Gaming is becoming more and more of an escapism haven to live out lifestyles and fantasies you'd generally never do in real life. Whether it's hitting the game winning homerun in the world series or saving the universe from the Dark Side, it seems gaming has you covered. Until now though, the gaming world didn't fulfill the wannabe Dr Evil's out there, sure there were a few titles here and there where taking control of the bad guys was the idea, but the experience was never really there. However, if Sierra and Elixir Studios have anything to do with it, this is about to change thanks to a title they call "Evil Genius" - the world domination simulation.
Evil Genius isn't really like any title before it. If you remember a game called Startopia from a few years back, you may be able to draw some comparisons there, but otherwise this is really as unique a title 2004 will probably bring. Basically, it is your job to build an underground lair and manage it along with your plan for world domination. Sounds simple enough, right?
When you start Evil Genius it is wise to follow the tutorial first before diving in - this is really a game where you will have to understand the ins and outs to get the full experience, if you come into the main mode of gameplay without any idea you will likely find yourself frustrated and confused very quickly. Luckily, the tutorial is easy to follow and most of the concepts presented don't really differ too much from your typical sim title, and even if the tutorial doesn't answer your questions, almost every object has a link to more information in an extremely detailed encyclopedia. If you put the time and effort in, you won't have trouble mastering this game, but it will certainly take a bit of dedication.
Once you're up to terms with the game, you can enter the main game mode and start your campaign for world supremacy. At first your underground lair is nothing more than an entrance into a mountain, but it doesn't take long before you're building the key essentials to get your empire rolling. The game will give you objectives to complete so it is almost always clear on what you need to build and do next. It is also important you organise the layout of your lair as you only have so much room. It is common at the start to oversize rooms but luckily, you can demolish and redo rooms easily enough.
Minions are the workhorses in your efforts, they do everything from capture and kill intruders, to build rooms and objects. As you progress, new types of minions and henchmen will become available for use. Despite the fact the game is fantasy and cartoon based, most actions are pretty down to earth. For example, building a room will require your minions to get money from the safe, pay for the goods, blow up the rock to mould the room with dynamite and then do the same process for any objects you ordered along with the room (bar the dynamite part). On top of this, the minions have to be free, if there is no one free to do anything, nothing will be done.
It isn't all about your base though. When you have the necessary upgrades in place, you can also command the game on the world map. In a similar style to Rise of Nations, you command your forces from country to country graphically, however this isn't really "army vs army", more like "spy vs spy". You can basically set your men to do 1 of 3 things whilst they are in a country - steal, plot, or hide. Stealing and hiding is self explanatory, and plotting is basically telling them to find weaknesses in that country they can attack. This can include many things, the most common seems to be the possibility to kidnap someone of importance for interrogation in your lair. Besides the fact your base will probably be taking up most of your time, the world map is where you win the game. It is your job to make a name for yourself, and the more plotting and stealing you do, the more you become a wanted man, expressed by a "Notoriety" bar. Soon enough, you'll become the villain on everyone's mind, as you develop your scheme and weapons for world domination.
The only real criticism you can give this game is, perhaps, some areas are a little too involved. On top of managing your entire fortress and the world map, you will have to try and make sure your minions are in good condition regarding morale, health, endurance etc, you will have to assign intruders to be killed or captured, one by one, you will have to replace failing equipment, you will have to manage security networks and traps - the list just keeps going on and on. No one ever said being a mad man will be easy, but still, this is a lot of work, sometimes to the point where the enjoyment can seem nonexistent.
Visually the game is set out to look like a comic, and it achieves this reasonably well. You won't see gritty War like action here, this is basically Austin Powers in cartoon game form. For such a busy game, the visual detail is very impressive, keeping the fact it is supposed to look cartoony in mind, there is a lot of detail in almost every room type, and each available item also looks very distinguishable. The engine feels very smooth with camera movements and the likes, and every major function is as easy as clicking a mouse button. Whilst it can take a little while to learn the ropes, once mastered it is a very easy and powerful control system.
The control system is as good as it is mainly due to the well designed interface. As mentioned, the game is reasonably involved so you will have to spend some time learning what does what, but everything, and I mean everything in this game is so easily accessible. You can launch certain dialogs by simply clicking the corresponding buttons below, giving commands and laying objects is as easy as remembering icons, and commanding the world map is simple thanks to the clear cut design. Once you know where everything is, the game lets you focus on the matters at hand and it rarely every troubles you with interface confusion.
Evil Genius isn't necessarily a blockbuster hit of 2004, but it is a very solid experience with gameplay you won't find anywhere else. It won't be for everyone, because some degree of interest is certainly required to keep playing it, but if the interest is there, you'll have a lot of fun taking over the world in a comical and yet brutal fashion. Being an Evil Genius in real life is a lot of work though, and it is in the game as well, so be prepared to get involved otherwise you'll probably end up crashing and burning.