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Tropico 5 delivers heart-warming tyranny without any real surprises (review)

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If I change my plantations to tobacco, my people would starve, but it would lower the national debt and help pay for my new opera house. I guess I could just issue an edict that forced these freeloading peasants to pay for the food they are producing.

Witness the inner dialogue of Tropico 5.

Tropico 5 is the latest offering in a line of city-building simulator games that dates back to 2001. Veteran real-time strategy and simulation game developer Haemimont Games (Omerta: City of Gangsters, Grand Ages: Rome) took its third crack at the series, which takes a fun and lighthearted look at totalitarianism, world history, politics, and economics.

I assumed the role of El Presidente on the PC version and immediately set about making the nation of Tropico, a network of islands under my thumb, into a model society. Xbox 360, Mac, and PS4 players will have to wait to try their hands at world domination.

¡Viva El Presidente! ¡Viva Tropico!

Tropico Zoom Out

Above: Your own slice of paradise! (Warning: Does not contain paradise. May contain bees.)

Image Credit: GamesBeat

What You’ll Like

New simulation game, same great taste

Tropico 5 sticks to the rules of city-building simulators. The resource-gathering, building, research, trade and diplomacy screens are pretty much identical to those found in every other simulator. This is a good thing. These interfaces have remained unchanged for the better part of two decades for a reason, and to change them now would cause an unnecessary shock to the game’s core fan base.

However, Tropico 5 does have something different to show.

The storyline is decent, but it’s the thousands of ways to get from point A to point B in each of Tropico 5’s four historical eras that will keep players interested. It has a million new building and customization options for players. El Presidente can bend buildings to his every whim. Want that plantation to increase its output for the glory of Tropico? Try hiring a manager, upgrading it with a researched technology, or throwing money at it via the budget system. You can even do all three to maximize earning potential! Virtually all of the game’s 100-plus buildings offer this type of micromanagement.

It breaks up the tedium of repetitive city construction with natural disasters that actually mean something. My city was doing great until an earthquake destroyed four of my buildings and damaged six others. I didn’t have the money to fix it all, so I had to get a little creative. Natural disasters in the Total War and Civilization games are pretty pathetic, but I was surprised with how severe they are in Tropico 5.

Tropico 5 Build Screen

Above: Now, why would I want to educate my subjects?!

Image Credit: GamesBeat

A lovable cast of stereotypical characters

Every character in Tropico 5 plays an archetypal role. It has a rough-riding United States president, who is fond of making wagers, drinking until the sun comes up, and taking every opportunity to undercut the Axis and Soviet powers. The embodiment of British colonialism, the bespectacled and top-hat adorned Lord Oaksworth, is there to plunder as much of El Presidente’s goods and materials as possible in the name of a far-off king. A local tavern keeper also runs a public access radio show for some reason, and she spews hilarious and somewhat racist anecdotes about the people of Tropico needing siestas and rum instead of education and money.

And then there is Penultimo, El Presidente’s faithful adviser. Tropico 5 takes a strong stance against the lackluster and annoying guides that permeate many video games and interrupt the general ebb and flow of the campaign. When Penultimo opens his mouth, you know you are going to laugh while you receive that important message, and this makes the interruption a lot more tolerable.

Tropico 5 Penultimo

Above: See? Much better than an annoying fairy screaming “Hey, listen!” every 4 seconds.

Fantastic sound

Fans of the Tropico series know to expect a top-class Latin-infused soundtrack, and the latest installment doesn’t disappoint. I caught myself dancing around an idiot more than a few times while constructing my empire. The music perfectly matches the Cuban theme, and the songs of the looped soundtrack vary enough to keep you from going insane after just a few hours of gameplay. This type of achievement in music isn’t really necessary for a simulator game, but Tropico 5’s score spices up the overall presentation of the game.

What You Won’t Like

Visuals fall short in this crazy, graphic-focused world

City simulators don’t really need stunning graphics. Many developers keep things simple as a matter of practicality. The better the city and townspeople look, the bigger beating the player’s processor takes when it tries to render thousands of citizens scurrying around a beautiful metropolis. A downgrade insures consistent gameplay, which should always be the No. 1 concern.

That said, Tropico 5’s visuals fall a little short of even the modest goals set by other sims. It doesn’t really stack up to the most recent Civilization and Total War games. It has a solid art style that offsets some of its graphical shortcomings, but I can’t help feeling that a little more muscle would have gone a long way in delivering a more polished product.

My video card is a Nvidia 470, and the game recommends a 500 or better. I had all of the recommended specifications beyond that. I ran everything on maxed out settings. Nothing lagged or bugged out in the single-player. Someone on a high-end computer may experience better visuals.

Tropico 5 Graphics

Above: Anyone caught swimming in El Presidente’s ocean will be executed.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

The multiplayer is clunky and needlessly complex

I don’t enjoy the multiplayer modes of most simulation games. I think that simulators are for solo play.

Despite my apprehension, I gathered a posse and rode into the Tropican sunset. And honestly? I should have stayed home.

The only bugs I encountered throughout the entire game (I had finished the single-player campaign before touching the multiplayer features) came out in my third multiplayer game. I was unable to construct buildings or select trade options, which is pretty important for a simulator. I also had a few instances of video and audio cutting out during my co-op adventures.

You get two multiplayer options: Co-op Match and Vs. Match. However, neither of these options live up to their titles. Co-op implies that players can team up against an A.I. foe, but Tropico 5’s multiplayer modes don’t permit bots. This means the only way to play with your friend is to team up against another pair of real players, which isn’t exactly co-op.

The Vs. Match is also misleading due to Tropico 5’s nonviolent tone. It has very few soldiers and almost no fighting. This is actually a nice distinguishing factor for Tropico 5’s single-player options, but it doesn’t really translate well to a player-vs.-player scenario. Rather than building troops to crush one another, players in a Tropico 5 Vs. Match simply race to complete the most side missions, raise the most money, or complete a particular building the fastest. These contests can be fun in their own way, but they don’t stir the competitive spirit the way a multiplayer mode should.

Tropico Bao Bao

Above: A proper trade strategy will keep El Presidente rich and Tropico hungry.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Conclusion

Tropico 5 works in a lot key areas. The controls and interface are familiar and rock-solid, and the spicy music and comical cast keep it fresh. A near-endless supply of customization options adds a necessary strategy element to the title. Dated graphics and a hopeless multiplayer section damage its overall appeal, but fans of the Tropico series and its competitors won’t be disappointed by the newest offering.

Score: 80/100

Tropico 5 is out May 23 for the PC. Xbox 360 and Mac versions are due this summer, and a PS4 version is due in the fall. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a code of the PC version for this review.

2 comments
Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson moderator VB Staff

Tropico has always been great for a break from the strategy games with serious tones. Looking forward to digging into this at some point next week. 

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