Evil Genius Preview

Elixir Studios' upcoming strategy game will let you play as a criminal mastermind.

You know that suave and debonair secret agent who always manages to defeat the bad guys and save the girl--and the world? In Elixir Studios' upcoming strategy game Evil Genius, he's finally going to get his comeuppance. This unusual strategy game will let you play not as the dashing hero, but as the villain--much like the supervillains of so many classic, over-the-top spy thriller movies from the 1960s, such as the bald, cat-stroking Blofeld from Thunderball and the genial German Auric Goldfinger from Goldfinger. And when you do capture that no-good secret agent, you'll be able to gloat at him before you do away with him--and you won't even have to reveal the details of your diabolical scheme before you do.

Every good hideout needs a bunch of minions and a Ping-Pong table.

Evil Genius' basic design seems inspired by Bullfrog's humorous 1997 strategy game Dungeon Keeper, since both games will let you take a god's-eye view of a base full of henchmen and order them to do what you wish. As you might expect, Evil Genius will be powered by Elixir Studios' proprietary Totality engine, which was used for the developer's current project, Republic: The Revolution--another sweeping strategy game that will let you control the fate of many individuals. However, instead of Dungeon Keeper's dank dungeons and devilish monsters, Evil Genius will put you in charge of a sleek, sophisticated criminal's lair from the 1960s--equipped with cutting-edge technology, such as gigantic mainframe computers, nuclear submarines, and a control center, where your character will be able to sit at the head of a huge conference table and open the top panel of the table to reveal a to-scale replica of major landmasses such as Europe, America, and Asia.

In fact, you'll have quite a few options when it comes to building your headquarters, inside and out. In the setup we watched, the base was located near the beach on a tropical island amid a quaint little village of straw huts. To complete the disguise, the setup even had a lavish multistory hotel nearby to draw in clueless tourists--because no place that attracts tourists could be evil. Or so you'd think, until you see the roof of a nearby hut split open to reveal the titanium-walled entrance to an underground complex that features computer rooms, prison cells, and all manner of torture devices.

You can test your traps on your own minions. This guy was probably going to be disloyal, anyway.

Evil Genius' torture devices can be used to do away with pesky secret agents and military operatives that infiltrate your base--and true to the game's tongue-in-cheek setting, they'll be as humorous as they are cruel. For instance, you can build a cafeteria for your base equipped with a gigantic mixer that spins the hapless victim in the bottom of its bowl with an oversized egg-beater blade, leaving him dizzy and disoriented. You'll also be able to send your victim to the library, a room with tall shelves that close in and smash their victims; sure, they'll valiantly straddle each bookshelf with their hands and feet in one last-ditch attempt to resist, but they'll get squashed flat despite their best efforts.

Some of these can actually be strung together with several other torture devices to create a kind of sadistic Rube Goldberg puzzle, especially if you happen to build a wind tunnel at the end of a corridor. In fact, laying various traps and torture devices along the confines of your base will be something of a minigame in itself: You can try to set up a perfect bank shot, bouncing that smug secret agent off the corner and into the row of spinning saw blades along the floor. Unfortunately, the most highly trained secret agents may be wise to these tricks and will nimbly dodge saw blades in their determined quest to capture you and shut your operation down. Fortunately, you'll at least be able to fine-tune your traps by using your own nameless, faceless minions (which you'll have quite a lot of) as guinea pigs--and as a paranoid supervillain, you'd figure that at least a few of them might have been thinking about the possibility of eventually considering maybe being disloyal at some unspecified point in the future, anyway.

No, I Expect You to Die!

Evil Genius will let you command small armies of underlings, which will fall into two classes: minions and henchmen. Minions will be big, bulky thugs who will be so unimportant to a supervillain such as yourself that they'll be beneath your notice (and out of your control). You'll be able to send them to classrooms within your compound where they can learn simple functions, but rather than receiving direct orders, these grunts will respond to what's going on in the environment around them. For instance, if one of those pesky secret agent types infiltrates your base, they'll run to the source of the alarm and pile on him until he's been overpowered.

Seize him! Seize him!

But it's hard to find good help when you're an up-and-coming megalomaniac, so Evil Genius will also let you recruit henchmen--powerful characters who will be under your direct control. These outlandish characters will resemble colorful henchmen like Oddjob and Jaws from the James Bond movies. We watched The Matron, a henchman that looks like a kindly old woman (but carries a humongous hidden arsenal of weapons), and Jubei, a gruff and gangly Japanese samurai decked out in a garish robe and sandals and bearing a huge curved sword, pace the floors of a compound and eventually do battle with John Steele, one of the top agents in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Steele made short work of the few grunts that accosted him but was put down by a concerted effort by henchmen and minions alike, then dragged to a prison cell. Like in any good spy movie, your henchmen won't be afraid to get down and dirty with their enemies and will engage in fistfights until they, or their enemies, get beaten into submission.

One of the best things about being a supervillain is gloating about how you vanquished your enemies after you've taken them captive. Evil Genius will let you do just that with a series of humorous animations that will not only humiliate those upstart enemy agents, but will also increase your character's reputation. Having a reputation that precedes you will be one of your main goals in Evil Genius, since it will let you recruit more-fearsome henchmen to do your bidding. Henchmen won't just be useful for defending your base, either--you'll be able to send them out across the globe to perform the sort of absurd capers you might expect from a spy film: stealing the Mona Lisa, kidnapping a pop star, or shrinking the Eiffel Tower. Successfully completing missions will earn you cash to spend on upgrading your base or researching various improvements--such as a dastardly superweapon that you can use to blackmail the nations of the world for even more money.

Now that I have you in my power, I will proceed to mock you.

However, you won't be able to increase your reputation and pull off daring capers with impunity. As you and your syndicate commit more crimes, you'll go higher and higher on the most-wanted list with major authorities around the world. At the beginning, you might just have some regular police officers or a squad of Navy SEALs after you, but as you advance in your career, you'll be hunted down by even more-highly-trained operatives that will easily get past your early defenses, even if you have laid tripwire mines around the perimeter of your base. And should they get past your henchmen, some secret agents may not take prisoners--if they somehow manage to assassinate you, you'll expire, but not before you can act out a lengthy, and rather overdramatic, death scene. We watched as a fallen supervillain staggered about, spun around, pressed the back of his hand to his forehead, and collapsed on the ground, only to attempt to get back up and fail, then dramatically reach upward with a trembling hand, before finally engaging in the last, spastic stages of death for the next several seconds.

From what we've seen of Evil Genius, the game seems like it may very well make good on its attempt to take the gaudy, over-the-top spy flicks of the '60s and turn them into a funny, clever strategy game. Despite the fact that Evil Genius isn't scheduled for release until well into next year, it already seems fairly far along. We'll have more updates on this unusual strategy game in the coming months.

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