Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition marks the Xbox One debut for this zany strategy franchise. For the uninitiated, Tropico is a city-builder that rewards a slightly more dictatorial approach than your average Sim City. Always stylish and always fun, Tropico games have traditionally been light on the strategy. This time, though, developer Haemimont Games has changed the focus. Tropico 5 is tough., is that it’s tough. It’s really tough.
How tough can it be? We’ll tell you. We failed the tutorial, bested by politics in the very mode that’s supposed to reach us how to play. However, in failure there were lessons to be learned – our failure was brought about from the compulsion to be an honest and upstanding leader, unwilling to fix the voting system in our favour. It’s almost as if the game forces corruption on you. So, just like real politics, then?
This time around your Tropico adventure – in the game’s Campaign mode – unfolds across different eras, shepherding your tropical island empire from the early 20th century to beyond the 21st.
As with most city-builders, juggling resources and keeping an eye on a multitude of factors and factions to keep your subjects loyal and happy are the keys to success. Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so which subjects do you keep happy? Do you cavort with the loyalists? Or do you entertain the notions of those on your island who seek to disturb you personally dictated way of life? Everything is a choice – and a balance.
Having built a monolithic Cathedral so the most god fearing of our people could live safe in the knowledge there is somewhere they can go to repent, we were in danger of turning off those who preferred a more lavish lifestyle? Building their preferred restaurants and taverns, though, risked angering our more devout followers.
And so it went on. What of the unemployed and homeless? Should we start work on that new power plant to create more jobs? And where’s the apartment complex needed to house all those new Tropico citizens that arrived on the last ship? These are all factors that need to be monitored and tended to constantly.
And its not just unrest within that you need to handle – as you trade with the outside world you risk angering vagabond pirates and before you know it your idyllic little piece of paradise is under attack.
It’s the breadth and scale that makes Tropico so interesting, as your island nation develops through each era. Your first task is to achieve complete independence from the ruling monarchy, by swinging the favour of the people in your favour and claiming independence. You must do so within an allotted time frame – failure to do so means game over and your dictatorial ambitions in tatters. You can give yourself more time to win the favour of the people, though, by completing objectives in a fashion that pleases your Royal Overlords.
Once the shackles of colonialism are thrown off and you win your independence the game really opens up. With your new found freedom you can race through the campaign objectives or you could take the scenic route and plan your resources accordingly. Good foundations are important – the better use you make of the terrain with which you are presented at the beginning of the campaign, the easier (relatively) your journey will be. Research new technologies and businesses, unlocking new buildings, upgrades and edicts to improve your economic, military, tourist and religious standings.
While the campaign expects you see your civilization flourish over a decade and more, Missions mode lets you experience just how wacky Tropico 5 can be. One mission – ‘The Big Cheese’ – tasks you with taking your small tropical island from the depths of obscurity to the heady heights of being the most prolific cheese manufacturer in the world. No that isn’t a mistype – this scenario genuinely pushes you to export $120,000 worth of premium cheeses, all whilst juggling all the other factors necessary for a successful dictatorship.
Sandbox mode strips out the restrictions of Campaign or Missions, and instead gives you a degree freedom not found in the other modes. You are still challenged with escaping from the iron grasp of the outside monarchy, but once are free from the crown’s clutches Tropico takes on a much more relaxed feel. You can access all the trade routes, have freedom to build at will and explore Tropico to the full. Completing objectives is entirely optional here.
Part of Tropico‘s overall charm is how beautifully it is designed. While not as visually crisp or polished as other games from this generation, it’s by no means an eyesore and it’s certainly fun to explore your island, replete with rolling hills and flat arid desert lands. There’s a charm in the animations, too; seeing your rural and relatively unexplored town develop into a bustling hub of trade and industry is a joy. Roads change from dirt tracks to tarmac clad highways, goods transported back and forth to the docks more efficiently by means of articulated lorry .
The user interface – often a bugbear in a genre more used to keyboard and mouse – is well designed; the oft-used construction menu can be accessed by simply pressing the Y and almost everything necessary to lead a successful nation is accessible through pressing either the right or left trigger and then one of the controller face buttons. Menus will give you access to your edicts to enable you to issue laws, and change the constitution (determining whether you rule with an iron first or take amore sympathetic approach). Importantly, key statistics – such as the number of unemployed and homeless in your town as well as graphs gauging how well you’re doing on fulfilling various civilian needs – are never more than a couple of button-presses away.
The one thing you’ll take away from your first experience of Tropico 5 is that it tests you. it is frustratingly challenging at times, but still maintains a wonderful quality that encourages you to take your failure and use it to fuel your future expeditions. You’re encouraged to try different play styles to progress further through the campaign on each successive attempt.
In no way does this game take itself seriously, something we had realised long before we found ourselves writing an opera for a pirate king to atone for the offense caused by offering him a cheese not permeated with holes. Tropico will guide you but soon enough the reins will come off and you’ll be unleashed to lead as you see fit. From disgruntled foreign nations to natural disasters, everything will test your powers of dictatorship. Have you got what it takes?
Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition includes “The Big Cheese” and “Hostile Takeover” add ons, and five brand new and exclusive Xbox One maps.
Haemimont Games’ Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition is available from the Xbox Store from 27 May.
Get your dictatorship on with the fifth - and toughest - entry in the Tropico series.
Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition is the most challenging game of the series, and whilst there’s a lot to enjoy the campaign will offer significant test. The relaxed sandbox mode, though, makes for a nice change of pace while the irreverent humor and less-then-serious approach to leadership makes this game worthy of consideration by fans of the genre.