Ever dream of being the tyrannical dictator of your own island country? Of course you have! Who hasn't? For years the Tropico series has been here to bring that fantasy to virtual life, and now, with the release of Tropico 5, the life of an island dictator has even more to offer than ever before... if you can actually get the blasted game to run, that is.
Before getting any further in this review, let's be clear about one thing: Tropico 5 has some serious issues on the PC. Many gamers suffer from video glitches, DirectX compatibility problems, or the game just flat-out not responding. Developers Haemimont Games have been quick to discuss such issues on the forums, and promise that a fix is incoming soon, but if you plan to purchase this game, perhaps you should either grab it for consoles or wait a while to get it on PC.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get into the nitty-gritty of this sunshine-infused dictator simulator. Tropico 5 offers more gameplay options than ever, taking the core, Simcity-esque gameplay of previous Tropico games and adding the occasional enhancements where necessary. As your highly-customizable dictator, you're the big cheese on the little island of Tropico, in charge of shaping the country into the type of place you'd like to live. You can create a thriving agricultural paradise, tropical getaway, or brutal military regime— the choice is yours! With your (initially) limited budget you'll construct new buildings, establish trade routes, and make a slew of decisions which will impact the socio-political climate. If you want to declare independence, you'll need to gather support from revolutionaries and make sure you've either got the guns or the gold to back up your thirst for freedom. If you want to line your own pockets to ensure a high score, you'll need to keep the people uneducated and poor so they don't ever catch on to just how much you're screwing them over. Small decisions early on can lead to a snowball effect, greatly impacting a game later on, so it pays to think carefully about what you want and how to achieve it.
Fortunately, Tropico 5 is pretty upfront about its game mechanics. By say, showing you where to build (or not to build) your plantations, and what the short and long-term impact of your choices will be, you get a better idea of how to get the most out of your resources without having to dig through guides or wikis to figure out what you’re doing. Anything that isn't spelled out clearly is easy enough to find with a click or two, as Tropico 5 has all sorts of charts and lists you can thumb through to find out everything about anything. Though some gamers might decry having game mechanics spelled out for them, for most, these little touches help make Tropico 5's moment to moment gameplay much more enjoyable.
Tropico 5 offers four game modes in which to get your tyrant on. There's a fairly robust tutorial which explains the ins and outs of everything from construction to camera movement. There's a campaign, which serves as a bit of a tutorial 2.0, helping you perfect the more subtle nuances of Tropico 5 while providing you with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek story featuring a variety of memorable, goofy characters.
Sandbox mode will probably be the largest draw for most gamers, as it lets you play precisely the way you want. You can manipulate several aspects of difficulty such as the frequency with which disasters or political unrest strike, how much money you start with, and how rich your island's resources are. If you want to play around in the sandbox infinitely, you can, but you can also set specific requirements for victory, such as requiring the finished construction of a space program or the acquisition of a certain number of points. Though it seems like a small thing, letting gamers choose how they'd like to win in a game so free-form is incredibly rewarding, and really adds to the replay value. Lastly, if you're in the mood for something a bit more unpredictable, there's multiplayer, which puts you on an island with up to three other players and tasks you with either working together or against each other to create the ultimate regime. Multiplayer, while neat, isn't quite as lively as the multiplayer of true RTS titles like Age of Empires, as you're often playing near, but not quite with or against, the other players. Tropico’s mechanics just don't require that much interaction. Plus, as of right now, it's very hit-and-miss as to whether or not the multiplayer actually functions, so it's less of a selling point and more of a frivolous distraction.
so it's less of a selling point and more of a frivolous distraction.
For all you game developers out there, here's a pro-tip: it's okay if you make players use the keyboard in a PC game; not everything needs to be operated via mouse. Tropico 5, however, seems to think that the mouse is the one true gaming peripheral, leading to controls that feel a bit too unwieldy and context-sensitive. Left click functions as it does in most games, but right-clicking pulls up the construction menu, which feels awkward and unintuitive. There are also little problems here and there. The fact that you can't zoom the camera in or out while placing buildings, or how some of the sub-menus are so twitchy you'll have to find them to click on the information you really want, warrants some head-scratching. While each of these things aren't that big of a deal on their own, they collectively drag the experience down.
Tropico 5 does refine a number of elements in this long-running series, if you're a veteran, don't expect anything radical. Sure, it's prettier than Tropico 4, and some new additions, such as the aforementioned trade routes, or advancing your island through distinct eras, do add some nice flavor, but the overall gameplay is basically the same— which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The previous Tropicos are all great games, and this one sticks with what works while paring away something that didn't. If you enjoy SimCity, any of the previous Tropico games, or city-building games in general, you'll probably find a lot to like here— unless you get it for PC, in which case you may not be able to play it until its developers get their coding under control.
This review is based on a purchased download of Tropico 5 for the PC.