by Take 2 Interactive
The 'god' game has taken several different guises over the last few years. We've controlled an American city in the Sim City games, Italia in Caesar 3, and ancient Greece in Zeus: Master of Olympus. PopTop have decided to give us a tropical mix for their god game and with Tropico we get to play the role of Presidenté who is in charge of a Caribbean island.
The game looks like most other god sim/resource management games with the high in the air isometric view being used to great effect again. However after playing the game for a while you will notice subtle differences from past greats such as Caesar 3. Your people are individuals and complete with opinions, desires and abilities. The people also belong to factions. All the people belong to at least one of the factions (which range from Capitalists to Environmentalists) and in true classic strategy tradition each decision upsets one person as it pleases another.
There are eight scenarios to choose from (plus a further two that are hidden). The scenarios have a lot of variety and range from 'Born Again' which sees you attempting to resurrect an island after an earthquake to 'Club Tropico' which asks that you give a healthy, swinging nightlife scene to the island. However, unlike other games of this type where you play the scenarios first and the random maps second, the difficulty of the scenarios means that you'll probably be attempting a random map game to fully learn the basics.
Speaking of learning, the tutorial is quite good and teaches you the very basics of the gameplay. What we did notice though is that occasionally the subtitles were slightly different from the verbal information. There is a part of the tutorial where you are told to place a church near the centre of the town and the subtitles say to place the church near the palace. There is no damage done here because the palace is the centre of your town at the beginning of the game (and in the tutorial) but in the more developed stages of the game your town centre would be elsewhere. The tutorial also indicates the button that you need to press by highlighting it with a red circle. This allows you to progress through the tutorial at a good pace without the need to search for the relevant button. The quality of the manual is high and if you are to fully appreciate all the nuances of the game then it is wise to read the manual as all the buildings' characteristics are fully explained and serve as an invaluable resource.
Graphically the game is pleasant and you could watch the activities of your Tropicans for hours on end and completely forget about the jobs you need to do. The main criticism of the graphics is that PopTop used the Railroad Tycoon 2 game engine which seems to strain under the weight that Tropico puts on it. Scrolling around the map in the later stages of the game is very slow in the 2D mode. To make matters worse the 3D mode does not operate too well with most graphics cards. I have had the odd crash whilst using the 3D mode but I haven't had one whilst using the 2D mode. The animation of the Tropicans is well done and quite funny at times. All that remains to be said about the graphics is that I would like to see PopTop use a brand new game engine for Tropico 2, (I am assuming there is going to be one) one that this game deserves which uses 3D to greater effect or at least allows for far smoother scrolling.
The best way to discuss the gameplay is to talk you through a random map game. First of all, you get to set the parameters of the island such as land elevation, the amount of vegetation and minerals amongst other things. What this does is to determine the level of difficulty for that island. An island that is fairly flat with oodles of vegetation and minerals is far easier than a mountainous island with hardly any minerals. Next it's off to the character creation. Here you get to choose different traits and character flaws that all have a significant bearing on how you will have to play the game. If you are a womaniser then you will find it hard to gain the respect of women or the Church whereas if you are charismatic all Tropicans will respect you more. You have to choose positive traits and flaws in equal number. This gives your character and gameplay different dimensions but never an outright advantage. Should you want to avoid the character creation then PopTop has provided some historical characters such as 'Evita' and Fidel Castro for you to play as and these are all pre-created so you can jump straight into managing the island.
You start on the island with the bare essentials. These include a palace, 4 corn farms, a construction office, a dock and a teamster's office. Your population can range from 30 to 70 Tropicans (depending on how many you selected when setting the game parameters). Each corn farm supports about 30 Tropicans so using the info button you can see if any of your farms supports a money spinner like tobacco. If one of your farms is in a good spot for tobacco then change their production to tobacco. It takes roughly a game year to fully change from one crop to another. Your population live in shacks at the start of the game so its probably a good idea to build them some more desirable premises. They'll also want a church and some form of entertainment (the Tropicans will let you know this through their thoughts which can be seen in greater detail if you click on a character). Come to think of it, it may be a good idea to have a cigar factory to make even more money out of that tobacco. In Tropico the possibilities are limitless, the boundaries are your imagination and those with time to devote to the game will not be disappointed.
The only quibbles I have with the game is that sometimes your advisor will advise you that the Tropicans want an early election (or some other such message) and this is not given in subtitles. It doesn't spoil the experience but subtitles should have been there. My only other moan about the game is to do with trade. It would have been nice if you could actually import goods that you couldn't make on the island. If the Tropicans could have traded with more countries it would also have enriched the gameplay more and gave the trade elements a greater purpose as the way it is now it is a little unfulfilling.
Overall Tropico is a very good game and one that will provide many hours of entertainment. The pace may be more gentle than other games in this genre but the playability is up there with the best of them.
Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10 Strategy with a tropical twist.
Quality of text: 9/10 Apart from the some missing advisor comments the text is spot on. As is the manual.
Graphics: 8/10 Pleasant but would have benefited from a more modern game engine.
Interface:8/10 Easy to use but not as simple as it could be.
Gameplay: 9/10 The game demands a lot of time to fully appreciate just how good it is.