This weekend I decided to pick up Ghost Master that was on sale on Good old Games and I sat down to the paranormal world I’m reminded of how much I liked and dislike this game. There was supposed to be a sequel to Ghost Master but due to low sales that will never be which is the same fate to another game that falls within this concept of like and dislike, Evil Genius. Ironically both titles fall within the same genre in some way, a management hands off type of game.
I’m going to talk about Evil Genius first as this one holds a special place in my heart as one of the last games I played on my previous PC before it bit the dust. You play as an Evil Genius (duh) in an Austin Powers type world with the goal of taking over. To do that you build your secret island lair (duh again) and recruit minions, you mine out the mountain to create rooms and hire two kinds of henchmen. One is the nondescript jump suit wearing goons, who will take on different roles as you train and promote them. The other kind of henchmen is the lieutenants who have unique skills and can lead the other henchmen. The key game mechanics of Evil Genius are building and defending your base and sending out your troops across the globe to complete missions. Besides using your troops, you can develop traps based off of a “if then” programming structure to protect your base from would be attackers. As the game goes on you’ll commit even grander schemes of world conquest and have to deal with super agents like a James Bond rip off. Everything so far sounds excellent, but the game has 2 fatal flaws that doomed it.
First is simply downtime and Evil Genius is full of it. As mentioned you have very little control of what gets done at your base other then building rooms and items, everything else is handled by your men. The problem with this is that everything in this game has the player waiting for it to happen. For example let’s take 4 classes of minions: A, B, C, D in order to get a class D minion you need to train A to B, B to C and finally C to D. Even with higher ranked minions they are still really fragile and I’ve seen even the best die within seconds forcing the player to once again go through the steps to get them back. The other aspect of being an Evil Genius is acquiring money and completing evil acts on the world map and once again the player is going to be spending a lot of time twiddling their thumbs. Units first have to get to the world map, then missions can take anywhere from 1 minute to 7 or more to complete. Money comes in minute by minute but still the player is basically left to basic tasks for the majority of the time. Research is another chore as to unlock research potentials you have to wait for your scientist minions to stumble across an object to analyze it requiring even more waiting. While this is a big issue with Evil Genius, the next one really sinks the game for me, the interface itself.
A good UI can really make a difference with a lot of games and I’ve avoided many good titles due to a lousy one in the past. Evil Genius uses a UI that goes between poor and downright stupid. First big no-no the world map, as mentioned above you can send out troops to the world to steal money or complete missions however to view the world map the player must go to a different screen and look completely away from the base. Without watching the screen enemy agents can spawn and go into your base without much fuss, even with a security system set up I was still not getting any warnings from my cameras. Also on the world map enemy agents will move around the territories and if they enter the same one as your troops they can kill them off. While in the base view there is no way to tell when agents move around or spawn forcing you to quickly go between the two to have any hope of keeping your agents alive. Giving orders to your minions is done through a tagging system, such as tagging a unit for capture or tagging an object to be bought and while it works most of the time when dealing with single units it ruins the game when it comes to an actual emergency.
As mentioned above different agents will come to your base to try and stop your plans and the worse would be the solider class. These guys in groups of 2 to 8 will stomp around your base and will shoot up any minions they see. Now to arm your minions you need to put them into red alert so that they will attack on sight but even that raises a problem. Your minions will basically run around like chickens without a head and will most often engage the soldiers one at time which is instant death. Even with henchmen who can tell minions to follow them for awhile doesn’t work as only some of your minions are useful in a fight. Henchmen will be taken out fast when dealing with soldiers without backup and the only times I’ve successfully handled a fight without too much pain is if by some miracle a few minions follow the henchmen. My problem with this system and the reason why I have to put down Evil Genius is that there should not be any problem, why can’t I just tell everyone to go here and wait for trouble? To me Evil Genius commits a cardinal sin of game design, in which the actual difficulty of the game is due to the interface and not the gameplay. I can go on with other flat out wrong interface decisions but it would drag out this post even longer.
I really do enjoy Evil Genius; it was an original take on the genre with enough humor and interesting design to go far. However there are just too many things that went wrong with the game that I’ve yet to actually finish a game of it. Sadly like most original games that could have used a sequel, the company behind this went out of business after wards which is just a shame. You can find Evil Genius easy on Steam now and play a game that came close to greatness but fell short in the end. Originally I wanted to do both Evil Genius and Ghost Master in the same post but with this one coming close to 3 pages I’m going to end it here and talk about Ghost Master in a new post.