Tropico 4 Review

Queensland: The next banana republic?

Ironed uniforms. We're big time now.

Once upon a time, there was a game called Tropico. It was released in 2001, which as any decent PC gamer will be able to tell you, was a time period when 3D was firmly entrenched as the best tech around, and anything that was in 2D isometric was pretty much laughed at unless it was an RTS or had some sort of really good gameplay mechanic. At the time, most RTS games couldn’t get the camera right, and watching little blocky things representing people wander across a map wasn’t a load of fun, let alone trying to point the camera at them. Tropico had 2D graphics but was pretty well known for being a fun little part-tycoon game which let you act as El Presidente of a tropical island, which might as well have been called “My First Cuba.” The tongue-in-cheek approach won over a lot of fans. Then Tropico 2 came out a bit later and had pirates, and some people liked it (I didn’t). And then Tropico 3 came out in 2009 from out of nowhere, and was like Tropico, except with 3D graphics.

This new interface, I like it not.

It’s 2011 and Tropico 4 is out. Tropico 3 received an expansion pack and is stil fairly fresh in everyone’s minds, so it doesn’t seem like a massive gap between the games. Still, it’s long enough that you’d expect something a little bit new. Right? Nope! When I played Tropico 3, my impression was “This is just like Tropico, except in 3D!” which was a good thing because they’d kept the core gameplay mechanics and generally improved it by kicking it into 3D and updating a few of the gameplay mechanics to make it a bit more entertaining. Tropico 4 pretty much… well, at first I couldn’t exactly figure out what they did except change the interface around for no good reason. Actually apart from that, it’s pretty much Tropico 3. Just with slightly different graphics and voices.

Roads are for walking.

The interface has been modified for some ridiculous reason. They’ve kept the little box in the lower left for the Minimap and all that, but they’ve ditched the horizontal bar at the bottom which used to hold everything. Instead, floating menus appear for everything. I wouldn’t complain so much about this, but the menus are a bit frustrating and they seem to have modified some things just for the sake of it being different. Which pisses me off, because apart from this I just feel like I’m playing Tropico 3, so if they’re not going to drastically change things, why screw around with the interface? Building statistics and options now appear in the upper right corner of the screen. Why? What was wrong with the bar down the bottom? I thought that worked pretty good, why so I have all this bullshit floating on the screen? And it does it for everything, including edicts. It’s annoying, and I don’t like it.

Didn't we see this back in 2009 or something?

The core gameplay mechanics haven’t changed; all you need to do is stay in power using all of the tools at your disposal. In general this means keeping everybody happy, though there are more violent options available which can work in the short term, but are nowhere near as effective as just playing nice. Pretty much most of the 3rd game is exactly the same in Tropico 4; you use farms for food and export, mines for exporting raw materials or as part of a supply chain utilising factories, keep building housing so that people don’t live in shacks, build clinics, that sort of crap. The tourist stuff is back as well. There are new buildings, like a shopping centre, the stock exchange, and the ministry, but for the most part you’re in familiar territory. There are also new superpowers beyond just the US and USSR, including the European Union, the Middle East, and China. Why the hell did that need to happen? The entire point of the original was just you were a backwater, tinpot dictatorship caught between the Cold War powers preaching their own imperialistic dogma and looking for another island paradise to claim as a surrogate base. The Foreign Policies still boil down to US/USSR though, so why we needed these extra territories is a bit of a mystery to me.

At least some parts of the engine have been upgraded.

The familiarity extends right to creating your own El Presidente, with all of the options taken straight from Tropico 3. The only real change is that you’re not forced to take bad traits any longer. I constructed myself as a charismatic, populist, patriot War Hero who was elected as a Fascist. Pretty much no penalties at all. Tropico 3 forced you to take some flaws to keep it balanced, as opposed to letting you stomp all over everybody in sight. In one smooth move, Kalypso have wiped that one off the map. It’s like they’ve changed a few things just for the hell of it. I don’t understand why this is a whole new game.

This man's advance is ponderous and implacable. Like death!

Okay, there are new missions (20 of them), and new disasters, and some new buildings. There is a bit more direction in terms of gameplay and room for accomplishment because factions and nations now offer you missions that you can accept or decline (like exporting 500 units of salt or something). But even then, with all this stuff, it still feels exactly like Tropico 3, just with a few new bits and pieces tossed in for the hell of it. I can’t actually find anything to fault with Tropico 4, because it’s basically Tropico 3, and Tropico 3 is a very good game. But I can’t help but think they missed a few opportunities here, say for removing some of the more frustrating elements of gameplay (like the ledger used for information about citizens and happiness, which could have used a much better user interface) as opposed to just adding new buildings for the hell of it. Yeah it’s nice to be able to build a salt mine, but why the hell did you bother adding it? Why was this a new game, and not an expansion?

Ministry for Silly Walks?

In addition to this, they’ve added in social media options for Facebook and Twitter, so you can tell your friends about… I don’t know, how Soldantville is doing or something. Why the hell would they do that? What purpose does it serve? I hate this new social media bullshit that’s going on. You know what I hate? That dickhead that stands there yelling “The government wants to control you! Don’t fill out the census, they’re just data mining for the corporations! Fight the man behind the curtain!” Meanwhile they’re posting a bunch of stuff to Twitter and Facebook, checking in at every location they set foot in, and having their pictures plastered all over the Internet. And you go up to them and say “You know Facebook gives anyone all the information they could ever want to know about you, way more than the Census would ever provide?” and they’re all like “No way man Facebook is cool and stuff” and you say “What are you studying?” and they go “Political Science” and you’re all like “You useless son of a bitch stop this hipster protesting bullshit, this is Subway, where’s my fucking sandwich?” and they cry themselves to sleep knowing they’ll never have a real job.

…okay, I feel a lot better now. Even worse, it took me 2 years of Criminology to realise that I was wasting my time there, before I went on to nursing, and later to law. What does that have to do with Tropico 4? Jack friggin’ shit, but this isn’t a professional review. Do professional reviews exist? Not in this day and age. Incidentally, DisCONNECT’s review style is changing, yet again, to a simple final grade without any breakdowns. In case you’ve forgotten, the grades are Excellent, Good, Pass, Poor, and Fail.

Edicts blah blah blah.

I can’t give Tropico 4 any more than a passing grade. This isn’t because the game is bad, nor should anything less than “Good” be interpreted as “Utter Shit”. It’s simply because it doesn’t do anything particularly new with the game. Tropico 3 was an evolution in a series that was gone for several years and presumed dead. Tropico 4 has had a bit of time to mix things up, and they didn’t do it. They just released what is essentially an expansion pack, turned it into a new game, and decided to sell it. If you have Tropico 3, there’s no real reason to get this one. If you didn’t play it, then mark this one up to Good and give it a shot. For fans of the series though, the lack of innovation and new content is fairly disappointing. Taking existing concepts and just adding a new building that uses the exact same mechanic isn’t making something really new, it’s just sticking another graphic onto the same thing. Tropico 4 doesn’t do anything wrong, but it doesn’t do anything new either.