Welcome to Isla Del Los Nachos, El Presidente. With a newly drafted constitution it’s time to decide on who should be allowed to vote in any upcoming elections. “Everyone!” yells out DemocracyDude46, a citizen on your tropical island, and a person who believes in a free and open democracy. He’s probably right too, but you see the thing is, you’re in charge, and you like being in charge and you want to stay in charge, you could even say that you enjoy dictating how things should be run.
So for now you decide that only the wealthy citizens of Isla Del Los Nachos should be able to vote. “Fascist!” cries out DemocracyDude46, who has now decided to protest against your regime. An open democratic society may sound good, but it opens up the door to way too many problems and gives voice to basically every group. Democracy, for all its praise, is just too hard. And protests aside, this is the right choice.
By limiting the vote to wealthy citizens it means that you pretty much only need to pander to the majority of your voters (i.e. the poorer islanders) whilst actually only taking care of the more, well, monetarily inclined in your country. By keeping them happy they’ll continue to send votes your way during, for lack of a better term, elections.
And sure every now and then the people will rise up and take their fight to the streets and possibly even to the steps of your Presidential Palace. But as long as you’ve got your trusty death squads, your city building and cigar smoking days should continue as planned.
That of course means that our old pal and bleeding heart, DemocracyDude46, is a soon to be citizen of the, err, Peoples Republic of the Ocean Floor.
To borrow from a cliché ridden sitcom staple, the Tropico series has always felt like the wacky neighbour to the Sim City straight man. At its core it’s very much a city builder, where economic concerns, politics, trade routes, production, power, roads, revenue and all that other good city stuff is the name of the game. But by putting players on a tropical island and in control of a dictator in charge of a banana republic of sorts it adds a unique context that is played entirely for laughs, which is something the infectious calypso music spells out immediately. As the fifth entry in the series, Tropico 5 doesn’t stray too far from the formula established so far, it adds the prerequisite new things expected of a sequel, some of which work, and some of which, well, need a little more work.
The Cold War setting of the previous titles made a lot of historical sense, and provided a clear choice between Capitalism and Communism. Perhaps the biggest change this time around is the introduction of Eras which act the way you’d expect them to with new buildings, edicts, constitutional changes and research options opening up the further your island advances. So yeah, kind of like Age of Empires and Civilization, where in modern times the dynamic duo of Capitalism and Communism is replaced by Industrialism and Environmentalism. Which, for those keeping score, are two opposable socioeconomic systems that are nowhere near as fun as ‘the two C’s’.
Starting off in the Colonial Era, the campaign begins long before your reign as El Presidente where instead you’re in the service of the Crown with a time-limited mandate as leader. In order to progress to the World Wars Era, you’ll need to declare your independence after building a bunch of stuff and researching a bunch of err, other stuff. Once you become independent you officially become El Presidente and your island opens up to multiple trade partners, rebel attacks, and the fundamental exploitation of your citizens.
But like, totally in a fun way.
After a very brief tutorial that only gives you a very small taste of the tiniest elements that make up Tropico, the campaign mode offers a lengthy number of missions that begin in the Colonial Era, advancing through time covering everything from the war between the Allies and the Axis, the Ruskies and Yankees, with even some DeLorean-style time travel thrown in for good measure. It’s a lot of fun and the changing nature of in-game missions and goals cover pretty much all aspects of the game. One mission may be focussed on exporting a number of raw resources whilst another may be focussed on showing up defences in order to survive an invasion. The variety is commendable, especially for a city builder, where repetition and tedium tends to be the order of the day.
Those new to the series shouldn’t find too much trouble with this learn-whilst-you-play approach taken with Tropico 5 but fair warning though, the game is extremely light on giving hints or clues or advice. Meaning there isn’t any. By now every city-builder style sim should have some system which informs players exactly why their workers are taking forever to construct new buildings, why research is taking so long, or even how the trading system actually works. Instead you’re left to find a lot of this out through trial-and-error (or online forums). For those new to the game the best advice to give would simply be this: whatever it is, build more than one. That means multiple docks, libraries, towers, constructions offices, teamster buildings and so forth.
See Tropico 5, giving advice is not that hard, and it makes life easier for everyone.
But even so the main campaign can still get a little frustrating, as playing a mission that’s say, focussed on tourism and research may mean that you have no choice but to play on an island that you’ve previously equipped to combat foreign invaders as well as rebel uprisings. Translation, you’ve got guard towers at every intersection, and more than a few tanks up your sleeve. So by default this new mission focussed on the tourism trade and research is now a lot harder to tackle than it should be, and with no option other than to restart the entire campaign, it can make for some unwarranted frustration that really shouldn’t have gone past the testing phase.
“Hey there Mr. Tropico 5 Game Director. You know Mission 7? The one where you need to research nuclear technology? Well, in my game you see the island I'm being forced to use is pretty much equipped with military bases and cattle ranches only. Is there any way, I don’t know, you could change it so I can use another island?”
The answer of course, is yes.
Outside of the campaign, playing the sandbox mode, which also provides players with periodic goals ranging from export targets to constructing certain types of buildings, proves to be a more well-rounded experience - even if it lacks the amusing overarching story elements of the campaign.
But like with many simulation games there are AI issues, especially with the automated combat that sees single squads of your troops run off to fight multiple squads on their own and in turn, lose. This can be a problem in multiplayer games, alongside no ability to save, meaning that it’s a nice ‘for the fans’ feature that still needs some work to become an actual selling point. But like with any modern game a lot of these minor issues can be fixed in patches, and with any city builder, the game works best when played alone. Just like ruling a tropical island paradise.
Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album releasing very soon.
Recent articles by Kosta:Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.