Have You Played… Evil Genius?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s a little baffling that nobody’s tried to make Evil Genius [official site] again. A transparent derivative of Dungeon Keeper, it did more than enough to distinguish itself from that noble luminary of base building and evil overlording.

Every time I reinstall it, I adore the detailed and spritely animations, the bright, shiny double-faux-seven aesthetic of its characters and the bases you can build. I picture my elaborate headquarters in all its glory, but then get stuck for what seems like days, waiting for money to trickle in and interesting toys to unlock. By then of course, my base is too full of necessary rooms to fit in all the fun things I want to add, 90% of which are absurdly elaborate traps for the many, many do-gooders constantly snooping around the place.

Evil Genius did a few too many important things wrong, but the traps? Oh my. That’s the one area where it put Dungeon Keeper to shame, and playing with that fiendish system of pressure pads, trapdoors, wind tunnels and pop-up surprises that horribly mangle, startle or confuse, was an unusual delight.

I have a suspicion that everyone who played Evil Genius has much the same opinion.


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    gritz says:

    I’ve been marathoning Venture Brothers in anticipation of the new season starting. I’d pay a thousand dollars for a good new Evil Genius game set in that world of super scientists and boy adventurers.

    • AstroHun says:

      Oh gof yes. I’m honestly kind of shocked Adult Swim hasn’t made such a perfectly obvious tie-in (especially how well relatively long-form games like Pocket Morty’s have been received). Or some other ambitious group of modders just making a Venture Bros total conversion.

      When it first came out, I was convinced a No One Lives Forever based one was sorely needed. NOLF anything, really at this point.

  2. essentialatom says:

    I never got far with Evil Genius because I didn’t have the patience. But I continue to listen to the soundtrack, which is absolutely wonderful. Only about eight or nine tracks – unless I’m missing some – but each is just brilliantly conceived and composed.

    • RaveTurned says:

      …I didn’t have the patience…
      Flashbacks to those moments in EG where some bastard agency has wiped out most of your minions and equipment and cash, and you have to wait for your forces to build back up minute by minute, and complete the necessary training to level back up to the more advanced minion types, all ever… so… slowly…

      The game did a lot of things well, but long waits like that used to drive me crazy. Maybe I just needed to suck at the game less, idk.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        It needed a time compression option I feel.

        • Herring says:

          Or an option where you can develop some prototype AI software and sell it to a megacorporation for 100’s of millions of pounds.

      • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

        Exactly why I too ended up with too many rooms. Need to do something! Excavate!

  3. ButtonDownMind says:

    Oh sweet lordy, yes. Whenever I’m asked about overlooked games that you should go back and play, I always recommend this game. The aesthetic, the music, the wry sense of humor are all just on-fucking-point. The traps we’re absolutely fiendish and it really nailed making you feel like a bond villain. My two major gripes with the game was (and still are) the opaque system for dealing with “Boss” secret agents which required a good deal of guesswork to luck upon the right solution for fending them off, and the fact that while the potential for complex traps is very high, there’s never much of a reason to use anything beyond the most basic ones. Still, an absolute must-play because there’s just nothing else quite like it.

    • LionsPhil says:

      This is a game that is absolutely, categorically elevated immensely by its atmosphere, yes. That title menu. The UI. The art style (which has aged very well as a result). It absolutely nails the ’60s-ish superspy-fiction feel.

      • ButtonDownMind says:

        Absolutely. I repurchased it recently during a Steam sale. I don’t have a huge desire to go back and play it currently but sometimes I’ll boot it up just to let the main menu animations and music play. It gives me that sweet tingly feeling I imagine ASMR junkies chase.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yep agreed, this was a great game, such a shame it never got as much attention as it deserved, it was the only thing close to dungeon keeper I’ve ever played and the whole “Bond Villain” theme was just a fantastic twist on Dungeon Keeper.

  4. VeritableHero says:

    This is easily one of the most memorable games I’ve played. I was so happy when it became available on GOG. Interrogating agents by throwing them into a giant kitchen mixer? Awesome.

  5. dwm says:

    As well as the animations and art design for this game being wonderful, the music for this game was utterly, amazingly brilliant.

  6. Anthile says:

    It’s a shame you basically have to cheat money or otherwise spend a lot of time doing nothing but wait. The foundation, as a Dungeon Keeper clone, is solid but it’s not particularly good as a game.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Yea, I absolutely LOVE the setting and the idea behind it, it’s just… at some point, you kinda get stuck. I haven’t played this in years, but I recall that after the initial few islands, you get access to a set of missions where you have to steal certain artifacts. Can never get past them.

