(Note: This review has been approved for general release by Penultimo, General Director of the Tropico Press Freedom Commission)
Welcome to Castro Sim 2014. Once again we set sail to the colonial era nondescript Caribbean Sea islands in an effort to find our inner despot and proclaim ultimate rule. This time however, some things have changed around the region of Tropico since our golden age of technology back in Tropico 4.
Once again we enter the world of political satire and city building in our attempt to subvert the status quo of modern democracy. We start quite literally under appointment from His Majesty, The King. The new campaign mode sees us seeking independence from the Crown and then being very careful in politically playing our way through the changing allegiances of the World Wars, whilst still building our own dynasty.
The comedy of the game, its wit and fairly tested satire, is really what always binds it together. The story of the game in fact delves in to those newer jokes, more pop-culture mockery and the constant hilarity of Penultimo who continues to administrate the islands along with your unflappable British ambassador and the anarchistic military heroine. But the political allegiances that are always in play actually mean a lot more than just appeasing local rebel insurgents. As you work your way through the instability of the World Wars and the Cold War, who you choose to keep on side will make you more or less money and better trade routes to keep your extended term as ruler.
It’s these game play elements that make the game a lot more fun to play than Tropico 4, or if not more fun then certainly a lot easier to play and therefore easier to concentrate on the enjoyment. The similar tropes are still there from before; task based acquisition of money and buildings to establish your island amidst the pirates and homeless that will plague it. Although the game hasn’t changed enough since Tropico 4 for those tasks not to get a bit old after a while.
In fact, that is possibly the only hangover that the game has from its predecssor. The city building is a lot easier than in previous versions with an incredibly simplified build menu, a new load of building designs that change through the historical eras, and all of them are incredibly easy and adaptable to place. The Almanac and the island’s layers information is not only easier to navigate but also far more readable and understandable. One thing Tropico does do, once you get into this more strategic st,yle of playing the game is make you assess your space a lot more effectively and the improvements in the game have made that a much easier and enjoyable prospect. Which for a time offsets the overused “Export me 5,000 of this because the consequences are dire if you don’t” repetitive tasks. Although as soon as you’ve established a good bit of exporting through high value crops and get mining, you can financially ignore those which aren’t mission specific.
Which is good because creating your own paradise is very aesthetically pleasing. The games engine runs very smoothly on a system that can cope with the high graphics or just under top performance. The water crashing into the beaches, the wind blowing through the trees along with a much more inviting map fog for exploration, make the environment very nice, along with some excellent detail in the buildings, people and animations. One of the things I loved about previous Tropico games, especially compared to Sim City, is that there is a lot of detail in to creating the lives and attractive buildings in the game. This makes you more aesthetically invested in the design of your island paradise and interested in zooming in and just watching things happen. Much like Banished can do, except with a lot more Pina Coladas.
There are some things that do notch against it, admittedly. The game is moving on with the technology so make sure you can effectively run it (I had a very weird experience where the game performed fine but the menu screens were incredibly laggy on one of my test systems). The fact that the map controls are natively the arrow keys was annoying as I was so used to a WASD set up, so some ergonomic reshuffling is required. The previously mentioned repetitive task mechanic can have the effect of bogging you down in things against what your mission objectives are and it does feel a bit like a continuation directly from Tropico 4. Other strange things are the Dynasty and Swiss Bank Account mechanics. They are certainly fun distractions, and the Swiss Bank Account has more a place in this game than previous titles, but they ultimately feel positioned there to add a bit more colour to the humour more than a gaming mechanic and sometimes, I want something to pep up the game, not top up the satire.
But Tropico 5 is a very good game. Given the market options at the moment (Sim City, Banished, CitiesXL, et. al.) Tropico certainly does raise a bar in accessible strategy city building with enough humour to keep you honest about the fact that it’s a game. And if it wasn’t for those loading screens, I’d have had no idea that officially, Kim Jong-il was born on a mountain under a double rainbow and a newly recorded star, as foretold to the North Korean people by a swallow. So you learn something new and knowledge is power!
[tab title=”Summary”]Tropico 5 might be a few steps away from its independence in the strategy category, but it certainly is up there with the most playable of city-building despots at the moment. A lot of fun and exactly the right level of challenge/design/world event difficulty.[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Looks lovely, like a portrait of El Presidente.
– Very funny, like El Presidente’s bumper book of pub jokes.
– Gameplay simplified and optimised, just like El Presidente’s Consititution.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Random task system a bit repetitive.
– Can feel too close to Tropico 4.
– There are no cons and Penultimo is not holding a gun to my head to say this, Viva El Presidente.[/tab]