Evil Genius Review
Evil Genius is surprisingly successful for being so focused on style over substance, but it can also be quite frustrating at times.
Taking its cue from the Austin Powers movies and the No One Lives Forever games, Evil Genius turns '60s superspy camp on its head. No longer must you tolerate sanctimonious one-liners from overpaid agents--it's time to put globe-trotting meddlers in their place in what's essentially a tycoon-style economic strategy game about building an evil empire. Apparently, the life of the aspiring supervillain requires quite a bit more work than gloating over imprisoned do-gooders, as it takes an army of minions to build, maintain, and defend the secret island lair expected of any modern megalomaniacal villain. Indeed, while Evil Genius' dry, campy humor is often amusing from the start, it takes quite a bit of time and effort to pull off acts of infamy and establish your notoriety among global powers. Specifically, Evil Genius is hampered by some frustratingly haphazard pacing as well as issues with the artificial intelligence of your minions. So while you might look the part of a supervillain and get to show off the latest in evil research while you play, unfortunately, it's not always as fun as it sounds.
Before you choose your alter ego, it's best to sit through the tutorial for a refresher course on how to build a top-notch secret lair. Evil Genius' isometric perspective will be familiar if you've played other 3D tycoon games, and the interface isn't difficult to use, but most mechanics are original enough not to feel immediately familiar. Using the extensive information screens can avoid a lot of confusion, and it's also worth paying attention to the tips on the loading screens for helpful keyboard shortcuts. Most of the basics are covered progressively with in-engine videos, and both the tutorial and the videos are laced with the sort of dry jokes you'd expect throughout the game. Unfortunately, this is about the only spoken narrative in Evil Genius.
Picking from the three playable supervillains can quickly seem like one of the game's less consequential decisions, as not only does the bulk of the campaign play out the same, but also running an evil empire rarely requires physically involving the mastermind. The most immediate effect of choosing between Maximilian (the bald Dr. Evil look-alike), Alexis (a fur-wearing beauty), and Shen Yu (a Chinese conspirator with a mystical air) is that each starts with a specific henchman. And while your criminal mastermind may lurk behind the scenes, henchmen play a key role, serving as hero units that gain experience to go toward unlocking two unique abilities. There are around a dozen henchmen total--each echoing the comiclike characters from Bond films, from the well-armed Red Ivan commando to the hypnotic Mesmero to the jive-talking Eli--and you can unlock more as you gain notoriety. As powerful as henchmen are, they aren't invulnerable, and they will be unavailable for a time if they take too much normal damage or if their three lives are used up (henchmen can be killed outright in a fight with one of the five named superagents). Still, since henchmen are the only offensive unit you control directly, it's worth putting their abilities to use.
Since you'll likely have no more than a handful of henchmen, most of your time is spent indirectly running the show, laying plans for the next expansion for your base, adjusting how many minions engage in specialized training, and ordering minions and henchmen to fly off to distant parts of the world to earn money or complete specific missions. Soon enough, the game will impress on you that a criminal mastermind's main talent is not cunning, but patience. Running this operation involves quite a bit of watching and waiting. Approve plans for a new corridor or one of the dozen or so room types, and a blue outline appears. When a minion is free, he'll run to the strong room where your gold and money is stored, pick up a briefcase, run to either the boathouse or helicopter depot, and then return with dynamite to carve the room out of the island volcano you call home. The process is similar for ordering each item, and the round-trip can take less than a minute if there's nothing happening to distract the minion. But if there are too many orders in the queue, pesky enemies on the way to the preferred depot, or too few idle workers, then you're in for a long wait before your build order can be completed.
One of your avatar's uses is to walk over to the tag that is floating over a build order's location and tell minions that it's the highest priority. If this doesn't work to get minions on track, it'll be up to you to diagnose the problem, which can be mundane, as you don't have the facilities to keep minions well rested, fed, healthy, educated, and entertained. Every character that sets foot on your island has five attributes that determine its efficiency. It's not enough to keep minions alive and awake--it's just as much of a problem if their stats for attention, loyalty, or smarts go to zero, since they'll either stand around looking dumb or desert their post. Here's where the evil mastermind's one other ability comes into play. By walking up to a minion and executing him, all shirkers in the area suddenly pay attention and get to work. Things get a lot more complicated than just terrifying minions into obedience, though.