Review

Tropico 4 Review (PC)

It's official - the UK has had one of its coldest summers for twenty years. The prospect of flying off to a tropical island in the Caribbean is too difficult to resist. You can picture it now – beautiful white sand beaches, a gentle breeze soothing your stress. However, instead of frolics by the coast and margaritas under the shade of palm trees, communist revolts and martial law awaits you.

So Tropico 4’s certainly no paradise, but just how far from fun in the sun is it?

Like its previous incarnations, Tropico plops you on a barren island and in charge of a fledgling tropical state. That’s all – you’re left to your devices and devious intentions. The structured campaign (with twenty narrative-lite missions) does offer some direction, but the sandbox mode is where the game comes most alive.

How people think the London Olympics will look like

From your island’s humble beginning with derelict slums and sweatshop industry, you grab your island by the scruff of its neck and throw it in the direction of ‘economic powerhouse’.

Or at least that’s the theory – there’s the usual bunch of unforeseen obstacles standing in your way. These range from peasant uprisings to supply-chain malfunctions. Keeping everyone on the island content is difficult. It requires juggling of mammoth proportions and an acute ability to multitask under pressure. Forget the BAR exam, this should be the legal requirement for high-pressured law.

Then again, what else do you expect from a complex management simulation. It may hide under a pair of snazzy Rayban sunglasses, but like every good simulation, Tropico 4 keeps you busy without you even realising it. It possesses an acute sense of detail which is hidden beneath quaint Cuban charm. Never fear though, its statistical underbelly is always rumbling on.

As you coo and take joy from the influx of happy (for the meanwhile) immigrants, the game's hard at work calculating the effects of your decrees.

The loyalists are unhappy with your international positioning and the God-fearing public demand you build more churches. Your income from tobacco farming is down so you have to reduce the worker wages. This then leads to discontent – a museum offsets the result for only so long. Imports skyrocket in price, Russia wants to invade. It's all fun and games for you and your virtual dictator (who’s controllable and provides temporary buffs wherever he visits).

That said, there's not actually any requirement to emulate Castro. You’re free to play the happy-go-lucky guy that everyone wants to be friends with. Instead of fear, you lead with a desire to please. The people love you. China doesn’t though and suddenly your foreign workers are preventing your newly educated locals from higher paid jobs. There’s dark clouds brewing just out at sea.

After all, who cares if the apartment complexes are overrun with cockroaches? So what if the gold mines are death traps and pay a dollar a day? You're raking in the cash, siphoning it into your offshore Swiss bank account.

Jurassic Park 4: The Industrial World

But illiterate and impoverished, people eventually crack and before long you're under siege in you lush presidential palace with groups threatening your stranglehold over the island as they chant your name in tune with 'le head on le stick'.

Those who have played Tropico before will be familiar with its foibles and tribulations. In fact, if you've played Tropico 3, you'll be right at home. There may be new features and some tightened up gameplay, but in essence, the game is hardly unchanged.

Not that this is a bad thing – though it’s worth considering before you invest in what is essentially a slightly newer version. Yes, there are expanded diplomatic options, new buildings to construct, and new challenges to navigate. It is however still a tropical sandbox.

For new starters, there's a helpful collection of tutorials that help explain the mechanics - how to build, how to see what your inhabitants crave and who wants to send you financial aid. It lets you in on the secret black-book - as with all Tropico-esque games you spend a lot of time interpreting graphs and charts into decisions. How do I increase the quality of healthcare, how do people appreciate their jobs more - it's all there to be figured out.

That is, if you can pull yourself away from its Latin charm. Aside from the chirpy Latino soundtrack that relentlessly sambas in your ears, the visual representation of paradise is spot on. The time period is captured excellently and the tiniest of details digitalised.

Buildings don't just appear, they're crafted meticulously by your construction workers. Individuals mooch by the communal swimming pool, go down to restaurants for some Nando’s and wave maracas until the sun sets. Every building has had care lavished over it during development and people are actually living lives.

They're not the aimless clones of SimCity - instead they have dreams, family trees, desires, occupations, and thoughts. It can be overwhelming, but in reality micromanagement isn't necessary - instead the slice-of-life is there to ponder over while you wait for things to happen.

Pumpico 4

Even when time's accelerated, events and things take time to happen. Optional side missions attempt to keep you busy, but most of the time you're waiting for buildings to go up and for money to roll-in. It'll be too slow paced for some, but then again this is paradise, not the hustle and bustle of New York City.

If you’ve got time to kill, Tropico 4 is perfect. It hasn’t changed much since its predecessor, but it’s still an excellent simulation – something that’s welcome in the era of visuals-conscious FPSs and lacklustre adventure games. A modernised concept, that’s perfectly period. Well worth checking out.

Top Gaming Moment: Twiddling a moustache, overlooking your sunny empire.

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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Sep 02, 2011
SirRoderick
I shall commence twiddling as soon as my delivery of Cuban sigars comes in! (I'm actually serious, how's that for timing?)
By Actaeon (SI Newbie) on Sep 03, 2011
Actaeon
^ lol XP
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Sep 03, 2011
SirRoderick
I have commenced twiddling! It feels like an improved Tropico 3, as said in the review. I quite like it. The 20 campaign missions will last you plenty long, especially considering you'll have to restart a couple times due to unforseen events.

I mean the best planning in the world breaks down when a bleeding volcano erupts and decimates your housing and tourism in one fell swoop!
By unsilviu (SI Core) on Sep 04, 2011
unsilviu
Purchase incoming :D
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 06, 2011
herodotus
I went back to "Tropico 3" the other day but still cannot find myself overly immersed. The tutorials are excellent, but sadly don't really work out that well in a "real" world scenario. "Tropico 4" is on my radar, but I'll wait for the inevitable price drop in the future. Might go back and try the third installment one more time until then....
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Sep 06, 2011
SirRoderick
Any specific problems? I shall be very pleased to be of assistance.