Tropico 4 Review
This tropical paradise is great fun for strategy gamers, as long as El Presidente is kept happy
After a successful reboot of the island city building sim a couple of years ago, developer Haemimont Games is back with a full-fledged sequel. Tropico 4 offers much of the familiar tropical island gameplay, with a few new twists and an expanded array of features. It’s still a tremendous value on its own, however those who own Tropico 3 and its expansion may want to consider carefully if the new title is worth the price.
Tropico 4 once again provides players with a variety of modes to tackle. The main campaign consists of 20 missions that are fairly lengthy and have a lot of objectives to be completed in order to advance to the next island. There is actually a story this time around, as El Presidente has to overcome many challenges, including rebels and betrayals from foreign leaders during the Cold War, in order to come out victorious (and bring his nation to glory, if it suits him). There are also plenty of events that reflect on the real world, such as a fictional conflict in Middle East, oil spills, etc. The players have a chance to either ignore or react to these events, and the outcomes of each decision are often clear.
The campaign takes place on 10 new islands, in size on average much larger than those found in Tropico 3. However, it’s unlikely the player would ever expand very far from the starting area due to various budget and logistical reasons, so landsize doesn’t really come into play except for Sandbox mode. Most of the missions start off like any strategy game, with a set of objectives, varying game conditions, on a bare piece of tropical land. From there players must develop their island and keep the treasury full, as well as their own personal Swiss bank account. The mechanics will be instantly familiar to Tropico players, and newcomers should be able to adjust fairly quickly. Our Tropico 3 review covers the basics quite well.
Once a few buildings are in place, the economy and population growth should take off. Much like before, players can place new structures and must then wait as construction workers arrive on site and complete the work. New, however, is the ability to instant build – by basically paying twice the price of a new building, it’s now possible to see new structures go up in seconds. A lot of the buildings are still locked at the start, and users must first purchase a blueprint for an additional fee. It’s unclear how the decisions were made in regards to which buildings require a blueprint. But, given that most buildings are quite expensive and the blueprint fee is nominal, it never gets in the way of progress. Also new is the ability for players to allow imports of raw materials to various shops and factories, so that the island is able to create and export products, even if the raw materials needed to create them aren’t available to be gathered. Players can also still hire workers from outside the island, but the system has been altered to prevent the common practice of over-hiring in order to boost the island population artificially. Now, players must pay an exponentially increasing fee in order to hire help from immigrants, which adds a great balance to the workforce.
Throughout the missions, players will be faced with a fairly large number of objectives. Some are key to winning the mission (and are presented as such), while others are secondary and only serve to boost your income or political relations. The island’s population is once again composed of a number of parties, from the environmentalists to nationalists and communists. Many of these parties will constantly update you with their needs and demands, and provide optional objectives that, if completed, would boost the respect of that party. However, if a party has a small following, completely ignoring them is OK too, as it won’t affect the election results much. Foreign leaders will also provide you with tasks, and they function much in the same way.
Some objectives are reasonable, like building a few new farms or increasing the number of troops on the island, while others are a bit wild, like asking you to build a $50k structure. Players will have to choose wisely – not only because there is a limit on how many tasks can be active at once, but also because there is no way to dismiss them once agreed. The former is OK, as tasks that you aren’t able to accept will remain on the map until you dismiss them, and if you already satisfy the request, the objective will be completed as soon as it’s accepted. On the other hand, there is no way to dismiss objectives that you’ve already accepted, so you may oftentimes find yourself stuck with things you can’t or don’t want to do. In one mission, two farms were requested by the communist party. Figuring it an easy task, after accepting you’ll come to realize that for the particular mission, farms aren’t actually available to be built. It goes to show that the objectives are mostly random, and it’s frustrating not being able to dismiss them.
