Videogame (2004). Elixir Studios. Designed by Demis Hassabis, Sandro Sammarco. Platforms: Win.
Evil Genius is a God Game which serves as a gentle, good-humoured parody of such science-fictional "superspy" films and television programmes as Moonraker (1979) and The Avengers (1961-1969). Within Videogames, its clearest predecessor is perhaps Dungeon Keeper (1997) (see God Games), in which the player adopts the role of a Dark Lord in a generic fantasy milieu, charged with maintaining a vast underground complex designed to trap and destroy invading adventurers. In Evil Genius, the player's part is that of the classic supervillain, a criminal mastermind whose goal is to take over the world. This can be achieved by constructing one of three available superweapons, the activation of which will automatically result in global domination. Reaching this point, however, can be difficult.
The gameplay is divided into two parts. Much of the player's time is spent managing his or her secret lair, constructing training areas and elaborate traps in an Isometric view while populating a private island with scientists, diplomats, technicians and mercenaries. The other half of the game is played on an abstract map of the world, dispatching minions on missions including illicitly acquiring funds, stealing rare resources and performing "acts of infamy", successful completion of which will increase the player's underworld notoriety and enable him or her to hire more powerful henchmen. Such activities, however, tend to attract the attention of intelligence agencies, causing them to send operatives to investigate the island. Such inconvenient visitors can generally be disposed of by well-designed traps, though these do have an unfortunate tendency to eliminate the player's employees as well. In practice, Evil Genius is often quite slow to play, but the wide array of superscientific gadgets – from a device that literally washes brains to Robots that give instruction in etiquette – make it consistently entertaining to watch.
Evil Genius's characters and situations are ingenious and densely referential. Amongst its many amusing small parodies are a mission whose goal is to rid the world of Country and Western music and an apparently emotionless Russian superspy who can only be defeated by destroying her long-forgotten childhood toys, plunging her into existential despair. The visual style is also strong, and highly evocative of the source material. Evil Genius can, however, be somewhat frustrating to play. The majority of the player's many minions can only be controlled indirectly – though executing one usually encourages the others – and occasionally behave in unexpected and unfortunate ways. Nevertheless, the game remains a fine tribute to the megalomaniacal dreams of many a would-be world conqueror, and a chance to reverse their unfortunate defeats.
Related works: Evil Genius: WMD (2010 Rebellion, Social) transposes the core concepts of the original game to the Facebook social network, with gameplay much influenced by that of the iconic FarmVille (2009 Zynga, Social; 2010 iOS). [NT]
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