Evil Genius Impressions

We sat in with Elixir Studios' Demis Hassabis as he walked us through the studio's next game.

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We were able to see Elixir Studios' next game, Evil Genius, in action at E3 2003. The developer has essentially completed its work on its first game, Republic: The Revolution, for publisher Eidos Interactive, but Elixir's second game will be published by Vivendi Universal. As its title suggests, Evil Genius will let you play as an evil, megalomaniacal genius, just like the classic supervillains in campy movies from the 1960s and 1970s, like the James Bond series.

We began the demonstration at a small village on a tropical island--the perfect cover for an evil genius' secret compound. In fact, according to lead designer Demis Hassabis, you'll even be able to use your ill-gotten gains to buy up real estate, hotels, and other attractions around your headquarters to lure in unsuspecting tourists and throw the authorities off your scent. Hassabis demonstrated the game's 3D camera, which was set at an isometric overhead view above the colorful desert island by default, but was capable of zooming in extremely close, especially on a particular straw hut, whose roof unfolded to reveal sliding titanium doors leading down to a bustling base.

According to Hassabis, base building will have a few different aspects in Evil Genius. For instance, you'll want to secure your base's perimeter with traps and trip wires to eliminate any pesky secret agents who may try to infiltrate the premises. In the demonstration, we watched one of the highest-level and most-dangerous enemies in the game, a squadron of Navy SEALs, arrive under the cover of night in a raft, land on the beach, and then fire grappling hooks up the side of the cliff face to scale it. Though you'll play most of the game from a zoomed-out perspective in order to keep tabs on everything that's going on, Evil Genius will display its different characters with expressive animations and a surprising amount of detail. We watched as the Navy SEALs silently hit the beach, marching in formation and covering each other with their weapons until Hassabis unceremoniously polished off most of them with a salvo from a mechanical tree laden with exploding coconut bombs.

The one enemy soldier who did get into the base met with a warm welcome from Hassabis' henchmen and grunts. Evil Genius will feature two levels of underlings. The first are grunts, which will be generic soldiers that can be trained for specific purposes, but will be so lowly that you won't even control them directly (they'll act autonomously to do things like defend your base from intruders). You will control the second level, your henchmen, directly--these colorful characters will be reminiscent of the over-the-top villains in James Bond movies, such as Oddjob and Mayday. You'll be able to send these powerful villains on missions that Hassabis described as "tongue-in-cheek"--over-the-top movie-style missions such as attempting to shrink the Eiffel Tower, or replacing the Soviet president with a robotic duplicate. By successfully completing missions, you'll increase your reputation as a supervillain, which will give you more clout when you threaten the nations of the world with whatever superweapon you happen to be developing in exchange for a huge sum of money. You'll also be able to increase your reputation by gloating over captured enemy agents, as well as subject them to various implements of torture (such as a gigantic blender or a library whose sliding shelves crush its occupants) and even be able to string together a series of torture devices like a Rube Goldberg puzzle. This unusual strategy game will be released next year.

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