El Presidente returns.
Anyone familiar with Kalypso Media’s Tropico games will be able to slip straight into the dictatorial action and get down to the messy business of suppressing rebels and topping up the Swiss bank account. For those new to the tropical city builder, there is no better time to hop on a plane and take up residence in the presidential palace.
The basics are bread and butter in any city building game. Place buildings, from housing and taverns to plantations and factories, in order to create a successful economy. Housing will attract new citizens and keep the homeless off the streets, taverns will entertain them and keep them from feeling hard done by. Get the money coming in through the plantations, factories, mines and such, to invest in further buildings and keep improving your island. Make money and keep the people happy.
Except this is Tropico and keeping the people happy is something that only really matters when there is an election approaching. Even then, making them happy is not really essential as election rigging is a simple mouse click away, and quelling any potential uprisings is really only a matter of intimidating or assassinating the right person. It is worth keeping buddy with at least one faction on the island, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Tropico 5 introduces a much longer timeline through which to play with the inclusion of different eras. The player begins the satisfyingly long campaign in the colonial era, as a governor assigned to the island by the crown. It is to the crown that the player must answer and the various missions that pop up for the player to complete will generally involve building something for the crown, or exporting something for the crown, with rewards consisting largely of extending the players term as governor. Of course, other missions come up and other rewards are available, but the player will need to keep the crown happy until they have enough support on the island to declare their independence from the crown.
With the onset of new eras (World Wars, Cold War and Modern), the player will unlock access to new buildings, new technologies and new problems. Like many similar games, new technologies can be researched over a certain amount of time and will give rise to new opportunities and yet more research.
Fans will likely remember with fondness the edicts, a way for the ruler to force small changes upon their population for the benefit of all, or just for the benefit of El Presidente is we are honest. They have returned and offer plenty of scope for manipulation. But new to Tropico 5 is the constitution, a way of making vast sweeping changes to the way of life on your little island. The temptation to toy with the constitution is strong, but caution should be taken as the effects can be quite dramatic to the idyllic way of life.
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion in Tropico 5 is the dynasty. This time around, El Presidente is not alone in his power mongering. Illegitimate children will pop up throughout history, ready to be embraced into the family, with each child bringing with it certain upgradable skills that may well come in handy. Come election time, the player can choose to have one of these children stand for power if they wish. The dynasty members will also have the chance to participate in certain missions, such as attending a foreign school or even playing a part in a war, or can always bring their special skills as a building manager on the island. The dynasty gives the player more options through the game.
Options are great, but it seems that the advantage is certainly in the dictator’s court in Tropico 5. While some missions may put you up against a time limit, the challenge in Tropico 5 never quite takes off. It just feels too easy to succeed. Even when the island is invaded, the invading force actually does very little damage before leaving and then the player is given ample time to prepare for their return. Is this dumbing the game down for the newcomers, with a view to making the game more appealing? The sense of humour would suggest so.
Humour is used throughout Tropico 5, and not always to great effect. While some may find the light hearted mockery of oppressive regimes just too tasteless, others will simply grow tired of the constant japes which take away any sense of seriousness from the game. Tropico 5 can be childish and silly, and it could really do with growing up, just a little.
Thankfully, the visuals have improved with time. With the graphics pumped up on the PC, Tropico 5 looks absolutely beautiful, recreating postcard scenes with amazing detail. The different building types are all unique and filled with character, breathing life into your tropical island.
Multiplayer Tropico is something new, giving the player a chance to race against a friend to develop their island, or work with a friend for the greater good. While Tropico will always be primarily a single player endeavor, having the opportunity to compete or even discover new tactics makes the multiplayer modes worthwhile checking out, even if only for a break from the pressures of single player dictating.
Tropico 5, with its eras, dynasties and constitution, doesn’t make massive strides away from the previous game. This is no bad thing, as the previous Tropico games have been great entertainment. But times change, and before long El Presidente will have to evolve if he wants to stay in power. Right now, however, Tropico 5 is the best in the series and one of the most enjoyable city building games around. Viva El Presidente!