By: Michael Dao
The old adage holds true. Power corrupts, and absolute power is actually pretty neat.
SimCity was one of the most beloved games ever created, and spawned countless other similar named and themed games under the Sim moniker, as well as today’s best selling video game franchise, The Sims. SimCity was a game that many, many people sank many, many hours into. The premise was that you were the mayor of a town, and it was your job to grow it by creating industrial, residential, and commercial zones, building fire departments and police stations, setting tax rates, and doing your best to take care of and grow your small town into a bustling city, all the while dealing with random events, and the odd natural disaster – the unexpected.
Tropico 4 takes the same concept as SimCity, but takes a bit more creative license with the idea and has a bit more fun with it all. The player is set as a dictator of a tropical island. They then have to grow the economy, keep the inhabitants happy to avoid a counter-revolution, encourage immigration of skilled and educated people, prevent emigration, and appease either the United States or the USSR. It all sounds terribly simple on paper, but as they say, the devil is in the details. Tropico 4 is as delightfully and challengingly deep as its predecessors. The strange thing is that one would think that a game that can be as complex as Tropico 4 would have a fairly hefty tutorial – but the tutorial was rather light, encompassing only four missions, each covering a few core gameplay mechanics. Upon finishing the last tutorial, I was indeed fairly concerned, as having played previous Tropico games, I knew that there was a lot left unsaid.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Although the game is just as deep, the developers, Haemimont Games, have made this game a lot more accessible to players, something that was a quite welcome change. This was clear from the very first mission of the campaign. In previous games, you were given an overarching goal, and from that point, you had to figure out how you were going to get there either by allying yourself with the United States, or by becoming closer to the USSR by implementing measures such as free healthcare or free housing to all of the citizens of your island, or one of any other million decisions you can make, balancing one faction against another. Tropico 4, however, avoids this whole problem in a simple yet ingenious way – it breaks up your tasks into manageable chunks.
From the very start, the game gives you small “quests” to perform, with some great and logical rewards. The quests are all well written, and some have absolutely hilarious voiceovers that introduce not only some incredible situations but some entertaining predicaments as well. There is an overall arc to the campaign’s 20 missions, which chronicle your rise to power, your inevitable fall from grace, and finally, culminating with your inevitable return. Kind of like if Star Wars took place in the Caribbean. Only instead of the Jedi, you’re a dictator. Right.
Tropico 4 is a welcome member to the franchise. There is the depth here that will keep longtime fans interested in fine tuning the economy of their very own banana republic, as well as the gentle learning curve so woefully absent from the previous entries in this franchise that will welcome newcomers with open arms and a warm, “Hola.” The graphics haven’t been really been improved since the previous iteration of the game, but for a simulation game, graphics merely have to look competent, and in Tropico 4, they do. In the end, Tropico 4 is a game that sets out and does what the developers intended. The only failing would be in it’s highly repetitive soundtrack. A person can only go for so long listening to the same generic salsa elevator music before it does eventually grate. One person’s suggestion was to turn off the music, start up Spotify, search for “salsa” and have at it. This aside, Tropico 4 is a fun game and has something to offer any PC gamer, from someone new to simulation games to the most hard core fan.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC version of Tropico 4 provided by Kalypso Media. It is also available for the Xbox 360.