Review: Tropico 4
“Greetings Comrade, and welcome to our beautiful nation of Tropico! Just ignore the rabble outside shouting and waving placards, it’s just another way that the adoring people worship El Presidente. Those sounds that sound like gunshots are actually citizens celebrating the unveiling of El Presidente’s latest glorious statue by launching fireworks. All is good in Tropico, the greatest and most beautiful nation on the planet!
What’s that you ask? Has anything changed since your last visit? Why yes, it certainly has! In the prospering nation of Tropico we are always striving to improve upon what we already see as perfection. As El Presidente says, we require “double the perfection!”. Those houses over there? No, they aren’t just the same old houses with a new lick of paint! Honestly, these are brand new and built by the happiest workers that count the love of their El Presidente far above their meager pay and food allowance. It looks the same to you? Your eyes must be deceiving you, look it has a slightly better looking roof than before! We also have new places to visit, such as many great deals at our brand spanking new shopping mall! It’s not enough you say? I say that the point of this very large gun I’m sticking in your face says that it is more than enough, that everything you ever wanted from a country is provided for you here by our wonderful El Presidente. I can see that you agree that everything is 100% perfect and even better than the last time, and that you will go away telling everyone you see that Tropico is the place to be!”
But I won’t, because behind a very good game is a game that isn’t a great deal different from its previous outing. “What’s new?” I hear you cry, and yes that can be applied to a lot of sequels in today’s gaming industry – especially those belonging to a franchise that see’s an annual release. Tropico isn’t one of those to have a yearly outing – Tropico 3 finally made the leap into 3D after the 6 year gap between that and Tropico 2 – with Tropico 3 releasing in 2009 (although the Xbox 360 released in early 2010) but it suffers from the same problems that annual releases are plagued by. So you have new tweaks and graphical upgrades (the new ‘lick of paint), plus new buildings and factions, but the gameplay hasn’t changed much and Tropico 3 veterans will start to wonder if they’ve actually put that game into their Xbox 360 by mistake. Then again, if a game is great to play does it really matter if there’s not a massive leap forward from its predecessor?
One thing I immediately noticed is that there is no opening cinematic like the one in Tropico 3, apart from a balloon passing over Tropico which I’m hesitant to call a cut scene so I’ll label it a ‘start’ screen. The island map from the last game has also been removed, and in its place is a dull open book describing each of the games 20 levels and how difficult they are. This starts to ring alarm bells that less effort has been put into the game, and while I’m sure that’s not the case jumping into the game only serves to bolster this impression. Firstly the music sounds exactly the same, so similar that I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the same music from the last game. It’s the kind of music I wouldn’t mind hearing when I’m lying on a Caribbean beach with a cocktail in my hand but it’s grating when it repeats over and over in my cold British bedroom. There’s also a distinct lack of DJ Juanito, and while that’s personally not a great loss to me it he did provide a bit of humour and personality to the last game. In its place are small news snippets about something happening on the island, usually to do with something you’ve just built. Like the music they repeat consistently; you don’t really need to hear the same thing when you’ve built a pub for the third mission in a row.
Along with my suspicions about the game’s music the graphical assets from the last game have clearly been re-used. There’s no doubting that they look a lot more colourful and less drab – the last game often felt like you were playing in a dull grey ex-soviet Eastern European city – but there’s also no doubting that these are exactly the same buildings we’ve seen before. There are 20 new buildings in the game; including a shopping mall, aqua park and a stock exchange. Most of them aren’t really game changing and those that attempt to be don’t live up to their full promise. The Ministry allows you to create a Council of Ministers, allowing you to hire an education minister, a foreign affairs minister and more, but other than allowing you access to more edicts they don’t really contribute anything new to the game mechanics. This could have been put to better used, allowing you to go deeper into the politics of the game and giving it a bit more depth past meeting certain goals, but this isn’t taken advantage of and most of them time you won’t even be aware of your ministers until one of them dies and you need to replace them.
Faction leaders are far more important than before and provide the real meat of things to do in the game aside from each of the missions main objectives. During each missions quests and requests will pop up on the map or by interrupting your game to ask you to do something. Sometimes these will merely be polite prods from a faction leader to, for example, start thinking about improving the environment. Eventually these will join the quests that pop up in the form of full-blown tasks you need to complete to appease the faction leader in question. The religious faction leader may want you to build a church, and doing so will raise your standing with the religious faction. Ignoring these altogether, as well as demands from the population at large, will sow the seeds of rebellion and, as such, will lead to more rebels on the island. Aside from interior affairs you also have to deal with requests from foreign leaders. Most of the time this amounts to gathering resources to ship off to their countries, although sometimes - particularly the USA’s hilarious representation of Nixon – they will demand a tribute or else your rating will drop with that country and you will receive less foreign aid. There are also occasions when you have to take sides in a worldwide debate; and whichever option you pick will damage your reputation with the opposite party, so you have to think carefully about which leader you can afford to have less respect with.
