Tropico is a city building sim with a political twist. As Presidente of an obscure Caribbean island you are charged with keeping your people happy and your small nation in the black financially. This is an enjoyable title with a nice art style, some clever bits of design and satisfying gameplay.
Upon starting a new game you select a dictator from the profiles available, or create your own mixture of personality traits and character background. The options are diverse from Che Guevara to Augusto Pinochet and their make up dictates what bonuses you will start the game with. There is an element of comedy here and it is fun to create your own variety; it does also impact on the game and this feature increases the replay factor encouraging you to try different strategies. While you may be the US loving, rich boy who builds an economy on tourism this time around, the next you could be a ruthless Communist intellectual who runs the island with an iron fist and makes money by mining and deforestation.
Once you have selected a character and difficulty settings the game generates an island and play begins. There is a large range of different buildings to choose from but limited cash will dictate what you build early on in the game. It is very important to try and get profitable as soon as possible without depriving your people of important services and even food and housing. The island grows through immigration as a steady wave of foreigners seeks a better life in your society. You need farms to feed them and tenements to house them but better remember to set up some cash crops or mines too or your money will be gone quite quickly.
There is a tutorial to help you get started and help is provided throughout by your heavily accented advisor who gives you tips and feedback on your performance. The main way you get feedback however is via the polls, as unless you are corrupt, you must hold elections every five to nine years. At the end of each year you are also presented with the almanac which gives detailed information on your people, economy and international standing.
Your politics will affect all sorts of things, if you are socialist and stamp down on wage inequality, provide housing and healthcare then you will find the capitalists on your island get rather annoyed, as does the US. However the USSR will love you and through issuing edicts you can send trade delegates or praise them in order to secure more aid. This system is quite simple but it works well. There are a bunch of other edicts which impact on your island directly such the ability to start a literacy program or hold a mardi gras.
The buildings are selected from a menu at the bottom of the HUD and appear greyed out when you place them until the workmen turn up. Once built you simply click on the building to see who is employed there, what they do and in some cases to set policy. Each person on your island also has a personal fact file and by clicking on them you can see what they are thinking, who their family is and how much they support your regime.
Building itself is the first annoying facet of the game; the builders are very, very slow to actually build things. This means it is quite rare to get all of the buildings or fill an island in the relatively short time allotted. Victory conditions are chosen by the player at the start of the game and this allows you to decide what kind of game you want to have. The default length seems to be quite short and you can complete a maximum length game in three or four hours, though with time as a factor you can control, this depends on how you play the game.
The game looks great, with warm Caribbean colours and vegetation, detailed buildings and cute wee people. The standard view from above allows you to zoom in to street level and watch your citizens as they rush about their daily lives. Many of the buildings are quite attractive too and you can beautify areas with waterfalls and landscaped gardens.
The sound is also quite good, naturally the music can become maddening after a few hours but the voiceovers from your advisor are very nice. You also get a flavour of the island below you as different buildings produce different sound effects as you pass over them, such as the ringing bells of the Cathedral.
The strategy is complex but not too taxing and this game should appeal to a broad cross section of strategy gamers. Although there are flaws, for the most part it plays very well, and it definitely holds the attention. The fairly short game length and diverse experience within each new game encourages you to start again once your current regime is finished.
Aside from the slow building time, which can be very irritating, the game has a very busy HUD which takes a while to learn and many of the features don't really seem to be worth studying. The heaps of information which are available to you soon become secondary to the business of building and money making. Although it can be fun now and then to see what people are thinking it is seldom anything of interest. As with all games of this nature once you have seen every building and heard every voiceover the game loses some of its pulling power. The cut scene at the end of the game which reflects your reign as you stand on the palace steps is really good the first time but soon becomes boring after repetition.
Tropico is quite an old game now and you can get a pack where it is bundled with extra scenarios for a low price which is well worth doing. This game provides hours of fun, it is well made and despite the complexity remains fairly easy to master. There are also very few games which give you the chance to make these kind of political decisions about the society you are building and Tropico shines out for it´s originality in this area. So if you've always fancied yourself as a dictator then why not get yourself a little spot in the sun and have a go.