In order to meet the relentless public demand for reviews of five year old games:
|One of the key strategic decisions in the game is where to put your vault. You want to keep that sucker safe, but you also want your men to be able to access it easily.|
I am making you a steak. Excellent, high-quality, grade-A, prime-cut, whole beef, etcetra kind of steak. Cooked just the way you like. Now I am going to cut that sucker up and use it to make twenty gallons of soup, all for you. I call this soup Evil Genius.
Evil Genius is a brilliant game. You play as a mastermind set on world domination. The goal is to recruit a criminal empire, seize crucial world resources, construct a high tech doom fortress at the heart of a volcano, and then unleash a doomsday weapon to take over the world. The whole thing is done in the style of a classic 60’s Bond movie, with you playing the part of the scheming villain.
The game is a smattering of genres that combines strategic base-building, unit management, economic management, and map control. It does this seamlessly, and with a dose of genuine humor and deliberate, enthusiastic camp. It’s witty. It’s innovative. It’s charming. I played the game through once and enjoyed the gameplay, but I doubt I’ll ever play it again.
|Units begin on the left as simple workers, and you have to train them up through job paths to turn them into more powerful or specialized units. It takes a long time for a new grunt to work up through the chain to become one of the top-tier units. Annoyingly, units lose their earlier utility when they are promoted to a new rank. If a mission calls for eight valets and you don’t have enough, you can’t use diplomats instead, even though a diplomat should know everything a valet would know. (Since he used to be one.) This means you have a lot less freedom to dictate the makup of your forces than it might seem. It also means that occasionally you’ll spend long periods of time waiting for men to train up to re-balance your personnel makeup.|
The problem is that the game feels like it has too much needless filler. Once you make a strategic decision, there is far too much busywork and waiting between making the decision and seeing the result.
The game will go something like this:
|The world map is color-coded by law enforcement faction. Each faction has its own heat level, and you want to avoid getting the heat too high with any single faction or they’ll drop elite commandos on your island who will wreck your base and kill your dudes. You also don’t want to piss off all factions at the same time. The trick is to balance your heat load, striking at a faction and then withdrawing from their territory until they cool off.|
- Ok, I think I want to steal artifact X from nation Y. Let’s see… The job calls for six diplomat units, and I only have four. So, I need to train up two more units. And because you never ever want to send ALL of your diplomats out at once (if your last diplomat dies you won’t be able to make more until you kidnap another one, a lengthy process in and of itself) I should actually train four. That’s going to take at least five minutes.
- Okay, I have the units I need… no wait, one of the diplomats got killed, I need another. So a couple of more minutes.
- Okay, now I send them to the world map. It will take the units a few seconds to get the idea, and then a few more for them to drop whatever they’re doing, and then a few more for them to hike all the way from their current location to the helipad.
- Now the units are “in transit” for a couple of minutes.
- Ah! Finally the chopper delivered the units to the world map. Now I can… Aw hell. The good guys have just happened to place a superspy unit on the same area of the world map. That superspy will wipe out every one of my units in the country if I try to act, so I tell my team to go into hiding and wait a couple of minutes for the spy to go away.
- I go fuss with my base for a minute or two, make sure the training programs are rolling, the perimeter is clear, the cash is secure, and then I kick off the next stage of research. When I come back I see my units left hiding automatically. (This is my #1 hated feature of the game, there is no way to get your guys to STAY in hiding, so you have to keep going back and re-hiding them manually while you move your other pieces into place. Most of the lost time was because of this feature.) Once they came out of hiding, one of them was picked off by the police. Sigh. Now I’m one diplomat short and I can’t attempt the mission.
- I order the team to go back into hiding and go train another diplomat.
- I order the team to go back into hiding again and tell the diplomat to head for the chopper.
- I order the team to go back into hiding again again and wait for the diplomat to show up on the world map.
- Finally the units are all in place and I hit the “Go!” button on the mission. Now I have to wait five minutes to see the result.
- Darn. That superspy unit popped up on the map halfway through the mission and wiped out my team. I’ve been trying to make this mission happen for half an hour and now I’m back to square one.
- Whoops. Actually I’m worse off than when I started. The failed mission generated an insane level of heat and now the good guys are sending strike teams to attack my island. I have to spend several minutes fighting the strike teams. Then I’ll need to wait several more for the heat to die down. Then I’ll need to replace all of my diplomats. Then I can start over.
Thus you can spend 45 minutes or so just trying to pull off a single five-minute mission. This is fun the first few times and feels appropriately like an international game of cat-and-mouse. But going through that same process dozens of times just killed it for me. I was sick to death of the whole “hurry up and wait” pace of the game before I even hit the halfway point. I’d make a decision, and then I’d spend half an hour doing very routine, repetitive things to make the decision a reality. My play-through of the game took twelve hours (give or take) and I feel like it offered about four hours of real entertainment.
There’s nothing wrong with a slow pace if I can jump to another window and play or do something else, but your empire requires constant attention to keep from falling apart. You have to watch the front door and tag enemies for elimination, you have to keep re-hiding your guys on the world map.
|You get to gather together the various criminal elements and put them under your thumb. It feels good to be bad.|
This is all a shame, because the game didn’t need this much padding or filler. There are three evil Genius archetypes to choose from, and three different doomsday devices you could build. There are also all sorts of strategies and approaches you could take in designing your base. This game has a ton of replay value, and if the game had been shorter I’d have been happy to play through multiple times.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this flaw in the game, which may seem unfair because it’s basically the only thing wrong with what might otherwise become a treasured classic for me. This is a great game and worth playing. (You should be able to find it in the bargain bin for cheap. It’s only ten bucks on Steam, if you’re into that sort of thing. A demo is also available.) Like twenty gallons of steak soup, it would be so much better if they hadn’t felt the need to add so much filler.
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