building your own private Evil Empire. (No, not Iraq, but thanks for the misdirection, Mr. President). With tongue firmly planted in cheek (as in all the best spy movies) you build your lair, populate it with workers, and train them to be scientists, guards, soldiers, even valets. You lay devious traps to thwart the infiltration of your base by those yucky do-gooders from all over the world. You send your minions out across the globe kidnapping, extorting, murdering, thieving… How cool is that?!

Recently, there has been a trend in gaming which allows players to take on the role of the "bad guy". Even LucasArts has given gamers the opportunity to go to the dark side of the Force. "Evil Genius" capitalizes on this trend, and borrows heavily from one of my all-time favorite games: "Dungeon Keeper."

Those of you who played DK and DK2 will be instantly familiar with the game’s build interface. Clicking and dragging squares to create corridors and rooms is the backbone of the build engine. And, as in DK, each room offers distinct equipment and furniture for each type of room. Your Armory can contain weapon racks, holding cells, interrogation devices and Security desks. Your Training room can hold punching dummies, laboratory tables and simple school desks. Your Freezer contains racks for holding the corpses of those you have eliminated (with extreme prejudice). You may also construct Strongrooms for hoarding your swag, Barracks for giving your minions a place to get some shut-eye, Staff Rooms for recreation, Infirmaries for healing the sick, Archives for advanced study, and even an Inner Sanctum for your Evil Genius to chill out or have meetings in (oops, I dangled my participle).

It all sounds simple, right? (BUZZER SOUND) Wrong! Whereas the Dungeon Keeper games made the rooms themselves the key to character development, "Evil Genius" requires you to have at least one of the type of minion you wish to create, to train underlings to become those advanced types. That’s where the world map comes in.

If you wish to train guards, you need to first kidnap one, and then interrogate him. The interrogation animations, by the way, are hysterical. Who would have thought you could break a man’s spirit by constantly doing bad Michael Jackson impressions? Likewise, valets (excellent at blackmail and psychological weakening) can be created by interrogating maids, and technicians can be trained by the systematic torture of an enemy technician. More minion types are unlocked as the game progresses, and I won’t spoil the surprises here.

On the World Domination map, you can assign tasks to your minions. The basic three are Plotting, which is used to uncover Acts of Infamy (to be discussed later) and gather information about the region your minion currently inhabits; Stealing, which is pretty self-explanatory (after all it takes money to hollow out a volcano and turn it into your personal Den Of Iniquity) and Hiding, which is also pretty no-brain-ish.

There are also special tasks, the aforementioned "Acts of Infamy", in each region that can be attempted to raise your level of notoriety. With a nod to the late Douglas Adams, your notoriety rating initially starts out as "Harmless," but with a few abductions, you could work your way up to the coveted rating of "Mostly Harmless."

What really raises "Evil Genius" to an "Editor’s Choice" rating is its depth of gameplay. The World Map and the Island Map must be constantly checked against one another for coverage. For example, if you send all of your guards on a mission on the World Map, and they are all eliminated, you then must re-kidnap another enemy guard, return him to the island, interrogate him, and begin the cycle all over again. This can be very time-consuming. The game does allow for error, but the price of a casual mistake can be much higher than initially anticipated.

Graphically, the game has a nice polished look to it. Wall, floor and exterior textures are all very realistic, if a bit cartoonish. The characters are very cartoonish, and that is part of the appeal, at least to me. When you are dealing with megalomaniacs attempting Global Domination, the characters should be larger than life and twice as ugly!

Room, weapon, trap and device choices are many and varied, from a simple gas trap all the way up to, and including thermonuclear missiles!

Voice talent is exactly what I expected: Wonderful! The nostalgic feel of hearing a metallic female voice over the loudspeakers of your fortress, warning you of intruders entering the base, took me right back to the great spy movies of the 60’s and 70’.

The music during the menus and cutscenes are likewise culled right from Lalo Schifrin. (Look him up on the IMDB if you don’t recall the name.)

If all this weren’t enough, "Evil Genius" also incorporates a fantastic in-game help system, in the form of a multi-media glossary. As you start your quest for a New World Order, you are greeted with numerous pop-up windows giving an overview of what each new item available does, and how it can best be utilized. Mission Objectives are always available, so you always know what it is you should be working on next, alleviating the uncertainty that can occur when the fortresses get positively huge. Fully animated tutorials are also available for you to peruse to help you get started building your evil empire.

I only have one negative comment about "Evil Genius". I would have liked to have seen some implementation of multiplayer gameplay here. I used to love head-to-head games of Dungeon Keeper 2, and I think that this game would be a hoot and a half to play mano a mano. This however is really an issue of nit-picking. The game is great as it is; I’m just a fat, lazy, greedy American who wants more more more…. (Grin)

If you love James Bond movies, or Austin Powers, or any of those great gadgets-girls-and-guns flicks, this game will put you right there in the mix. If you like games that have intellect rooming side-by-side with action, you’ll think your fingers off here. And if you like your games with a good sense of humor, you’ll laugh until they die. So scout out your location, build your traps and wait for those nasty good guys to come a-knockin’. Just make sure your freezer is big enough to hold all the body bags!

As I have often said before, a great gauge of a game is its addictive quality. I’ll put it to you this way: When I installed my copy of "Evil Genius", it was about 4 PM on a Saturday. When I next looked at the clock, still fighting my first island mission, my family had gone to bed, the cats were asleep on the sofa, the dog was snoring away in his doghouse and it was 2AM! This game could be described as "crack on a CD!" I did use some pilfered save game files to delve deeper into the game for purposes of this review, but I can assure you, as soon as this review is posted, I’ll be going back to my original, honest save game, and continue on my quest to be the ultimate "Evil Genius."

Score: 9.0/10


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