      Coupled with the fact that you can never actually kill the Good Guys (Just knock them around a bit, capture them just for them to escape in a Bondian way and leave you alone for a few turns) and at some point, the frequency of their invasions becomes overwhelming.

      I prefer to keep it as a fond memory, rather than try my hand at it again.

      • DuncUK says:

        Actually, you can “kill” all but the main Bond guy by capturing and humiliating them in a specific way. In most cases, it required you to do all the missions in a particular area of the world and then wait for your henchmen to suggest a special mission to capture objects / people from the world. Then you’d get to perform a special torture which would permanently break them psychologically. Sounds a bit creepy when I put it like that.

  7. Solidstate89 says:

    I loved Evil Genius and put quite a few hours into playing it, but I never understood how to move your base to the new island. I don’t know if I encountered a glitch or if I was merely incompetent.

    • silentdan says:

      This was a looong time ago, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think I recall having the same problem. There was a poorly-communicated threshold condition (can’t remember what it was, but I think it had to do with upgrading a structure) and once you did that, you could move on.

      Evil Genius remains one of my favourite games of all time, warts and all. Maximillian is my Steam avatar.

      • Cross says:

        I suspect the condition you’re thinking of is that you needed to maintain a cash flow of $10,000 for something like 15 minutes. If at any point you dipped beneath, you had to restart. It was pretty badly communicated.

  8. c-Row says:

    Well, there is Evil Genius Online on Facebook, but being a FB game I cannot blame you.

  9. Kefren says:

    I loved it. However, I never found much use for traps. They aroused too much suspicion. Once I realsied that enemies when for the most secure doors I would just create looping sections of highest-security doors they’d spend their time in without getting suspicios because they didn’t find anything else. The real base entrance was minimal security for a few doors, which kept agents away – only then did the security go up, with suspicious things beyond. So no money spent on traps or the ridiculously-expensive hotels.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The amnesia traps were worthwhile (it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten exactly which stat that was), since they made agents forget they’d seen anything suspicious, such as traps.

      “Agent 005, why are you covered in sore welts?”
      “I don’t…bees? No, that can’t have been it. I don’t know, sir. All I ever found was a harmless cafeteria in the side of this mountain.”

      • Sin Vega says:

        Tricking invaders with networks of doors (I’ve also read about people simply lining up a dozen regular doors – even if they ever manage to break through them all, they’re never getting out again) is a clever one, but if you chain together enough traps, every agent that gets caught in them generates free money for you, which can go towards alleviating the tedious wait for other income.

        It’s still more hassle to do, though, and often involves collateral damage among your own mooks. One of many areas where I feel like EG almost had the right idea but didn’t quite make it work.

    • NephilimNexus says:

      You’re on the right track. The trick to ganking the AI that I used was simple: Sheds. That’s it. I give my base one entrance and keep it at SL 2. Then I build three or four shacks outside, install doors in all of them and put those doors at SL4. Because agents are programmed to go after the higher security level doors first (must be more important, right?) they go to first shack, spend all day cracking the lock, find it empty and move to the next shack. By the time they’ve reached the last shed their mission time has expired and they have to leave empty handed.

      Yes, I still play this game.

    • Fiatil says:

      Agreed! I think Evil Genius’s great failing is that it just wasn’t very intuitive, from a game play standpoint. Building just about any of the traps is actually a really bad idea. You’re all but guaranteed to just wind up pissing off all of the world powers even more, and have them send increasingly large waves of increasingly stronger agents.

      It makes me sad that at the end of the day, the best way to play the game is a fake entrance to your base with a bunch of fake high security doors and no threats whatsoever, to make the agents get bored and go home, lowering your heat level. The hotel was an awesome concept, but didn’t actually work at all. The traps are great and you can chain together all sorts of neat stuff, but the metagame punishes you for using any of them that don’t make the agents “forget” in one way or the other, and you’re better off with the fake entrance trick in most circumstances.

      It seems like there’s no way to play the game as the designers intended. I’m pretty sure they wanted us to chain together neat traps and use the hotel, but the game doesn’t really support it. This article is spot-on; if someone could remake Evil Genius’s spirit but fix the broken-ness, I would be all in.

  10. Zerpherion says:

    Loved the game!

