It's difficult to craft a sequel to a beloved title. A good sequel has to meaningfully advance the ideas established by the first game without twisting those ideas into wholly new shapes. It's a balancing act, and one that's probably not any easier when there's a 17-year gap between the original and its sequel.
Evil Genius 2: World Domination seems to be primarily concerned with getting the "Evil Genius" part right above all else. I didn't directly get my hands on it, but the developers did walk me through a current version of the game, showing how Rebellion plans to follow-up the niche classic.
The first Evil Genius offered players the choice of one of three villains bent on world domination: Maximilian, a diet version of James Bond's Ernst Stavro Blofeld; Alexis, the posh heiress of a multimedia empire; and Shen Yu, a throwback to the Yellow Peril villains like Fu Manchu. In the sequel, Maximilian is joined by three new villains. One looks to potentially be an updated version of Alexis, while another sports a retro-futuristic science getup. The final option is Red Ivan, a burly military general who is the focus of this demo. Rebellion wants each genius to have a different story this time around, and your choice of genius will determine which campaign missions you have to tackle.
You only really have control of your chosen genius. Your minions will operate the base as needed, manning stations, attacking intruders, and carving rooms out of the mountain at your behest. Your genius can issue the "Do It Now" order near areas around the base to make it a higher priority, but otherwise, Evil Genius 2 isn't about per-minion management.
To Me, My Minions
While Maximilian looks to be the "default" genius choice, it feels like the other three correspond to the special minion types at your disposal. There's the standard catch-all Workers, who take care of standard jobs around your lair. These can then be trained up in three different categories: Muscle, Deception, and Science.
Veterans of Evil Genius will note that these categories are similar to the first game, and there are four different levels of progression within each category. Evil Genius 2 doesn't lift those progression tier wholesale though; while the last two options in Evil Genius' Science category were the Quantum Physicist and Biochemist, they're the Biologist and Quantum Chemist in the sequel. The abilities are different too: the Diplomat from the first game's Social tree has been replaced by the Counter-Agent within the Deception tree. The latter can actually target and reveal enemy agents, which is great for keeping your lair secure. Rebellion also added male and female character models for every minion type, so you have more looks available to you.
You'll need training stations in order to create these higher level minions, like a room with punching dummies to train up your security-focused Muscle minions. Workers can train alone, but if you have a Guard stationed nearby to watch over them, the training will go faster. Evil Genius always lived in the details, and it's fun to watch a Worker pull off a Dragon Punch on a dummy while a Guard makes notes on a clipboard.
One wrinkle for the sequel is that minions all have unique traits. One Guard shown in the demo had the trait "Suit Too Tight", which lowers their overall speed. If you have a worker with the "Astute" trait, which allows them to see through disguises more often, that's a great candidate for a Counter-Agent. There are negative traits too, so you'll want to keep an eye on the traits available to each worker.
The henchmen (henchpeople? henchpersons?) also return for Evil Genius 2. The demo showed off two available options. The first is Eli Barracuda Jr., the son of the afro-sporting hitman from the first game who can pummel in melee range or kill from a distance with his Silver Revolver. The second is another returning contender: the assassin Jubei. While Jubei was a younger man in the first game, here he's old and wizened, having traded his katana for a staff. His Wind Walk ability, letting him to teleport across the island, returns here despite Jubei's advanced age.
There are three islands that will be available to players when they load up Evil Genius 2. Right from the beginning it's clear that the island is getting more love, as it's a far more detailed location on the outside—odd given that the player doesn't really engage much with the exterior of the island. All three islands split the focus between your hidden lair and the cover operation that helps you launder money and deal with enemy agents. The rear of the island features a helipad and docks, where your henchman will depart to travel around the world to commit nefarious deeds. In the first game, the cover operation was the Hotel, but in the sequel, you're now the proprietor of a fancy new casino.
Within your base—which can now comprise multiple levels in Evil Genius 2—you not only have all of your operations, you also have the spoils. Trophies of your past misdeed can be showcased, like an Easter Island head, Excalibur, the doors to Fort Knox, or the Statue of Liberty's torch. Each trophy has an additional bonus as well, like the Easter Island head that beefs up your security network because it never sleeps.
You can carve out a new room in your base at any moment and your workers will finish up the job for you. Once the room is ready you can drop different stations and items within each room; the stations allow for training, or help minions operate your base, while the items can boost certain aspects of each room type. The Trophy Cabinet improves the effectiveness of training stations, for example.
The demo closes on the reveal of Havoc, the giant red engine of destruction that is Ivan's Doomsday Machine. Building Havoc is the main thrust of the campaign, and it's a multi-level device that will take time and resources to complete. While firing the Doomsday Device was the end state of the first game, here you can take a shot with it whenever you want. Doing so costs fuel and time, and drops your entire base into high alert, preventing basic tasks like training and research.
One feature that's not immediately on the table are mods. The first game had a long tail due to modding, something the team at Rebellion acknowledges. "We've obviously been taking a good look at the modding community for Evil Genius, which remains active to this day," says producer Ash Tregay. "That's something that we're certainly taking into account for Evil Genius 2, but we've got nothing to announce at the moment."
Evil Genius 2 isn't a vast teardown and new foundation of the ideas in the first game. This almost feels like the sequel that would've come a year or two after Evil Genius, albeit with a modern sheen. That's one way to have done this sequel, and given the cult classic nature of the original, it's probably the right one. Unfortunately, this was only a short hands-off demo and Evil Genius 2 had been pushed back to the first half of 2021. Hopefully Rebellion can lay a foundation for a game fans will love for another 17 years, but with more ongoing support and additional content this time around. That's the kind of evil plan I can stand behind.