Reviews

Tropico 4 – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: No
PEGI: 16

Having gone into the game with little to no knowledge of the prior games I was a little unsure as to what to expect, except possibly a stripped down PC port that felt out of place on my beloved console. Instead I found a highly amusing, very fun simulator that let me run my own island! I also learned an important lesson from Tropico 4; if anyone offers me my own island to rule, scream, “NO!” and run like hell in the opposite direction. Ruling  an island and trying to keep everyone happy is just way too much work.

The concept behind Tropico 4 is that you are El Presidente, a dictator, and must take control of a series of islands and slowly build the island up, carefully crafting a solid economy, keeping a well-trained military, managing the everyday needs of the people and trying to ensure that the bloody USA or USSR doesn’t invade your poor little island. It’s all the day of a Presidente. To the general shock of practically everyone there is actually a storyline in Tropico, albeit a bit of a barmy one. As the Presidente all of this island building stuff is really just to make you rich and powerful, but through a twist mid-story it isn’t long before things are going wrong. It’s not a well told or well imagined tale by any stretch of the imagination, but its quirky humour that the game employs throughout that keeps it entertaining. As you build your island up your advisor will pop up with main objectives based around some truly wacky occurrences, like having to employ Ninjas to steal the last 1% of a company, or desperately trying to make your island the number one choice to host the Olympics. It might all sounds nuts, and it is, but for some strange reason it all seems to make sense in the world of Tropico. And then there’s the numerous little references to events, countries and people around the world. Damn good stuff.

In fact, there’s some quite decent voice acting going on here as well. It’s not award-winning, but the actors manage to introduce an almost cartoon-like element to their various characters which suits the game’s bright graphics and odd humour perfectly. The USSR is represented by the sultry Sasha, the British sound snobby and the various factions that make up your island’s population all have unique personalities and distinct voices that let you quickly associate with them. It rarely failed to bring a smile to my face, even if they do have a nasty habit of repeating themselves.

But before you get on with ruling your little paradise you need to create your own little dictator to run around the island. This is done thanks to a surprisingly good character creation system that offers a pretty decent amount of options for your character considering you’ll rarely ever actually see him unless you zoom right in during a game. The best aspect of character creation, though, is creating your characters background information, how he came to power and what perks he posses. These various aspects can all be chosen from massive lists and each and every description is filled with the quirky Tropico humour. For example your Presidente could have been installed by the KGB, which is not only downright brilliant but also gives you a nice bonus to the dealings with the USSR. The various perks that you can choose also give more benefits depending on what you like the sound of and each perk comes with five levels that can be gained during play which increases their effectiveness.

I R WEALTHY?

Getting into the nitty-gritty of island building is what it’s all about, though, and here Tropico 4 delivers a deep experience that’s easy to simply get lost in for hours on end, only surfacing because bodily functions demand it.  On paper the concept of building up a small island sounds simple, but in practice it isn’t long before you learn that running a an island is bloody hard. To run your island you’re going to need to manage the economy from basic farms and mines to full industrialisation, learn how tourists equal bit money, juggle the various factions on the island to keep them happy, try not to piss of the foreign nations too much and deal with rebellions and natural disasters along the way.

This alone might sound complicated, but it’s nothing compared to actually doing it all. There’s a wealth of ways to make money from your island and determining the best methods is key to success. If you’ve got a resource rich island then mines might be the best way to go, or perhaps a booming tourist destination would be the best way to make the wonga. However you can’t forget that your island will need education, housing for the immigrants, a ministry so that you can issue new laws and edicts, food for the masses and much more.  You’ll also need police officers, a ministry so you can pass laws, various tourist attractions to keep the idiotic masses happy, massive cathedrals, cinemas, restaurants and so much more to ensure that your island is working to the best of its abilities. It’s like juggling plates with one arm and a really bad cold. But it’s just so damn addictive! Most of all it’s hard to explain just how deep this game goes and how much gameplay it offers; it really does feel like your running an island. Suffice to say that there’s a rich game to be had here. The only disappointment is that each individual technology tree is fairly short, so, for example, building a logging camp leads you to building a lumber mill and then a furniture factory, but after that there’s nowhere else to go with that particular tech tree.

You can even choose to micromanage your game with factories, farms and most other buildings allowing you to tweak the wages, choose how the building operates, purchase upgrades, fiddle around with the prices and so much more. Just like real life you’ve also got to think about whether you’ve actually got enough people to run all of your buildings, a fact which can be combated by building an immigration office and encouraging more people to come and live on your island. But then you’ve got to house and feed the newcomers, as well as keep the Nationalists happy because they don’t like jobs being taken away from Tropicans. This degree of micro-management adds a lovely layer of strategy to the game, though some might find this level of detail to be more annoying than rewarding.