    Plenty of hours been put in the game, and still play it occasionally.

    But the silly developers went to Facebook during the Facebook game hype!

    They should have focused on a new version of Evil Genius instead perhaps added multiplayer to sabotage your opponents base while conquering the world.

  11. C0llic says:

    My god, this game!

    There’s so much that’s bad about it, but it’s still the closest we got to the next dungeon keeper. And the traps were indeed superb.

    I still play it on occasion. It’s a good game hampered by some poor deign decisions, but the good, is so very good.

  12. GernauMorat says:

    Are there any mods that speed up the process? I loved this game, but after a point the grin just got too long.

    • NephilimNexus says:

      Well, there’s cheat codes, but I think what you really want is mods. There’s one that I would recommend right off the bat, and that is the one that swaps out Crazy Ivan and Rambo’s weapons (so Crazy Ivan gets machineguns and Rambo gets a rocket launcher). That way Crazy Ivan doesn’t accidentally blow up your own base all the time while Rambo, who is supposed to be wrecking your base, actually wrecks your base.

      As for other mods, honestly, you can do all that yourself. All the game data can easily be opened and fiddled with using a Notepad++. You can give your guys insane health or whatever, though that shouldn’t be needed. One thing I do admit cheating/hacking is the losing guys on the world map when agents showed up. Mostly because the mechanic itself seemed really unfair, because there is no warning when an agent pawn moves nor notification that your guys are being slowly bumped off. Spend five minutes checking your base and come back to find everyone dead without any warning or notice was not my idea of fun, so I nixed it.

  13. Sunjammer says:

    A wonderful game in concept that is paced pretty awfully in practise. It deserves a sequel, spiritual if needed.

  14. Jekadu says:

    Oh, God, no. Never again. Each time I play it I get sucked in way beyond the point of reason and end up having to uninstall it the moment I work up the willpower to do so.

    It’s a neat game, but the combination of slow pacing and harsh difficulty makes it a very parasitic experience. There’s the good kind of “one more turn” and there’s the bad kind; this game is the bad kind.

    • Pazguato says:

      I remember the many hours I put in this game: the difficulty is so harsh in fact that I don’t know if it was a glitch (or a couple of them). I love it and hate it. I think it needed more polish.

  15. yhancik says:

    Bit of trivia: Demis Hassabis, who founded the studio that made Republic and Evil Genius went on to study neuroscience, and eventually co-founded DeepMind, now known as the Google AI that just beat that human Go player (and earlier, some Atari games link to youtube.com )

    • Dev says:

      Is it Elixir Studios?

      My most favourite-ist games in the world:

      Republic: The Revolution
      Evil Genius
      Freedom Fighters

      • Dev says:

        Apologies for the double post. How could I leave out the original Europa 1400: The Guild and the original Unreal Tournament?

        We need a new remake of Evil Genius. Or a sequel. With a proper international map that isn’t just an abstract layer with your minions and henchmen as toys on a 2D map.

    • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

      Wow. Good info!

  16. Cross says:

    Oh gawd yes. Evil Genius sits resolutely among my favourite games ever. It was in desperate need of a fast forward button, and the AI, while incredibly clever for 2004, was dumb as a sack of rocks. Teenage me had no problem sitting through the wait for initial cash. I even spent hours planning out my lairs meticulously on a seperate website. This game is crying out for a dev to take it off Rebellion’s incompetent hands and make the sequel or even remake it deserves. Get in GOG, it’s fantastic if you’ve a little patience.

  17. Amake says:

    It might be cheap, but I always liked waiting some 30-60 minutes at the beginning of the game while stealing several million dollars, and wait some more for the heat to die down, before the heroes’ retaliatory forces were unlocked. That way you can afford all the toys you like and pay the premium on everything to reduce downtime to 0 for the rest of the game.

  18. Dances to Podcasts says:

    This is one of those games that’s begging to be remade. Considering that most of those remakes (see the Dungeon Keeper ones) seem to get the letter but not the spirit right, that would be extra bad with this one, though…

  19. PancakeWizard says:

    Maybe this will go some way to address the niggles?

  20. WalterM says:

    Evil Genius is a game that is sooo close to awesome that I become very sad for the easily avoidable failures that spoil it.
    State of Decay was the same way.

  21. Blutsuechtiger says:

    If the Devs would announce a remake I would say: Shut up and take my money!
    I was so in love with this game <3