All the faction leaders have plenty of personality, largely living up to the stereotype of the loud and obnoxious American or the mildly racist buck tooth Chinese leader. It reinforces the humour that Tropico has always been about, despite the games foundations built upon the idea of banana republic dictatorships. Hearing about Fidel Castro’s oppression of his own people may not be fun but playing a game where you can oppress your own people, choosing to put down strikes with a few bullets through the heads of the strike leaders, is a fun experience. I’m not sure what that says about us gamers in general, but then again millions of us do enjoy running around shooting virtual people in the face on a daily basis.
On the upside – or before we get bogged down in the depressing politics of a tropical nation – controlling the game feels a lot more fluid on an Xbox 360 pad than last time. It won’t have mattered much to those that played the previous game with a keyboard and mouse but games like these are notoriously known for their poor control scheme. There is a massive amount of information available to you, either through the games extensive almanac (that provides info on everything from the quality of the food to the overall income you’ve received that year) or the various windows you can bring up, so it’s a relief to find that you can navigate through it all smoothly with little frustration. Despite this massive amount of information it’s still sometimes hard to tell why a certain person is protesting, even when you can read their thoughts, and why whatever you do just doesn’t seem to appease them. For instance, I was told repeatedly that I needed to lower the amount of crime on my island, but despite building numerous police stations and jails in all the crime hot spots nothing seemed to change and there was little indication as to why this wasn’t working.
One change to the gameplay mechanics is the ability to set the rate of imports each container ship brings to the island. You can set the amount you wish to buy each time the ship arrives, so if – for example – you set the rate at £5,000 the imported goods will store in your port until a teamster comes and distributes them to buildings that accept imports. This is a great way of establishing a burgeoning industry, such as importing tobacco for your cigar factories instead of having to build your own tobacco farms and waiting around for it to grow. It also means you can still make some money from industry on an island that is lacking in resources. You can fiddle with the amount you import to your heart’s content, putting it down when you’re overflowing in goods and putting it up when your factories are sitting idle.
Natural disasters are now interactive, so that giant volcano in the centre of your prosperous city has the extremely likely chance of exploding. You manage disasters in real-time, whether it be a volcano, tornado, tsunami or even droughts and more. It’s always disheartening to see a tornado ripping through the very buildings you’ve just saved up for and being left with a scattering of rubble among the palm trees. Recovery from these disasters largely boils down to rebuilding the buildings destroyed and waiting for immigrants to fill the spots of the corpses now littering the streets. I would have preferred management of these disasters to be a little deeper but it’s a great inclusion to the game and adds another challenge among protesters and being attacked by rebels.
The problem I’ve had with Tropico in the past is a problem that still very much remains in the 4th installment. Most of them time you’re sitting around waiting for your money to reach a certain point, or having simply created an island capable of meeting the main objective to end the level but having to wait another 30 minutes for the amount of exports you need to produce, for example, to move on to the next island. Watching your population go about their island life is interesting and captivating, but like sitting in a cafe and staring through the window there’s only so much people watching you can do before you get bored. The quests are a welcome change for the series (one of the few changes) but after installments of doing pretty much the same thing the series needs a bit of a reinvention – or at least a far more detailed and engaging gameplay mechanic – if it’s to avoid producing another Tropico 3.5.
With all that said newcomers to the series can enjoy the most complete Tropico package yet, and there’s a lot to enjoy for those just getting into this type of game. However, for series veterans it’s not going to feel all that different from Tropico 3 with very little game-changing updates. For those people this package isn’t worth the full asking price, although you’d certainly want to pick it up when the price fell. The problem is that Tropico 4 isn’t a bad game, but it’s also a game that starts to grate with repetitiveness and the feeling that you’ve been through all this before.
Review: Tropico 4 Results
What we liked:
New random quests and missions offer a little more variety over the last outing.
Natural disasters present a fresh challenge.
Humour and personality remains as good as ever
What we disliked:
Series veterans won't find a massive amount of changes, it's more small evolution than revolution.
Heavy re-use of existing art assets
Most levels play out in a similar fashion and missions start to feel very samey, despite a slightly different objective.