Despite the fact that it’s hardly a blockbuster release, I’ve been hearing good things about Tropico 3 – a recently released dictator simulation – so when Adam Ruch, PhD candidate, and sometime Kotaku contributor offered to write a Reader Review on the game, who was I to say no!
Thanks to Madman – the best written Reader Review receives a selection of the latest DVDs and Blu-rays from their selection.
Take it away Adam!
You mean you haven’t had power fantasies about ruling a late 20th Century tropical island from a position of tyrannical pseudo-communism? That’s weird. For the rest of us: Tropico 3! This game is a bargain on Steam, considering the hours per dollar I’ve sunk into it. A middlish complex city-building sim, Tropico runs a little faster than Civilization, a little slower than a real-time strategy game and gives me that hit of power trip, Rube Goldberg system building I need occasionally.
The tight focus of this game on the fictional island of Tropico during the second half of the 20th Century means this game is not as wide open as the likes of Civilization, but means there is a lot of detail in what is presented. Your Caribbean island nation will always face similar concerns, mostly to do with your position as a banana republic looking to set up its own economy somewhere in between the great Russian Bear and Uncle Sam and a constant state of near rebellion from the population. There is a lot of character in this game from its Cuban inspiration that you just don’t find in other city-sim titles. Visually, the detail is great. I honeymooned in New Caledonia last year, and I can tell you the tiny tropical island aesthetics are spot-on.
There is just enough complexity here to keep things interesting: the economy can basically be funded through agriculture, development of natural resources into industry, or tourism. Pure agriculture is farming or ranching of a wide variety of crops: sugar grows in some places, coffee in another. Industry turns raw materials into exportable goods like rum and furniture. These get carted from their respective production houses to the dock, and exported a few times a year, so a good roads network can be very important. Tourism works by attracting visitors to your island paradise, and generates income from their spending. Build cheap motels and you get cheap slob tourists. Build an airport and expensive luxury hotels and you attract big spenders, but you have to have power plants and high-class entertainment for them!
I hated very little about this game. Really, it was great fun. However, learning the mechanics is pretty hit-and-miss. I had to download a scanned version of the manual, and even that didn’t explain some of the really important mechanics to me. The biggest revelation I had was the importance of controlling immigration. Without management of who gets through customs, you simply can’t keep up with the demand for housing and workplaces brought on by the new arrivals. So be prepared to hunt around for the how’s and why’s things happen in this game.
Overall I had a great time with this game. The scenarios and achievements gave me a focus that I find lacking in games like this sometimes (I have a habit of playing through Civ games with the same strategy each time because I know it works!), as well as adding to the humourous character of the game. Be warned though, the humour doesn’t extend to the mechanics: you do need to be an astute manager, not a crazy tyrant—though you can have the army *ahem* control certain members of the population. Or better yet, your secret police can arrange accidents…
I love that we are approaching the necessary computing power to support these kinds of sims, where every little citizen running around on the screen is a ‘real’ person, that goes through an entire life cycle including birth or immigration, education, work life, religious persuasion, health care, and eventually death. That makes these simulations so much more immersive than representations of people moving around that are really just covering up for steady trickles of numbers ticking up like clockwork.