Genre: Strategy Developer: Haemimont Games AD Publisher: Kalypso Media Digital Ltd Classification: MA15+ Consumer Advice: Game deals with issues or contains depictions which require a mature perspective
Release Date: 26th Aug 2011 Platforms:
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'Good morning, El Presidente. You are looking most powerful today.'
Will Wright proclaimed that the Sim City franchise had 'developed itself into a corner' after the release of Sim City 4, claiming that the franchise lacked room to grow to a larger and new audience due to an increasingly insular demand from fans that it be more complex and intricate. The Tropico series - on the rise while Sim City was already the dominant franchise - proved the franchise may have had appeal in lateral movement rather than upward. As Will Wright moves onto bigger and better things, Tropico goes from strength to comedic strength - and Tropico 4 is the best game in the series yet.
One of Tropico's key defining features has always been its sense of humour. Casting players in the role of 'El Presidente' (although you can customise your avatar or select from one of history's most famous Latin-American dictators) you are playing a beautiful archipelago Sim-Cuba of sorts during the Cold War - and are permitted to wield all the nasty tools and strategies to stay in power you'd expect from a title of that nature. If your citizens are particularly unhappy, it's often easier to simply deny them an election and 'disappear' anyone who objects to such measures.
Tropico 4 is more of an iterative game than a full on sequel (being based on the same engine as its predecessor) and so itís about content, options and maximising. Using the formula which worked so well on the previous game (it even held up as an aerial view top-down strategy/management title on 360, which is no easy feat), T4 plans to give the player much more control over the political milieu, both on and off the island - as well as providing a raft of new buildings to play with.
In previous games, the player could buddy up to Uncle Sam or the Big Russian Bear, and had to deal with the wrath of the jilted of the two. Now the ante has been upped, with the inclusion of several new world powers - China, the EU and the Middle East, as well as some fellow Carribean neighbours.
Domestically, you can now appoint individual citizens on the island as your ministers in various departments. If your lack of a church is goading the religious folk against the government, now might be a good time to appoint their faction leader as your minister for education. Unless, that is, you'd rather suffer God's wrath and keep your pious Tropicans in their place - diverting funds away to your own personal Swiss bank account. The edicts (laws decreed in effect by the venerable and almighty El Presidente himself) have been expanded upon, and the allotment of ministers allows the ability to use edicts pertaining to that field. The hardcore nationalists on the island might call for the expulsion of the foreign minister for allowing too many immigrants in, or your minister for the interior might be involved in a scandal and you'll have to decide if he gets booted from office or you wear the bad press.
Visually Tropico 4 has been refined, but is hardly an evolutionary leap. A combination of awkward up-close textures and procedural landscape manipulation leading to rather odd-looking slopes is contrasted by the utter gorgeousness of the tropical setting and some truly stunning sunsets and glare effects. And it's just a downright pleasure to watch your little Tropicans hard at work. Unlike some recent games which share similarities - like From Dust (where your population was so stupid it was amusing to watch them die) - Tropicans are just folk trying to live out their lives and they generally don't jump into lava and wonder why they're burning. So when you're being an evil dictator, you truly do feel evil - which is of course, half the fun.
New trade mechanics also abound, with the ability to import resources your island lacks, set maximum imports per freighter, allow only certain industries access to those imports and more. Disasters can now be predicted with the cunning application of scientists to weather stations, fire stations can be used as a rescue service, you can host a national day annually which sets off some oh so lovely fireworks and your tourist attractions have expanded to include blimp rides, hot air balloons, a revolving needlepoint restaurant 600ft in the air and you can even park a massive cruise ship off the coast as an additional means of drawing tourists to your island.
It's all well and good to deliver new mechanisms, which Tropico 4 does plenty of, but it doesn't suit to have most of those new ones pale in comparison to the overall mechanics of the previous game to the extent that they're interesting side-notes rather than new main attractions. The game feels like something which is more like the largest standalone expansion pack ever seen rather than a genuinely new game. The new features are all very welcome, each has its own place and they all work quite nicely, so there's nothing to detract from the overall experience here. But if you've mastered previous games in the Tropico franchise, 3 in particular, you can jump in and lay waste to the challenges Tropico 4 presents with ease.
The bottom line is, Tropico 4 carries similar almost A-grade production values to its predecessors, is thematically identical, is bug-free if not entirely polished visually and it has a raft of new features for you to enjoy - it just struggles to earn that numerical update to its name. Given its reduced price however, that's not even slightly an issue. None of the new additions break anything, all the old stuff is there and better, and if you've never played a Tropico game before there has never been a better time to jump in! It's fun, addictive and full of character. In spite of its not pushing any envelopes too hard, it's a must-play for those even slightly interested in the genre.