An old favorite of mine. I distinctly remember just seeing this on an EB Games shelf when I was 14. I loved the box art at first glance and upon further inspection, I discovered that this game involved the building of a secret island lair, from which countless dastardly schemes could be unleashed upon the world. "Perfect," said young Myself. The only reason I really remember this experience was because the oldest woman I have ever seen working at a video game store tried to get me to show her some form of ID because it was rated Teen. I told her I was fourteen years old and I didn't know of any kids my age who had IDs who weren't sheltered because I didn't know any of these kids because they were sheltered and sat at home playing games about learning and stuff and living life like an inspirational poster, only to dream secretly at night of escape and perhaps even breasts or ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ or whatever body parts they learned to like.
Anyway, I bought this game, took it home and installed it and it ran horribly on my Compaq from the dark ages. I had what fun I could with it barely functioning, but ultimately it got tossed aside for a while UNTIL I GOT A DESKTOP THAT DIDN'T HAVE WINDOWS ME ON IT. I spent days installing games that I once thought were meant to run with the in-game models either upside down or simply invisible for the first time in double digit frames and with all of their visual effects present. I made my way through the pile and then suddenly arrived at this little gem from the past. I reinstalled it and away I went into my second world domination career.
My apologies for the story. Moving onto the game, you are tasked with the objective of constructing a hidden lair somewhere on some unknown island (where bumbling tourists and slightly less bumbling secret agents happen to wander to) with the intent of world domination. You must start smaller, however, and your options slowly unfold for you as you progress. It's pretty much Dungeon Keeper in a Bond movie setting. Over time you will research new rooms and equipment to further your schemes. Unfortunately, over time your enemies will become much less forgiving as well. You will eventually have to build a front, an island hotel to lure tourists in until they grow bored and leave. You will have to capture skilled individuals to train specialized minions. But most importantly, you will carry out evil deeds from your control center.
This brings us to the world domination portion of the game. This is basically a view of the globe on which you will place minion pieces used for stealing cash for your lair, plotting new heists and whatnot, and carrying out said shenanigans. These plots range from stealing the Eifel Tower to clubbing seals and to obliterating the city of Nashville, Tennessee, thus eliminating country music from the world; your singular act of goodwill throughout the course of the game. It's bursting with humor, much of it slapstick or parodic of spy fiction in general. If that's not your thing, you may not enjoy the game so much, but me? I can't get enough of it. I will say, however, that this is probably where the game struggles most. Playing from this sort of board game-like perspective can become pretty monotonous at times and you ultimately just spend a lot of time waiting. You have to keep a near constant check on it near the end of the game and this becomes nerve-wrecking once you're being bombarded by meddlesome agents at your home base at all hours of the day. Something in the interface to show a sort of minimized view of the information this screen provides during base construction/defense would have been nice.
The game is pretty tricky to figure out and will probably take a few practice runs to get the hang of before you can really start progressing. I'd say the first half or so of the game is learning all the intricacies where the second half is more of a "here's an island, go wild and work towards this ultimate goal" sort of thing. This is an objective-based game and there isn't much point to just letting your base idly run without moving forward in the story a bit. In that aspect, it's not particularly open-ended and this actually does restrict it quite a bit. Don't go in expecting any sort of free mode. There will be none of that. Of course, if you want, you can totally give yourself all the items and a ton of cash and just make your island into an insane deathtrap for incoming agents.
Which brings me to one of the game's strongest features: its base construction. You have a limited space in which to build your island stronghold and there isn't really one way you have to go about it. This is where the game most certainly gives you the most freedom. You can opt to have a very open base, with all of your rooms sort of running into one another for easy maneuvering. Or you can take the route of twisting, tight corridors chock full of traps both deadly and confusing to the enemy (or even your own minions if they're not careful). Your goal in base construction is more or less to keep your heat-generating rooms as far away from the entrance as possible, while keeping things like minion barracks and mess halls towards the front. Or you can always just fill the entrance corridor with flame pits and slaughter every intruder before they even get a chance to step through the door. The AI is just smart enough to keep you on your toes, yet dumb enough to get themselves into some silly predicaments fairly often. About the AI, though, it should be noted that your minions are not directly controllable while in your base (apart from your avatar and your handful of main henchmen), and this can lead to some awkward situations, often involving their unnecessary deaths or dismemberment.
I could ramble about this game for a good while, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head that's worth mentioning. I would like to lay out some pros and cons, I suppose:
+Wonderful base building; again, traps are a load of fun to play with
+Great art direction and style; TF2 reminded me of this when I first saw it
+Lots of humor, though this is always subjective
+Tough, but very satisfying to succeed at
+Polish, polish, polish. I don't know of very many glaring bugs in the game
-World domination feels kind of like playing a board game, which may not be what you'd expect from this and is also fairly monotonous/stressful as it almost always eats away your minions
-Fairly steep learning curve. Some objectives are relatively unclear in their descriptions
-Minion AI often leaves a lot to be desired. There is a henchman that will more or less destroy your base if he enters combat
Would I recommend it? You bet. Almost every flaw present here can be looked past pretty easily. I know fun is a bad word, but at the end of the day, this game supplies loads of it.