Evil Genius is also deficient when it comes to teaching players the rudiments of the game and giving a good sense of why things happen. Having been stung by criticism of Republic's lack of a tutorial or a decent feedback mechanism, the Elixir team seemed to go overboard this time, presenting a tutorial level, a number of video lessons during the actual game, and an impressively hyperlinked game encyclopedia. For all the effort, though, the organization of the tutorials and information still leaves something to be desired. The game has a tendency to drop a lot of stuff on you very quickly and leave you to figure out how to use it. In just one example, it took me quite some time to figure out that investigative agents leaving your island carrying no heat actually reduce the amount of global heat you carry. Before that, I was just killing everybody and letting body bags pile up, causing me no end of difficulty.
In just one example, there's no audible signal to tell you that an Agent of Justice has been spotted on the world screen -- just a flashing light on the lair management control panel. Fail to notice that an event is occurring on the world screen, and it's quite easy to lose entire teams to super agents. Considering how important "heat" is to an Evil Genius who'd like to die in bed, it would also have been nice for the World Domination screen to have more detailed screens or meters that broke down "heat" in various ways. I'd like to know how much heat I've generated in various areas of the world, and how much I have with specific secret agencies, as well as what the thresholds are for the types of agents they dispatch to my island. None of that is available in the game.
In the end, while Evil Genius' mission structure has its problems -- the way the game throws progressively more difficult challenges at you, even as it introduces new game concepts, rooms, and equipment -- is all quite compelling. While I was worried the game might suffer a bit too much from "dead time" while waiting for events to occur, time spent with this game turned out to be anything but dead. Evil Genius always offers something to do, whether it's a new goal to achieve, a new "Act of Infamy" to plan, a new trap to set, or a new element of your dastardly plan for world domination to research.
Traps, on the other hand, are almost worth the price of admission by themselves. I freely admit to being a big fan of the classic Incredible Machine titles, and Evil Genius gave me a great chance to tap into that twisted Rube Goldberg side of myself. While the game starts with only a few traps, you'll eventually have over a dozen to choose from, ranging from poison gas rooms to exploding palm trees and swarms of killer bees. The real joy of the game, though, comes from setting up the most elaborately fiendish trap you can imagine. In one case, I got a jet engine to blow agents into a room containing a valuable piece of loot. When they went to approach it, though, pressure plates in the floor popped up a series of cardboard cutouts that confused the agent and caused them to drop into bottomless pits. I laughed myself sick every time I saw it. While you can finish the game using simpler trap setups, the challenge of coming up with ever more demented ways for agents to die is one of those things that keep you coming back for more.
Evil Genius also requires a bit too much micromanagement. As your organization gets bigger and attracts more attention, you're going to start drawing dozens and dozens of agents to your island. It's simply annoying to have to put a tag on every single agent telling your minions what to do with them. Without those tags, though, agents will stroll around your base like they own it. Is it too much to ask that I be able to issue some global directives regarding agents and agencies? If, for example, I need to reduce my heat with P.A.T.R.I.O.T., I'd like to be able to tell my minions to just target every P.A.T.R.I.O.T. investigator for a misinformation campaign and let them go. If a burglar's stealth rating fails, shouldn't my workers know enough to kill someone stealing back the stuff I worked so hard to steal in the first place? This gets particularly annoying with saboteurs or teams of soldiers. Miss one with a "termination" tag and he'll be marching around your base, blowing up stuff with impunity.
In order for this to be determined, predictions are made to explain the specific hypotheses, which are then backed up by evidence, finally leading to having a generally accepted theory....
The bottom line is this: Evil Genius brilliantly manages to capture that elusive "let me do one more thing" feeling that make six hours slip by without your even noticing. While not perfect, Evil Genius is a whimsically fun strategy title, and makes me even more eager to see what Elixir comes up with next.
Those minor problems, however, pale in comparison to Evil Genius' biggest issue -- the way that information is presented to the player. While everything you need to manage your evil empire is present in the game (including a global information screen you can use to track various measures of performance), the game desperately needs more feedback between the lair management and World Domination screens.
Much of the fun of Evil Genius comes from watching your evil empire go through its daily routine. You play a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur and a penchant for the dramatic, and the 1960's Austin Powers-esque graphic and design sensibility is the game's strongest aspect. Everywhere you look in your base, every character you zoom in on, and every piece of text in the game's voluminous help system is note perfect, and often hilarious. Torturing enemy agents in the spinning office chair sends your lackeys into a "torture routine" consisting of cymbals clanged against heads and really bad Michael Jackson moon-walking. Staff lounges are wallpapered with Peter Max-style psychedelic swirls, and the "learning machines" you use to keep your staff sharp are egg-shaped cubicles straight out of the "World of Tomorrow" exhibit from the 1964 World's Fair.
Every once in a while, an idea comes along that's so blindingly obvious everyone misses it. Elixir Studios, the same team that brought us the ambitious but fatally flawed Republic: The Revolution, had such an idea. Create a real-time management game in the tradition of the classic Dungeon Keeper set in the campy world of '60s spy movies. The twist, though, would be that rather than playing as the suave James Bond-ish agent, you'd play the twisted psychopathic villain. You'd hollow out a secret lair on an island volcano, manage your cabal of henchmen, build up an evil organization, and try to take over the world. The good news is, by and large, Elixir has succeeded. Evil Genius is a remarkably fun and addictive game that, while not without its flaws, is brimming with enough charm, good humor, and depth to keep gamers occupied for a long time. The bad news is the game has a problem with relaying information to the player that is, at best, annoying, and in one case, almost brings the entire product crashing down.
Many people say things like, “Isn't that baby cute?” or, “Isn't that sunset beautiful? There MUST be a god.” I think that, if they are going to give their god credit for the apparent good and beauty in the world, they should also give their god credit for the evil and ugliness — such as natural disasters, babies with birth defects, and all the diseases. The morality of nature shows its evolutionary heritage. What loving, intelligent designer would have invented the diseases of the world, including a parasite that blinds millions of people and a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? This is part of the Problem of Evil, which I will cover later.
First, a secret base of operations must be established, so that minions can be properly trained and new technologies can be safely researched. Players take control of the layout and furnishing of an underground lair, hidden on a remote island. The truly cosmopolitan villain also requires a certain degree of infamy, so the up-and-coming global scoundrel must complete dangerous missions to build notoriety. Once the whole world has learned of his dastardly existence, governments will send their heavily armed commandos and secret agent show-offs to bring the Evil Genius to justice; players must also be prepared with the tricks, traps, and bloodthirsty henchmen it will take to fend off these intruders in real-time play.