Evil Genius 2: World Domination is delightful. Combining neo-retro trappings, James Bond cliches, and base building that hearkens back to 1997’s seminal Dungeon Keeper (Which inspired 2004’s Evil Genius), it’s a game that feels breezy at a glance yet will cause hours to pass by in the blink of an eye. Playing as one of four villains, each with their own specialties and theme, your goal is to ultimately take over the world. To do that, you’ll carve out an evil lair in an island, recruit legions of disposable minions, and scheme your way to global supremacy by taking on the Forces of Justice.
But this is not a game to take seriously — this is a game where you can execute a minion in the middle of a room and be rewarded with improved morale for anyone who witnessed the kill. I suppressed an evil chuckle every time it happened. It’s that campiness that carries Evil Genius 2 forward, even when some of its systems disappoint. The schemes may become tedious, the objectives too repetitive, but the sight of an enemy agent being knocked into a pool of sharks never gets old.
Developed by Rebellion Developments, Evil Genius 2 takes a cartoonish approach to its art direction, which immediately starts things off on the right foot. The world is ever so slightly exaggerated, with vibrant colours highlighting environments that feel like they are pulled from a 1960s sci-fi comic. Character models feature elongated limbs, with guards having big, blown up torsos and scientists looking nebbish as they wear oversized chemical gear. The animations are similarly pleasant; the technicians, who repair everything in your lair, walk with their heads down as if they know their efforts aren’t being appreciated. Even after over 30 hours of playtime, the look of the game has not gotten old.
No matter which evil genius you choose to play as — the gold obsessed Maximillian, the former henchman turned dictator Red Ivan, scientific genius Zalika, and ex-spymaster Emma — each game begins with you choosing which of three islands you will build your lair on. Most of the lair at the start is filled with rock except for a handful of corridors and a casino that serves as your front operation, and it is from here that your quest to dominate the world begins. Though there are a multitude of ways you can expand each island, including through expanding across multiple floors, three islands is a limited selection to choose from.
Thankfully, the actual act of constructing your lair is satisfying. Each type of room is easily built, requiring only a click and drag to set the limits of the construction before waves of minions begin blasting through rock. From there, you populate the space with a variety of items depending on what type of room you built. Corridors can be filled with traps and security cameras, the casino can have slot machines and karaoke stages, and the entertainment room can feature televisions and video games. The rooms are distinct in appearance, and their functions are all critical to a successful base. The casino serves as a buffer for incoming agents, the vaults store your increasingly comical piles of gold, and so forth.
I had a blast organizing and redecorating my lair. Creating pathways for pesky investigators to get trapped in while trying to maintain an optimal layout for my minions occupied much of my time. Since minions can be upgraded into specialized roles, such as valets to run the casino or scientists to research technology, making sure everyone is happy and well rested forms a large bulk of how a base is designed. It’s here, again, that the lightheartedness creeps in; scientist types prefer to eat sushi, and training a spin doctor involves practicing a fake press conference.
In order to build your base, you’re going to need money. And while money passively accumulates through criminal networks on the global map, the best way to make money is to run schemes. These are missions on the map that offer rewards, be it completing mission objectives, minions, or gold, that require intel and minions in order to be launched. However, running networks and launching schemes will build up heat, which causes the aforementioned Forces of Justice to send teams of agents to investigate and/or attack your base.
Interacting with the map and launching schemes, however, is not enjoyable. While the flavor text of each scheme provides some levity, I essentially alternated between running schemes and lowering heat. Even when super agents, which are special characters that represent each spy agency, begin to move about the map, they mostly serve as gates that prevent interacting with a specific region unless you want them to attack your base. The cycle of schemes and lowering heat becomes tedious quickly, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t more to do in this aspect of the game.
And as good as the base building is, there isn’t a lot of variety to the threats that assault your base. Enemy agents typically fall into one of a handful of archetypes, unless you are engaging with a side objective that offers a special obstacle to deal with, and they arrive in heavily telegraphed waves along one of a handful of approaches. By funneling down the same chokepoints, most incursions follow a similar pattern no matter if it’s the early game or the final mission.
Unfortunately, much of the main objectives you have to complete follow one of two patterns — either you have to complete ‘X’ number of schemes on the map, or you have to kill ‘X’ number of agents. Particularly in the mid game, this causes Evil Genius 2 to drag, slowing down the pace as you wait for things to be completed. There are many objectives and missions in the game that don’t follow this pattern, either through having a unique flavor (Creating the perfect being to win a BBQ contest) or requiring you to take a different approach (Destroying toxic gas canisters spread across your base). But there are an equal amount that just feel tiresome.
The saving grace, again, lies in Evil Genius 2’s tone. Every side objective is worth exploring, which range from stealing an absurd array of loot, to recruiting unique henchmen to bolster your forces, to interacting with the super agents that seek to stymie your progress. Better yet, there’s a lot of side objectives, as I only completed 30% of them in my first complete playthrough. The doomsday weapons you build for each genius are absurd, and each objective involving them is a highlight.
The most impressive thing about this is that the atmosphere and jokes never get obnoxious. They don’t take center stage, but they all serve to enhance the actual mechanics of building and growing your lair. Take the flavor text for the Laser Wall trap as an example:
“Have you ever wanted to defend your Lair with a grid of searingly powerful lasers? Anyway, here’s Laser Wall.”
It’s that lightheartedness that ultimately prevails. Evil Genius 2 may have issues, but the simple joy of building and growing your Bond villain empire does much to overcome them. Whether its plotting to win a BBQ contest or constructing the perfect prison facility, there are plenty of evil acts to plot in this rock-solid base builder.