Evil Genius is based on the premise that the villains in spy movies get to have all the fun. While the hero has to spend his time dodging assassins and partaking in life-and-death adventures, the evil genius gets to kick back in his luxury lair, surrounded by toadies and lackeys, and laugh maniacally all the time. At least, that's the popular impression. We've been playing around with Evil Genius, the upcoming strategy game from VU Games and British developer Elixir Studios, and have discovered that there's actually quite a bit of work involved when you try to take over the world.
In many ways, Evil Genius is a strategy game in the Dungeon Master mold. Your evil genius lives on a tropical island, which is home to a resort where tourists from all over the world come for some sun and fun. But beneath the igneous rock of the island's mountain, you will literally carve out a huge underground lair, complete with barracks and facilities for your minions, armories, freezers (to store all those dead bodies), and, of course, diabolical traps to nail unwary intruders and would-be saboteurs. When the base is up and running, you'll train minions and henchmen and dispatch them to the corners of the globe, mainly to steal cash to keep your enterprise grinding along, but occasionally you'll get the chance to pull off a spectacular heist.
One of the first things you have to do is choose which of the three evil geniuses in the game to play. There's Maximilian, a short, monocle-wearing, bald guy reminiscent of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers or Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the James Bond movies. Then there's Alexis, a tall, Cruella De Vil-like villainess, who is vain, overly made up, and favors fur. Finally, there's Shen Yu, a mysterious, Asian villain in the mold of Dr. Fu Man Chu.
Whichever evil genius you choose, you'll immediately start off on your island with a handful of minions and a huge pile of gold. Your first task, aside from probably putting a security door on the building where all the gold is sitting, is to begin carving out your lair in the mountain. The base editing tools are fairly simple to use. Moreover, Evil Genius eliminates the need to sit through a bulky tutorial before you can actually start playing the game, as there are short videos embedded in the game that will talk you through all the individual processes. If you start doing something you've never done before, a little TV icon pops up in the corner of the screen, and you can click on it to watch the video.
Your base consists of rooms and corridors. You can only build three kinds of rooms at first--a barracks, a storeroom, and a control room, where technicians will monitor and control all your global operatives. Once you have those three rooms up and running, you'll begin to unlock new rooms, depending on events. For example, on the global map you can dispatch minions and henchmen to various territories, where you can order them to hide, to steal money to fund your activities, or to plot a dastardly mission. In one case, your agents in North America may discover that a prestigious university is building a new library, and you can allocate a number of henchmen to try to steal the plans. If you do so, you'll be able to build a new learning facility in your base, where you can train your henchmen. On the flip side, each successful mission raises your notoriety level, which in turn raises the heat level, or the amount of attention you'll get from that government. If you pull off a lot of missions in North America, don't be surprised to see a lot of very fit tourists show up at your island resort and start poking around.
Spies and commandos will quickly go from an annoyance to a nuisance, as they'll start to do everything from breaking into your storeroom to stealing your money to actually forcing their way into your base itself. There are a number of options available to you. For instance, you can put a tag on a suspected agent, telling your minions to capture or kill him or her. If you do the former, you can build a holding cell in your armory (in classic spy-movie form, the bad guys keep their prisoners and guns in the same room, because what are the chances of a spy busting out and grabbing a gun?). The next step is to interrogate (aka torture) a captured agent. While you can use the handy interrogation chair that you can buy, you can also find creative uses for all the other equipment in your base. For example, you can haul captured spies to the kitchen and toss them into the big mixer, which produces a comic effect as they get beat up like bread dough.
Another way to deal with spies is to simply kill them. If you tag a spy to be killed, your minions will attack on sight, and hand-to-hand combat will usually result. If you've got an infestation of spies, you can hit the alert button, which will drop productivity on your base as all your minions grab guns and firefights erupt, but it's sometimes your only option when the governments of the world send commando teams your way. One side effect you have to worry about is that after a battle, dead bodies (zipped up in body bags) litter your island, and you'll need to have your surviving minions haul them to your base freezer, otherwise innocent tourists will panic at the sight of dead bodies. Then again, you might enjoy the comic moment of watching your middle-aged tourists run around like crazy while minions calmly clean up the mess.
It takes a little bit before the game starts to gather momentum, but you'll quickly discover your attention being drawn to multiple issues at a time. Like in any good base-building game, there's a highly interconnected nature between all the objects and rooms, so every time you build a new room or buy a new object, it can have an effect on your existing facilities.
The game is certainly filled with plenty of humorous moments, from the inspired methods your minions will use to interrogate prisoners (in one case, the minion started smoking a cigarette and offering a whiff to the nicotine-deprived agent, only to withdraw the cigarette at the last second), to the inspired dastardly missions that you can dispatch your minions on. Evil Genius is coming together quite nicely, and we're looking forward to getting our hands on the final version of the game. We can expect Evil Genius to ship in late September.