Dictatorship… Possibly one of the most questionable forms of leadership in the free world. In the Tropico series however, giving dodgy orders, growing ridiculous facial hair and smoking cigars fatter than a church candle is made a playable, if guilty, pleasure.
The series has been running for thirteen years and each game has offered some new and unique ways to coerce your citizens to your will and build an empire that can truly rebel against the capitalist (or communist) pigs holding you back. That is until the last iteration which didn’t really change much from Tropico 3. It’s nice to see that Haemimont Games have decided to upgrade a little this time out and return the series to a slowly progressing serial of faction juggling, resource farming and snuffing out voters who just won’t submit to your tyrannical, yet loving views.
Beginning around the Victorian era, you establish the foundations of your city by order of the Crown and plot, plan and sometimes desperately struggle to keep your head above water while trying to appease as many political factions as possible. On one hand, you have the aforementioned Crown, who focus on crop growing to feed the masses, keeping them lazy and fat. Basically, they like you to keep the population controlled and pliable. On the other, the revolutionaries have other ideas and push you to building military fortifications and trading with pirates, trying to gain independence for your country.
This ideal continues through a new concept to Tropico games; Period shifting. You’ll begin sometime just before World War I and as you progress, time cycles through the ages and leads to dealings with era specific world leaders. You’ll choose sides in both World Wars, cautiously dribble your way through the Cold War until you reach modern times where you can relax a bit, because you know that every politician is a lying weasel and you too might be able get away with it.
This fence sitting can be a little hectic at times, especially when crawling dangerously close to elections. See, in Tropico 5, you have a certain period of time to stay in office before a new round begins and you may or may not be elected again due to the sometimes brain-melting job of keeping everyone happy. Certain factions control different aspects of your rule and it’s nice to think that you’re pleasing your benefactors by doing missions that extend your time in office. Then again, you’ll also be trying to push independence covertly and gaining more voters from the revolutionaries so that you might be able to impose your own laws one day. It seems simple at first but can become amazingly complex when you hit a few months left of your rule and realise that your people just don’t love you enough to keep your dynasty in place. There will be consequences if, at some point, you don’t piss someone off intentionally.
On the subject of dynasties. Your initial moustachioed, space suit wearing tyrant is no longer the only playable character throughout the game. You will eventually add family members into your cabinet who have some nice benefits towards gameplay. You can send them off to treat with other nations, giving you a popularity boost or set them to manage buildings so production goes a little smoother. This is especially helpful when you factor in the method of making money.
Instead of resource harvesting for gold and the like, Tropico 5 forces to you expand your import/export market and build docks to acquire sea-bound vessels that will carry your most requested materials to foreign lands. You’ll start with a few trade routes that will net you a little money but as missions often tend to be trade based, you’ll need to balance the rest of your ideals to keep the cash flowing in order to build the required facilities needed to produce the maximum income while still appeasing everyone else.
It helps that when you complete missions, occasionally new trade routes will open up that offer larger sums to be dropped on your docks, just in time for a much needed upgrade to your country. For instance, after completing a mission for the rebels, you will be given the option of trading with the local pirates for smuggling them some choice goods which may offer a little more money than that deal on wood going to the USA. You really need to be on the ball with picking up these routes, as it is the best way of making money in the game other than being handed small sums for cash from your council when you really should be trying to extend your time until election or shifting some money into your dodgy Swiss bank account.
Along with a few other gameplay mechanics, such as being able to coerce or assassinate citizens for political gain, two online modes where you can take on opponents in a race to see who has the best country to see who has the biggest cigar and a co-operative mode that lets you harmonise with other players to maximise trade, research and military might, Tropico 5 is ultimately a great time hog and will keep you laughing, shouting and sometimes bewildered into the wee hours of the morning.
The only complaint that can be launched at the game, preferably with a sneakily purchased SCUD missile launcher, is the battle mechanics… You’ll be invaded now and again by opposing forces such as the Allies and the Axis as an example. If you have enough fortifications, the fight will end in a victory, leaving you to continue with the more in-depth aspects of the game. If not, you’ll have a few buildings destroyed and some unhappy people, willing to take their vote elsewhere. That’s it though. There’s no structured warfare. It’s a matter of the enemy landing on your shores, targeting certain buildings, a quick automated skirmish where you do nothing but direct the troops to stop the most damaging encounter and then back to trying to rebuild your losses.
It’s like buying the ultimate cookie with a mouse turd in amongst the sweetest, most colourful, spicy goodness. You’ll probably still eat the bits around it with joy but honestly you will look on in disgust when you encounter an attack on your island paradise.
The main grab of Tropico 5 is the sense of humour, although being somewhat questionable in a tyrannical, non-politically correct sort of way that fits with the theme of the setting. It gives you such goofy mission descriptions that you can’t help laughing. It throws stereotypical, yet humourous slurs at you with abandon and combined with the relaxing yet invigorating salsa soundtrack, RTS gamers will have a great time pulling poker faces at the stuffy British empire while hoarding dodgy rockets and taking backhanders from smugglers for a few crates of spicy rum.
Tropico 5, while sometimes being a cantankerous old fart, is still a wholly worthwhile experience and dropping your cash on it will not only satisfy your city building penchants but also make you laugh while doing so… Just not at the battles.
Currently Tropico 5 is available for PC now and will soon be purchasable for PS4 and Xbox One sometime later in the year.
This review is based on the PC version of Tropico 5 supplied to us by Kalypso Media.