After a morning with Evil Genius 2, I've discovered that if I have an evil genius for anything, it's not economics. I keep crashing my evil economy. I should be sitting in my desert island stronghold enjoying the sight of my minions bringing gold into my vault. Instead I'm deep in construction - tunnels in the wrong place, rooms with doors that won't fit, the lights going out because I haven't built enough generators. This is not a fiddly game - it's all me. It's like Grand Designs, but with armed guards primed to dispose of Kevin McCloud as soon as he arrives and starts talking about composting toilets.
What a lovely game this is. The current demo build is limited to the tutorial, but it's more than enough time to get your evil operation up and running. The only HQ I can select is the tropical island, yet it's perfect for villainy, with a helipad, guards running all over the place, and the arctic tidal swells of a classic Bond soundtrack ebbing and breaking over the headphones. If you've played Evil Genius 1, or Dungeon Keeper, or even Theme Hospital, you'll be right at home. It turns out that being an evil genius is a bit like being a hospital administrator. Build the rooms you need to get running. Build power and storage for gold and a place for your minions to train up on neck-breaking (okay, hospitals do not need all of these things) and then make sure the numbers go up.
Placing rooms and kitting them out with items is nice and simple, drag-and-drop stuff accompanied by lovely industrious animations as your minions do your bidding. Electricity and whatnot is fuss free: just build generators and let the evil cabling and infrastructure take care of itself. Each of the game's evil geniuses has skills that they can use. My guy, a Blofeld if ever I saw one, is able to make people work faster or train faster when he's nearby. Granted, it is weird to see an evil genius actually walking around, since they tend to be of the egg-chair-and-fancy-lap-cat type most of the time. I got used to it though. Ambulatory evil. Maybe the cat is in a pocket? Anyway, pretty soon, forgetting the pauses for economic disaster and power outages, I had all the basic rooms I needed and a nice army of baddies ready to hassle the world a bit.
This takes place on a world map of considerable charm. Everything in Evil Genius 2 is of considerable charm, very likely because Rebellion is in charge and charm is something this outfit does rather well. The whole world is laid out before me! I choose to kick off my criminal empire in Greenland. Greenland, frankly, has had it coming for a while. Pretty soon I am pulling off bank jobs and undermining governments and all of that stuff. It's a simple trade: time and minions - you don't get minions back - for the money you make on each job. The money goes back to your base, where I've had to use most of it to keep the place running. Being an evil genius is a bit of a slog in the early days.
Everywhere there are signs of things that will complicate this loop. Side stories flare the campaign in interesting ways, just as side objectives help keep building interesting. After a while, my lair is infiltrated by enemy agents, who need to be caught and killed by guards, and whose corpses will lower morale, as corpses often do, so I'd better build an incinerator. I need to capture people and interrogate them so I'd better build all that stuff too. I want to train people to be scientists and murderers, so I have to get on that as well. Being an Evil Genius is busy work!
What I love most about this game is that, like the idea of an evil genius on a fancy island somewhere, the whole thing is a bit of a cheery throwback. Despite the lovely animation and glossy 3D rocks being chiseled away as I dig out a new room, Evil Genius 2 feels a lot like PC games from the late 1990s. I don't mean that as a knock at all. Quite the opposite. I love looking down into these sorts of worlds, with a busy UI and lots of buttons to click, things to upgrade, research to undertake and enemies to smight. I have a crime network to bring to life, a whole world to conquer. And I need to work out how to keep the lights on, of course.