– 070801, 816 wordsCongratulations on your recent rise to power, Presidente! And might I add, you’re looking especially powerful today. The people of Tropico are truly blessed to have such a wise ruler as yourself. I’m sure you’re anxious to start exercising your new power and improving the island of Tropico – there is much to be done.
Tropico is a Sim City type strategy sim, from PopTop Software, they who gave us Railroad Tycoon II. It is 1950 and you have just risen to power as dictator of an obscure Caribbean island. Is Tropico destined to remain unheard of, a footnote in the appendices of history? Can you lead it to greatness and glory? Can you remain in power long enough to do so? And, most importantly, can you siphon off enough pesos into your Swiss bank account to secure yourself a luxurious retirement?
I must say this game is fun. It has an incredible immersion factor, drawing you right into the game. Like The Sims, it entices you into telling a story – the Generalissimo who came to power via military coup, scholarly yet unfortunately afflicted with Torrette’s Syndrome. Will you allow fair and democratic elections, or should you stick to the tried and tested method of using a strong military to keep the people in their place?
A wonderful Latin soundtrack adds to the atmosphere, while little details – like the rich “yanqui tourists” – give the game a touch of humour. Not to mention I cannot help but smile each time the deep-voiced advisor calls me “El Presidenté”.
Most of the interface would have a welcome familiarity to fans of Railroad Tycoon II, and, if you have not, is intuitive enough if you have played any city sim before. The graphics are nice, running with 90° rotation and six zoom levels, between a view of the entire island and a detailed closeup.
Gameplay is fairly innovative and purely single player, in the sense that there are no competing AI dictators and no multiplayer support. Also, Tropico is atypical in the sense that you cannot “complete” it, since it lacks campaign-style play. Those of us familiar with, say, Dungeon Keeper, with levels scaled to a learning curve, will feel lost or overwhelmed after the short tutorial. Similarly, Tropico has no “locked” buildings, requiring technological research or a certain amount of time to become available, adding to the initial information-overload. Games are also relatively short, lasting about ten hours, depending on the level of micro-management you employ. You can choose between random maps or pre-designed scenarios (which may have specified objectives), otherwise, a score is given at the end of each session, modified by the difficulty of the map.
With each game lasting such a short time, the challenge comes not from completing the game, but from mastering it, which will take a fair amount of time, considering each map requires a different approach. Replayability also comes through its immersion – did the Generalissimo thing? Try being a Booze Baron. How about a graduate from Moscow University installed in the palace by the CIA? The myriad choices for character creation is a blast. Also, a map editor is available for download, along with any number of home-brewed and official scenarios.
Two flavours of micro-management come in the form of edicts and building management. Some edicts are like ordinances in Sim City 3000, with blanket effects like Anti-Littering or the Prohibition of alcohol. Other, more personal, edicts allow you to resolve individuals who threaten your power – imprison them, declare them a heretic, or “remove” them once and for all. Building management lets you set the rent for residences and the pay for employment, you decide what your TV Station broadcasts, your country’s stand on immigration and whether your bank does urban development or is quietly diverting money to your personal Swiss account.
An innovative departure from standard strategy sims is the politics. While there are no opposing players to destroy you, you remain in power only as long as your citizens tolerate you in the palace. Each of your citizens is totally unique, with their own criterion for happiness – while one may settle for a high paying job, another may demand good medical care. If they get unhappy, your citizens can vote you out of office or take up arms and throw you out, should you choose to ignore the democratic process. Outside your island paradise, the US and Russia have to be courted, providing income in the form of foreign aid, or invading your little nation if you over offend. It may not be possible to make everybody happy all of the time, but as dictator you’ve got to try.
Overall, Tropico has a lot of appeal for two types of players – those who like to tell stories (as opposed to being told a story, which is what single-player RPGs do) and those who like to master game-dynamics. There’s enough in there for everyone else as well, but if you’re either of those types, don’t expect to leave your machine until you’re done with your first scenario or five.
Che Guevera, Fidel Castro and Evita De Peron. Cigars, Rum and Pineapples. Tourism and Industry. Welcome to Tropico, El Presidenté!