Tropico 4 Review
Written : Monday, December 12, 2011
By: Lee Abrahams
Welcome back to paradise. No time for relaxing or sunning yourself though, as there is plenty of work to be done to turn this crackpot nation into a world beater. You may have to grease a few palms, do a few dodgy deals and generally get up to no good, but hey, the peons will benefit in the long run right? Plus, if your Swiss bank account manages to grow ever so slightly in that period, it just proves what a damn fine job you did. Just remember to cut and run at the right point in time, or you may have a gaggle of angry rebels chasing your illustrious coat tails. Come, Tropico awaits.
As you would expect, Tropico 4 is a subtle reworking of the last game in the series, and features many of the same general principles with a few tweaks to help keep things interesting. In fact the biggest change is probably the most welcome, as the game's tutorial feels much more useful this time around, and helpfully tries to explain all of the little functions that can help to make your time as El Presidente run as smoothly as possible. It’s also nice to see little tips and helpful nudges pop up during the main campaign too, so if it seems like you are veering off course the game will help to steer you back without looming over your shoulder Big Brother style. It’s a neat touch and one that instantly makes the game much more accessible to newcomers.
"Nothing to see here citizen."
Once you have navigated the tutorials then you can warm up with a few easier missions until you know the ropes. If you struggle with building works or debt then people will hop in with the odd donation to help you out, but don’t be expecting such charity later on when things really get tough. Each mission has a set objective to accomplish and the balance feels much better this time around, as you are forced to utilise various resources and money making methods to attain your goal. Last time around it felt as though you could complete every mission by sticking to an identikit formula but the developers have done a pretty good job of mixing up your comfort zone this time around. Though it is safe to say that good ways to make money will always remain as such even in a pinch.
The breadth of your scope is also much broader in scale in Tropico 4. Starting off with a few people and a couple of farms, you can choose to go into the farming business, raise some cattle, mine resources or even search out oil. Every crop can be industrialised in some way to raise its value and earn even more cash, but to do so you will need smarter workers so it may be time to invest in some schools. The smarter folk get though, the more ideas they'll have and the more they will need to be satisfied. Healthcare, religion, entertainment, crime control and military needs all require careful management to make sure the island runs smoothly and to prevent people getting antsy.
Island dwellers can fall into a number of factions, each with their own way of thinking and agenda. If you ignore a faction for too long then you could be looking at an army of rebels knocking down your door, criminals roaming the streets, or worse, peaceful protests. Damn their cunning. Obviously pandering to their needs will help turn them around in the long term or a swift pay rise or bribe to the faction leader might be a bit more your style. You also have to manage foreign nations and prevent them from turning up on your doorstep with an army, so balancing their demands with those of your own economy is a necessity, though you can also wangle money and helpful aid from them if you play things right.
"They do say that bad things happen in threes."
Cleverly the game allows you to curry support with island factions and foreign nationals by offering up a variety of agenda missions that you can complete for extra cash, slush money or respect. These can cover a range of tasks from building certain things, to issuing edicts or even exporting a set number of goods. It helps to keep things interesting to have a range of smaller goals to work towards this time around, and means you always have something new to accomplish.
The range of buildings and abilities available to you is fairly impressive too, as you can literally tailor your commerce in a number of ways to suit your style. You can also tailor your personal Presidente to give him the abilities to get the most out of the mission at hand, not to mention levelling up said abilities to make him or her even more influential next time around. Watching your bustling tropical paradise grow and succeed is immensely satisfying, especially as you can manage things from the ground up with an array of helpful almanac guides, resource overlays and building specific details such as wages, productivity and upgrades. No aspect of island activity is overlooked while things are never presented in such a way that it makes you feel out of your depth either.
The greatest aspect of Tropico is the beautiful tongue-in-cheek humour, which pervades every aspect of the game. Building a nuclear arsenal as a Superpower deterrent or wiretapping your citizens is all fun times, as is being approached by Richard Nixon look-alikes offering dodgy deals. You can be as straight-laced or dodgy as you like, with the chance to build an economy using responsible methods or under the table guile. Any game that lets you booby trap a tourist attraction is certainly one that has a sense of humour, but it is also nice to see that every action, both good and bad, has various shades or grey attached to it so you can never truly rule out a certain approach depending on the situation. Which is a fancy way of saying BE EVIL. You know it makes sense. Plus, the voice work is as cheesy as hell and we love it. Hearing people moan when you build a garbage dump next to their house or having Russian agents cosy up to you is pure gold. Sure it may well by clichéd, but that’s kind of the point.
"A lush paradise ripe for exploitation. I mean, benevolence."
The achievement list does have a suspiciously familiar look to it if truth by told, with a lot of tasks ported wholesale from the last title. There are enough new tasks to keep you interested though, like surviving major catastrophes or offing a specifically named citizen (sorry Juanito – you were worth 15G). You will also have to make it through all of the campaign and accomplish success with industry, tourism and the like, The one irksome task is maxing out the levels of every single attribute though which could take a lot of time depending on which you favour generally.
Tropico 4 builds upon its predecessor in almost every respect, though it is a shame to see the occasional save glitch still present and (in)correct. Surely after a couple of years worth of development time it could have been fixed? Other than that irregular annoyance though this is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, whether it’s casually building your utopia or subjugating the masses to your will with unbridled glee. No matter how you choose to rule, Tropico 4 offers up plenty of invention and surprises, and the depth is superb while still being kept amazingly accessible thanks to a more helpful learning curve. Things do start to get a touch repetitive after a while, but only if you aren’t prepared to take on a few new tasks or branch outside of your comfort zone. Being a vicious dictator has never been so grand, though we suppose you bleeding heart liberals can play too.
Stereotypical, clichéd and yet still pretty fun and entertaining. Tongue firmly in cheek is the way forward and the game gets it spot on for the most part.
Lush islands, vibrant buildings and bustling citizens, though things look a touch ragged when you get up close and personal. Still the charm shines through.
The tutorial and in-game guidance helps to make this much easier to get to grips with, though being able to beat most maps with the same basic strategy is slightly disappointing.
An engrossing strategy game that constantly strives to keep you on your toes, if it weren’t for the occasional save glitch this would be a must for anyone trying to build their own island paradise.
A fun and diverse list, though it loses points for being an almost carbon copy of the last title. Thankfully the few new additions are worth a chuckle and help to keep things interesting.
Tropico 4 is a well-crafted update that is subtly better in almost every respect, including more helpful guidance to total newcomers and a steady stream of in-game mini-missions to keep things interesting. That pesky save bug makes an unwelcome return though and really should have been dealt with by now, but that aside you will be lost in a tropical paradise.