Behind the lights, clattering of roulette wheels, and gentle singing of my valet in the casino, Max sits behind his impressive desk in a gilded room and watches the gold flow in. Max you see is a supervillain – one that looks like a budget Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies, complete with cheesy catchphrases and questionable physique. But, despite his prowess at being evil, Evil Genius 2: World Domination asks you to be his godly henchman, building up his lair and global empire around him, all while training up Muscle and crafting traps.
This sequel builds on the 2004 cult classic, Evil Genius, building on its ideas and adding some fantastic additional features. Like the 'World Domination' suffix of the title suggests, you're broadly tasked with building a supervillain empire that spans the globe, spreading across continents in blocks at a time. But in order to get anywhere close to that, you'll need a fully functional base and a truckload of minions to throw into it.
The full game will offer four unique evil geniuses to play with, each with their own campaign. For this preview, I was given Max, who comes with special abilities like being able to loom near minions to make them work harder or train faster. You're able to control each of the evil geniuses to make use of their skills, and will even get a better glimpse of their personalities through pretty basic cutscene-style dialogues between them and their minions. You can even use your genius to let's say build morale, by shooting a minion in front of a crowd to earn respect / incite fear to keep the evil cogs turning.
Build evil, be evil
Along with the variety of bad guys to control, you'll also have multiple lair locations to discover, each coming with its own quirks, building restrictions, and villainous benefits. This is Crown Gold island, which offers a slightly constricted layout beyond the casino facade that dominates one-quarter of the map. So, making sure you've got enough space for everything you need – particularly power and space for your minions – can become a little bit of a Tetris-style juggle.
Evil Genius 2's core gameplay loop is creating this fully-functional lair. The campaign walks you through how to build various rooms, starting simply enough with your Vault to store your all-important gold, a Barracks for your workers, and a Power Station large enough to accommodate all the generators you'll need to keep the lights on. It's all grid-based for easy placement, but the building tools aren't always as intuitive as you might hope. Compared to something similar, like the recent Two Point Hospital, placing doors and rooms is a fiddly affair that requires knowing the width of the door and messing around with the items within. Once a room is placed, it's easy enough to extend it and add more objects, but far more difficult to make a space smaller – particularly if you've overcompensated on space needed for the internal items.
It doesn't help that the camera controls aren't always smooth – even playing with keyboard and mouse – meaning that placement can sometimes mean regular readjustments to make the most of the floorplan. These issues are even worse in the World Stage map, where you can scout new areas to establish Criminal Network outposts. The camera is fixed here, and can often cause visibility issues for evil scheme markers hidden behind other options.
But, that doesn't detract from the overall quality of the gameplay. Keeping the balance between power and technology, gold and minions is a constant tweaking game, building and adding to your lair until you have enough resources to continue with your quest for world domination. Training Rooms let you upgrade your low-level grunts to specialisms like Muscle, Deception, and Science, while research lets you increase your evil broadcast range to take over more continents, or finally get nuclear power to ditch the army of small burst generators that will litter your base.
Gold and glitter
And then there's the front to maintain too – your casino. This public-facing side of your 'business' is just as crucial as what goes on behind closed laser-guarded doors. Tourists will ask questions if there isn't enough to do, or things look a little basic on the gambling deck, causing an influx of Forces of Justice agents attempting to sneak into your base, gain intelligence, and kill plenty of your minions. This is where your Muscle will come in to exterminate, capture (and torture), or distract any foreign agents. Meanwhile, the Deception minion specialists known as Valets tend the blackjack table and sing cabaret to stop tourists wandering too close to the evil goings-on behind the layers of security doors you've no doubt installed.
As your base grows, you can help things along by adding traps too - including the brilliantly silly boxing glove on a spring that erupts from the wall to catch the agents sneaking into your base unawares. A well-placed security camera, monitored by the minions manning the Security Desk, can send your Muscle in to dispatch agents while they're gathering their spy pens.
It's not always 100% successful, or necessarily well-explained – like the time my Muscle refused to deal with enemy agents, despite the fact they were appropriately marked for extermination, and yet still managed to disguise themselves as my workers and make off with my secrets. But when it all works, Evil Genius 2 is great fun, cementing itself as a quirky take on the management sim genre with all its evil deeds and talk of Doomsday devices.
And part of the charm of Evil Genius 2: World Domination is its unique blend of evil and comedy. The cartoonish elements of its graphics and Road Runner-esque approach to traps butts heads with the antics of your genius and your ability to torture (and kill) enemy agents that infiltrate your lair. Like the strategy gameplay, it's a balancing act but again one that works well for an enjoyable slice of supervillain life.
Evil Genius 2: World Domination is launching March 30 on PC (via Steam).