In His hidden, top-secret lair at E3 surrounded by piranha-infested pools, Demis Hassabis was expecting. The boss of Elixir Studios flashed us a devilish smile, ushered away his brown-coated bodyguards with a nonchalant flick off his finger and offered us a seat. "Welcome," he said, "to a presentation of my new game, Evil Genius." With a flourish, Hassabis spun round in his chair, laughed maniacally and pulled a large, ominous-looking lever. Metal bands suddenly sprung from our seat and snapped over our legs and hands, the nuclear-powered PC sparked into life and the demonstration began...
Evil Genius is an isometric 3D strategy game set in a mythical 1960s/1970s world of secret agents, superweapons, nasty henchmen, underground bases and sinister organisations, prevalent in James Bond movies, cult programmes such as The Avengers and more recently the Austin Powers series.
As one of five competing evil geniuses, you begin the game on a tropical island with $100 million in your back pocket and a simple task: take over the world. To succeed in this dastardly plot, you must build up your base's technology to create the ultimate doomsday weapon and a crafty escape device, then leave a message to the governments of the world to give in to your demands.
"Your base-building happens both above and below ground," said Hassabis. "Above you can have golf courses and hotels to camouflage the fact that what you're really doing underneath is hollowing out a volcano and putting in a huge base of operations."
You have access to two types of character in addition to your evil genius - minions are expendable grunts that you can train up to be engineers, security guards, research assistants and perform other menial tasks, while henchmen are your odd-job-type right-hand men with special abilities, like Papa Lazaru who can use voodoo attacks against foes.
To expand your evil empire you have to earn gold by sending your loyal private army to complete missions around the world (a la X-Com), including a daring raid to shrink the Eiffel Tower and the kidnapping of a famous pop star. Success unlocks new missions and technology, but as your notoriety increases, it will alert the goodie-two-shoes Forces of Justice agents, who will attempt to infiltrate and destroy your secret base.
Luckily you can lay fiendish traps for invaders and send your henchmen to kill - or for more fun - capture and torture foes in various sick ways, such as watching them spin around helplessly in giant food mixers, or crushing them between moving bookcases in the library - all complete with suitably comic sound effects.
"I always wondered why evil geniuses left the good agents dangling above the shark pool rather than just killing them," added Hassabis, pacing the room. "It's because it's cooler to do that. So we reward the player with increased notoriety for gloating and doing the same sort of thing, as well as giving agents a chance to escape..."
As he spoke, Hassabis suddenly turned his back on us - a fatal mistake. Using the cord on our ageing dictaphone, we lassoed the lever, leapt from the chair and dashed for the exit. "We'll meet again" Hassabis cackled as the alarm sounded and we sped away on a monorail to the safety of the E3 press room...
Far From torturing programmers with laser beams that threaten the jaffas, or constructing piranha pits for unsuspecting secretaries to fall into, Elixir Studios' creative director Demis Hassabis was a very happy mastermind when visited his Camden base of operations to see his latest creation, Evil Genius.
"We've now reached the alpha stage -all the major features are in and we're on schedule," said the ever-enthusiastic Hassabis. "This is now all about getting the learning curve just right, tweaking the interface and solving Al glitches. We're going to really polish the game, which we didn't get the chance to do on Republic: The Revolution. We don't want that problem again."
Unless you've been living in an underground lair for the past 12 months, you'll know that Evil Genius is a kitsch 1960s spy-themed strategy simulation, where you play the role of an insane James Bond-style megalomaniac. Your aim is to construct a hidden base and populate it with expendable minions and psychotic henchmen (see 'Hired Muscle', opposite page). You'll then be able to slowly increase your influence and notoriety, before bringing the world to its knees with a terrifying doomsday weapon.
You begin the game clutching one-hundred-meeellion dollars in your sweaty palms, before choosing which of the three evil geniuses you'd like to be - Blofeld-lookalike Maximillion, melodramatic femme fatale Alexis, or a yet to be revealed secret character that Hassabis mentioned was his favourite.