Issuing edicts (laws) is still a unique part of the Tropico experience, though things have been tweaked a bit. In order to issue edicts in most of the categories, a Ministry must first be built and acceptable leaders selected from the population (or hired). This is a neat addition, though after completing your hires, there is no longer term impact as all edicts are now available to be issued. Much like before, these range from dictatorial tactics of martial law to the nice senior citizen pension programs. Issuing edicts often has an effect on the general happiness of the population. However, unlike the happiness of political parties, the users aren’t able to see what modifiers are causing the mood. For example, a player can find out why a certain nation or political party hates or loves them, with various modifiers to look at. On the other hand, it’s impossible to know why exactly your population is extremely unhappy with their liberties and medical options.
Keeping the populace happy is just a minor point to the ultimate goal of having a large amount of money. The economy in the game is decently balanced, and players can track their expenses and adjust public services as necessary. Difficulty of financial upkeep is mitigated somewhat by purely random monetary donations from USSR and USA, which are always enough to keep your economy afloat. There’s little reason given to these donations, other than being a staple feature of the series, but it makes the newly introduced Europe, China, and Middle East feel undermined and like just another source of tasks to complete. Even if your relationship with one or two countries completely deteriorates (difficult to do on its own right), there’s no impact on the game, at least not in the many hours played during the missions. A takeover is possible, but you need to have extremely poor relations and no support from everyone else for it to happen – in which case you’re simply greeted with a Game Over screen.
In what has become a rare and well created aspect of the franchise, the citizens of Tropico 4 are indeed alive and personable. Every little person on the island has a life, and clicking on them reveals a wealth of personal information. Their home, income, thoughts, family tree, and much more. This is the kind of stuff that even the Sims would be jealous of, let alone other RTS titles. Players can interact with that information as well, mostly in choosing a way to dispatch of a troublemaker citizen.
Much like the mechanics of the game itself, the user interface hasn’t changed much. The minimap and edict menus still function as before, and players can control time at will. Build menu has been tweaked to open with right click anywhere on the screen, which makes it a bit uncomfortable and a while to get used to. That also means you have to find and select the building you want before you’re able to see the area where you planned to put it. Doing any action in the menus now pauses time automatically, which may seem nice but only slows down your game’s progress in the long term. Another slight technical annoyance is random loading screens. Occasionally, your progress will be interrupted for upwards of 5 seconds as a loading screen appears for an unknown reason, and then the game continues on. On a brighter note, it’s quick just like most of the loading screens in the game. Tropico 4 also features Twitter and Facebook integration, but that’s hardly worth mentioning.
Outside of the campaign, there is the expected Sandbox mode which allows you to build and fully expand on an island for as long as you’re able. Also included in the Challenge mode – here players can download maps and scenarios created by other players and place their resulting scores on global leaderboards. Users can create their own scenarios using a set of basic tools that are fairly powerful, but take a while to understand as there is an unfortunate lack of a manual of any kind. Oddly enough, the player isn’t able to control the camera while building the challenge, which is a minor but notable inconvenience.
The Tropico series has always been recognized by its setting, as well as the presentation that went along with it. Tropico 3 continued the trend of over-the-top radio personality and catchy Caribbean music. With Tropico 4, things have been tuned quite a bit. The soundtrack feels much more polished and pleasant, which might be a welcome change to those who found T3 music annoying at times, but it also makes Tropico 4 lose a bit of personality. Instead of one, there are now two radio hosts, with other characters occasionally dropping by. Again, the humour is still there, but it’s not as sharp or unique as that of the past titles. Characters in the game are also voiced and their pictures caricatured, adding to the fun style. The game’s engine is still the same, but it has been tuned to perform much better on medium range PCs, and also feels as a brighter color palette. There is more detail in the world, and some buildings (such as apartments) now have a few styles so that you’re not building rows of clones.
Tropico 4 once again provides a fun and uniquely presented strategy game that will satisfy any fan of the genre. With slight gameplay changes, positively reworked mechanics, and a fun presentation you can’t go wrong trying it out. It must be said, however, that players who own Tropico 3 and its expansion may find this to be a hard sell, even at a lower price point. But if you haven’t entered this tropical paradise before, you are unlikely to be disappointed. El Presidente guarantees it*.
* But only if your taxes are paid.