In fact it’s the various factions around the island that can turn an already complicated job into a freaking nightmare. Every citizen on your little paradise falls into one of the eight different factions on the island, and each of those factions has various demands to keep them happy. This in itself is generally pretty easy, but the complication comes when you realise that what one faction wants isn’t always good for the island or for another faction. Taking in more immigrants might mean you can run your factories at optimal, but it’s going to annoy the Nationalists. Environmentalists remain incredibly hard to please when your trying to make some money, and Communists aren’t going to be happy when you start trying to keep the capitalists on your side. It gets worse because you’ve also got the foreign powers to juggle. The US and USSR send you free money over now and then, but if relationships go down the drain it’s actually possible for them to invade your country. Other nations in the world won’t be so bad, but keeping them all happy is still important and is affects the price of exports and imports. Various mini-missions will pop up during games and some of them give you a chance to increase your standing with the worlds nations by increasing exports to certain countries and doing other things to keep them happy. Of course you could just build up a whopping great military and a nuclear program before sitting back and telling them to come on if they think they’re hard enough. This constant balancing act ensures that there is always something for you to do, rarely allowing you to simply sit and watch the money roll in.

This doesn't feel fair. I mean, really, three of them? One wasn't enough?

Each of games twenty missions, each of which usually take an hour or more, also provide you with a variety of main objectives to complete as well as they randomly generated secondary missions. You’ll be tasked with earning a set amount of money or building a series of buildings, exporting certain things  or doing something else, always ensuring that you’ve got something to aim towards during your empire building escapades. Sometimes the game will even stop you from constructing more advanced buildings until you’ve completed a specific goal. The two complaints that I would  level against the main campaign is that it begins to grind toward the end with most objectives feeling pretty similar, but then this style of game is repetitive by its very nature, and that it’s not always clearly signposted which objective will finish off the map, often leading me to completing an objective and suddenly find myself on the scoring screen when I actually wanted to keep my island going for a while.

But the really important thing that you should know is that you can be a complete and utter bastard and still win the levels. Provided you balance out your random executions of citizens with giving them a good pension, you’ll be ok! You can set up secret police, arrest random people and have the military brutally crush workers on strike and still win! How freaking awesome is that!?

Outside of the main campaign mode you can indulge in the sandbox mode which lets you tweak the starting variables and jump straight into a game. It’s the perfect way to simply eat up a few hours in a fairly relaxing manner, or at least it’s relaxing until your island ends up in debt and you can’t get out of it. Other than that there’s not much else to do in terms of mode, but the addictive gameplay should keep you going for a while.

Prepare for all sorts of hell from the environmentalists

A bit of a problem does arise in the form of the game’s control scheme. As with most strategy games Tropico 4 was built around the PC and with the vast amounts of buildings and the wealth of micro-management options available for building and individual citizens the controller has a little bit of trouble keeping up. There’s just so many menus to navigate that the controller feels cumbersome when doing so, though the radial menu for choosing which building to construct is nice and smooth. This awkward control system is most noticeable in the almanac, a multi-paged book tracking a mind-boggling array of information on your economy, people, tourism ratings and much more. Navigating through it feels simply feels a little slow. Still, after a short time you’ll adjust to the controls, though it will never feel natural.

Tropico 4 isn’t a slouch in the graphical department, either. The Caribbean islands are rendered in bright colors, something which is sorely missing in gaming these days, and lush jungles. The camera lets you zoom right down into the game and there’s a surprising amount of detail to be found at that level. The whole thing has an almost cartoon-like quality to it which suits the odd characters and great humour perfectly. However it does come at a price as the game does suffer from some framerate issues. Usually the game runs perfectly, but in the later stages of a game with lots of people and buildings the natural disasters, such as those sodding tornadoes, can cause the game to slow down considerably while they’re present. This problem also occurred when I issued an edict that caused everyone to launch a massive celebration with fireworks; the games framerate would drop. It never stopped the game from being playable, but was a little frustrating.

The music is some fairly typical but highly enjoyable Caribbean beats, suiting the tone and setting of the game almost perfectly. But while it’s enjoyable there’s just not enough of it as songs repeat themselves far too often.

Strangely the biggest problem Tropico 4 faces isn’t an issue with the game itself, but rather the market that it has to compete in. The genre of city-building on Xbox 360 is a relatively niche one, and without the constant thrill of explosions and action to keep the average gamer of today happy, Tropico 4 won’t do nearly as well as it deserves in the sales. But if the idea of ruling your own island paradise appeals, then you really do need to give this game a good and spend a relaxing few hours smiling as you rule your little kingdom.

The Good:
+ Doesn’t feel dumbed down for console.
+ Quirky humour.
+ Lengthy singleplayer.

The Bad:
– Some framerate issues.
– Can begin to grind.
– Clunky controls.

The Scores:

Graphics: 8
Bright, colorful and cheery, the islands of Tropico look great and overall presentation is solid, but framerate issues do occur.

Sound: 7
Solid voice acting and music that both repeat themselves more than they should.

Story: 6.5
A bonkers plot that is actually quite enjoyable, though it’s hardly going to win any awards. The real draw lies in the quirky humour and oddball characters.

Gameplay: 9
Relaxing and addictive fun with a few problems that hold it back.

Lifespan: 8.5
With twenty missions clocking in at around an hour or more there’s plenty to do. Sandbox mode lets you keep the fun going as well, though a lack of multiplayer is sure to disappoint some.

The Verdict: 8.5
Summary: Tropico 4 is a niche title that deserves your attention thanks to compelling gameplay that’s easy to lose yourself in.

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