You then have to pick a desert island to use as your HQ and can start building up your lair, making sure that, on the surface, it appears to be the kind of idyllic tourist destination that Sarah Greene would visit with her hubby and kids on Holiday 2004. Yet under the feet of the Greene family staying in their plush hotel, you'll be secretly constructing biological research labs, control rooms, holding cells and trap-laden corridors teeming with nefarious workers. You eventually evacuate to move to a larger, more impressive tropical island. There, you can add the finishing touches to your weapon of mass destruction...
Ensuring that Evil Genius is always accessible and instantly enjoyable for gamers is something that Elixir feels is very important, so there'll be no tedious micromanagement or complex interfaces to negotiate. Your minions will react automatically to any situation around the base such as putting out fires caused by saboteurs, going to the doctor to get treated for injuries and collecting suspicious-looking enemy body bags and hiding them in the cold room. Minions are split into military, social and science categories, with five different kinds available to create, including diplomats for bribing people or engineers to set up your missile programme. Training is a matter of specifying how many of a certain type of minion you want, then as long as you have the resources, they'll level-up with improved stats and abilities. So for example, you can train up a batch of guards to become lethal mercenaries with just a click of your mouse.
The latest code of Evil Genius now includes a global domination map. This shows the five different regions of the world for executing the 20 or so scripted missions that are unlocked as your notoriety increases. "You make the decisions about how many technicians and other personnel you send on the mission, then once you've got the right equipment in place, you authorise the go," explained Hassabis. "Depending on what set-up you choose, they'll either succeed or not. If you fail, there'll be a lot of heat created in the region you attacked and a lot of your minions will be dead. If you're successful, whatever you wanted -such as a shrunken Eiffel Tower - will get taken back to your base."
Creating 'heat' in a region of the world by completing acts of infamy inevitably alerts the local Forces of Justice agents, who will soon make their way to your island via dinghy, sub or helicopter to cause you mayhem. There are six levels of agent for each territory, ranging from your basic Navy SEALs right up to the almost-invincible super-agents that include Bond-clone John Steele. You'll soon learn which parts of your island are vulnerable to attack and can set up fiendish traps and silly distractions to see off the hapless agents, including minefields, coconut grenades and mutant monkeys.
What A Gas
However, a supervillain is nothing without his doomsday machine and the game has a quality selection on offer, each with a choice of delivery vehicles and payloads, depending on which technology path you pursue. "For example, there's a cloning gas delivered by rocket that explodes in the atmosphere and turns everyone into an exact carbon copy of your evil genius," Hassabis told us.
Evil Genius has certainly progressed since we last saw the game back in the autumn, aptly demonstrated by the excellent new main menu screen parodying those chic Bond film intro sequences created in the 1960s by designer Maurice Binder, complete with a John Barry music pastiche.
There are also now over 1,000 fantastic hand-drawn cartoon animations, created over a period of two years. If the 25-strong Evil Genius development team can continue this dedication and attention to detail, Demis Hassabis will have no choice but to release his loyal and hardworking Elixir captives when this promising RTS romp launches in September.
Henchmen Are The Key To Success In Evil Genius
Although your minions play an important part in any evil machinations to rule the world, your henchmen (like Jaws and Oddjob of James Bond infamy) are the frontline in the constant battle against the Forces of Justice. A total of 12 henchmen are available in Evil Genius, each with their own unique abilities and special powers. Ivan, for example, is a Best Russian Spetznatz with a lethal Cossack grenade while Papa Lazaru is a voodoo priest possessing a long-range doll attack and black magic that can turn agents from different regions against each other. Hassabis reckons that at any time, you could have up to half a dozen henchmen working for you, but you have to be careful - some henchmen despise each other and will make your secret base an interpersonal relationship war zone.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode