Mastermind: World Conqueror
If you're like me, you hate to see your minions fail you. "If only I had trained him better," you think, as you winch your Vice-Lieutenant head-first into a seething tank of barracudas, "If only I had whipped him harder, or implanted a transformer in his brain with a higher maximum voltage. Maybe he wouldn't have led an elite cadre of Brazilian super-spies to my drawbridge, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my Global Tectonic Reconstruction Laser. There must be a better way."
Well now, thanks to a puny civilian known as The Swain and his clever world domination simulator, you can test your schemes and stratagems without the nagging twinge of guilt that comes with executing legions of your idiot henchmen. It's called Mastermind: World Conqueror, and it takes the form of a humble real-time strategy game.
You play Mastermind using only the mouse. Your goal is to destroy the world: a worthy exploit, if a bit short-sighted. Your time will be divided between planning and defense. The behind-the-scenes work is driven by a swarm of icons and menus. You can plan and execute missions, hire new vassals from an broad and colorful rogue's gallery (although that color is mostly red), bolster the defenses for your base, and even purchase legitimate businesses to help fund your fledgling empire. Just like in real life.
Periodically, groups of misguided do-gooders will attack your base, and you'll have to attend to self-preservation. This part of the game is slightly more action-packed, but your options are basically limited to "Return to base," "Attack that guy," and "Everyone switch to flame-throwers." As your notoriety grows, the Forces of Good will send larger squadrons with more sophisticated weapons, so you'll have keep pace with your own technology.
Analysis: Mastermind: World Conqueror has some of the highest production values you're likely to find in a Flash game, with some decent animation, a healthy dose of humor (some of which firmly puts this in the PG-13 category) and a startling amount of high-quality voice acting. The overhead battle graphics aren't as appealing as the menu icons or the cut-scenes, but they do their job.
The level of depth is fantastic; although you always have to devote a certain amount of energy to cash, combat, and science, there are multiple paths to every goal. While you must play a megalomaniac, your choices will define what kind of megalomaniac you are, be it a big-city financier with ties to the mob or a moon-dwelling pariah with an arsenal of lasers and a robot as your second-in-command.
Keep in mind that the game doesn't stop while you are entangled in the menu screens. The next attack creeps closer all the time, and there is no Sit Back And Contemplate The Inevitable Defeat Of Your Enemies button, unless you count "Pause". That means you need to be actively engaged at all times, which somewhat undermines the feeling of being the mysterious puppet-master behind the curtain, but does keep the pacing tight.
That being said, the difficulty is probably set too low, and a handful of unbalanced exploitable strategies make it even easier. Without a significant threat to your well-being, the stakes seem inconsequential, even with the fate of the entire world on the line. This is a fairly long game, and the lack of challenge can make it feel repetitive. One thing that would help is keyboard shortcuts. The entirely mouse-driven menu system can get to be a drag.
Summary: Despite a few flaws, Mastermind: World Conqueror is an impressive and ambitious game. Whether you're a morally ambiguous genius with a penchant for destructive technology, or a simple peon looking to dig into a polished real-time strategy game, you've got one serious distraction in front of you.