I?ve actually never played a Tropico game before this one arrived on my doorstep, and to be honest, I?m not really sure why. I?ve always loved the Sim City style of creation gameplay, but maybe it?s the ruling and management mechanics like Civilization that turned me away. I don?t really know why I never gave it a fair shot, and after playing Tropico 4, I regret not finding this series sooner. I wasn?t sure what to expect as I?m not usually very good at these types of games.
It took me awhile to wrap my head around some of the mechanics as I started off trying to play it like I would Sim City by building road infrastructures, electricity grids, residential areas and more in a symmetrical fashion. I learned very quickly that in Tropico, everyone can and will walk freely anywhere, and you aren?t forced to make that Sim City style of design to be successful. Actually, I rarely even make any power plants at all as only a few buildings require a set amount of electricity.
Haemimont Games has done a fantastic job of creating a game with very in-depth resource management, feeding population, keeping Tropiconians (I?m assuming that?s the right context) happy, balancing budgets and debt, foreign relationships, and plethora more that you?ll constantly have to juggle simultaneously. What?s great about it is that it never becomes too overwhelming at once, even for a new player to the series like myself.
Generalissimo Santana has decided to take you under his wing and show you how to rule over the land. You are El Presidente and you now rule over all of Tropico; how you do so is completely up to you. Are you simply trying to build up your population for fame and the good of the people, or do you want to build a tourist resort to roll in the cash while ruling with an iron fist? You?ll be doing so during the banana republic era all the way up until the end of the Cold War. Because this era was chosen, you?ll constantly have the Soviets and Americans breathing down your neck forcing you to pick sides in difficult situations. They won?t be the only ones though, prepare to deal with the Middle East and China also.
As El Presidente, you?ll have a full campaign with twenty missions on ten new maps that need to be played in order to unlock the next one. Once you pick your leader from preset options like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and a dozen others, or a completely custom leader you design, you?re then put in charge and need to build Tropico from the ground up. You?re placed in charge of building the economy, infrastructure, politics, environment, and anything else you could think of. How you do so is completely up to you, and almost any play style has their strengths and weaknesses. I ruled by being a diplomatic leader; I gave healthcare, free living areas, high wages, and rarely heard any murmuring about a rebellion. When I tried to be a cruel dictator, I had rebellions and many countries upset with me, but I was filthy rich by exploiting my people wherever I could. It makes for some interesting gameplay as you can always try something new and see what the outcome is like, molding exactly how you want to rule over the island.
First off, Tropico is known for being a PC game, obviously because of its history and strategic elements. Now that it?s also on the Xbox 360, it obviously won?t compare to using a keyboard and mouse for controls, but I never felt like I was hindered (aside from the preciseness needed when picking buildings). The controls aren?t perfect by any means, but it?s not overly confusing considering how much can be done, and it became second nature once I got two missions in. The only major glaring flaw is the very low-res graphics when completely zoomed in and there?s also lots of screen hiccupping when lots going on the screen at one time or when the weather suddenly changes (when in fast forward mode). To be fair, I?ve not play the PC version, so I can?t say if these are issues with the game itself or just with the Xbox 360 port.
I highly suggest playing the tutorials first, as it will teach you the basics (you?ll still have much to learn) of building a sustainable living for your islands population. You?ll also need to quickly figure out the food problems, jobs, education, police, and every other infrastructure we have in society today. By importing and exporting, this is how you?ll bring in precious resources and exporting your own products for your income. El Presidente obviously also has his own personal Swiss Bank Account, which is your personal wealth. Will you steal from the citizens, embezzle money, or save none for yourself to help Tropico thrive?
Different people will constantly have problems for you to solve or an agenda of their own that they want your help with, these are called tasks. And by the way, I hate the environmental lady that is constantly bugging me. Complete these tasks and you?ll earn bonuses and more, depending on whose task it is and what you had to do to complete it. You can have up to five tasks at once but sadly there?s no way to get rid of a task if you?re ?full? until one of them is completed. I got stuck a few times with tasks I shouldn?t have taken yet but couldn?t grab new ones to help until I had one of the five spots clear for a new task. I?m not sure why there is a limitation, as it could have been a checklist in the background to check at any time.
There are many different types of buildings you can construct, deepening on what your wants and needs are (and cash flow). Some of the new buildings are the Shopping Mall, Stock Exchange, Aqua Park, and more. Some buildings even have internal upgrades that you can purchase that add another layer of depth and strategy. Make sure to always have some funds on hands though; as it never seems to fail that some type of natural disaster will always strike at the most inopportune times, forcing you to rebuild what was destroyed.
You can appoint council of ministries that will help push through your controversial decisions through in your government. Politics are used to keep relations with other countries and super powers and play a large factor in almost every aspect of life in Tropico.
An edict is an announcement of law, and you eventually have access to many different types of edicts that can quickly turn around a situation for El Presidente. There are many edicts that range from anti-litter policies, to printing money, to same-sex marriages, to even nuclear testing. You?ll be using your Almanac to keep tabs on everything that?s going on your island, especially all the different factions that may or may not agree with your administration and policies. Your Almanac is especially useful to see the many different factions? happiness levels and what you can do to make them support (or turn) on you.
For those that want to simply build their dream island and not have to worry about major objectives, Sandbox Mode is essentially a free-play option for those that want to play almost like a Sim City. It?s actually a great way to become more familiar with the controls and the smaller nuances about the game.
Tropico 4 does an outstanding job at getting someone like me that?s never played the series, eased into the missions and feeling like I was doing a good job to boot. Obviously a few missions later, I was struggling as the difficulty rises, but I?m learning the intricacies and just how much depth to this game there really is. I do wish there was an option to show where buildings are listed in the menus when you have a specific task to build something. Sometimes I forget where the Power Plants are located in the building menus and have to shuffle around between them to find it. Not a game breaker by any means, but definitely something a new player like me would have made a big use of.
Tropico 4 has a ton of content included, almost to the point of being overwhelming for a new player to the series like myself. There are so many ways to play each mission and the smallest decisions can have the largest impacts. It has a perfect balance of complexity and entertainment, and for how in-depth it really is, I never become too flustered (aside from never keeping enough cash flow on hand). The missions come in a steady pace and increasing difficulty that never made me think it was impossible. I?ll definitely be following the series from now on and I?m having much more fun than I thought I would (trying to push back all these rebels)!