Tropico is the newest effort from PopTop Softwere, who enjoyed considerable success with Railroad Tycoon II. Using the same engine with some modifications, PopTop was able to once again successfully make a strategy/simulation game that will bring you back for more. |
At first glance, Tropico may look like a kiddy game, with cartoon-like people and art. Once you start playing it, though, you realize just how deep and complicated it can be. You are the new ruler of a small nation in the Caribbean Sea called Tropico. The year is 1950, and your nation is in a bad state. The people live in shacks, hardly enough corn is grown to feed everyone, and there is almost no economy to speak of.
From the main menu, you can start a new game or load a scenario. The scenarios may look easier since the island is more developed but the difficulty is much harder. Starting a new game, you have a lot of flexibility in how to shape your island. You can make it small or large, flat or hilly, adjust how many people you start with, and some other random options, like being out of the way (lowering immigration and tourism) or being watched carefully by the UN (forcing elections). Then you create your avatar, the new President. You can use a pre-loaded profile of some other famous leaders from around the world, or make your own. First you decide on a face and name, then you pick your background, then how you came to power, and finally two positive and negative traits. All of these add up to have a huge impact on the flavor of the game. Finally, you decide how long you want the game to go – the max is 70 years. Points in the game are awarded for the successful running of your nation and for sending money into your Swiss Bank account – just like a real Latin American dictator! Plus, the overall difficulty influences your score to a large extent.
The game is easy to start playing, with a good tutorial to explain things. The graphics are detailed – you can use a 3D card to add extra sharpness and quality, but it's not critical. You can zoom in on your island from several levels, starting at the top where you see the clouds lazily float by and rain fall on your island, down to a very close level so you can watch exactly what your people are doing. In fact, that's quite a lot of fun. The clock is always moving but you can pause to give orders. There is also an Almanac, which is updated and comes up at the start of every year, but you can also call it up anytime you wish. In here is VERY detailed information, from how much each branch of your industry made that year to which nations immigrants were coming from. You can also click on someone on the map, which brings up a lot of information about them – where they live and work, how their food, religion, and medical bars look (need to make sure you can fill these needs), and what thoughts are on their mind. All of this information is presented in a nice way where you can get important stuff at a glance and then dig in for more detailed information if you wish.
There's no one right way to play, which makes for the huge replayability and fun factor. As previously mentioned, it helps to start a new game with what kind of ruler you want to be in mind. You can be an elected President giving your people a huge degree of freedom, a close ally of the US, making money from tourism and industry. You can be a ruthless dictator, keeping the populace trapped on the island and controlling them with the military while you funnel away as much money as you can into your Swiss account. Or you can be a communist, keeping good relations with the USSR and running a perfect farmer’s republic. The sky is the limit.
The economic model in the game, while not perfect, is quite good. For each building, you can control how much the workers are paid, how much the people must pay to use it, and other special options unique to that building. For example, Banks can either be set to help your infrastructure, reducing building costs, used privately by you to funnel money out of the economy to Switzerland, or geared for tourists, enticing them to set up large bank accounts. You also need to make sure the economy is stable. For example, suppose you order a new banana farm as an export crop. First, it has to be built, which requires a construction office with people fairly close. Then, people have to be hired to start work there as farmers. They plant, grow, and collect the crop. Local people can come by and eat some of the food directly, cutting into the amount of the crop that is sold. Then once the crop is harvested, teamsters (from a teamster office) come by and transport the bananas to a dock, where they sit waiting for a freighter to pull up. When it does, the dockhands deliver it to the ship, and THEN you get your money. If one thing is messed up in this chain, it can really wreak havoc with the economy. You also need to diversify; farming can be profitable but you need to look into mining, forestry, and tourism as well. If the USSR and US like you, they also give aid at the start of each year.
Besides taking care of your people's basic needs – food, housing, work, a place to worship, a place to get medical attention, entertainment, and other needs – you also need to watch their happiness. If the happiness gets too low, they can become rebels, hiding in the bushes and attacking policemen/soldiers and other targets. If the military is unhappy with you, they can also try to oust you. If your palace is destroyed, that's it – time to go. And if you tick off the US or USSR enough, they may send gunboats... if things don't change soon, troops follow.
The election process is also simulated. Once you agree to hold elections, you have a year to make your people happier. You are told who is running against you and you can, if you want, bribe them, arrest them, or even kill them. You also see a graph showing the possible outcome. One month before the election date, you have the choice of a honest election or 'interpreting' the votes to help your chances. You can stay in power until the time limit is up if you can either keep the people happy or your military in control.
My complaints with the game are few and, while annoying, are not major. You can rotate the island in 90-degree turns to see things from a better perspective, but it takes about ten seconds for the computer to do so regardless of your CPU. Some buildings you can rotate to place them but you really can't fine tune their position. Some buildings have to be placed very carefully – if an airport is not built on a flat and clear site, it can take forty years to get it built! Sometimes it’s not very easy to get the people to do what you want them to do. You're not supposed to have direct control over them, but when you are trying to get a farm built on high priority over a pub, and the farm is closer to the construction office, you just HAVE to scratch your head and wonder why. The economic model seems to have flaws, such as HUGE decreases in profits some years, more then ten thousand dollars lost! That can really cripple you when you are trying to grow. Once you get used to the game and learn to find ways around these problems, however, these become minor issues. [Additional comments from Sytass: “I find the way you can evade micromanaging astonishing: SHIFT+click makes changes to all the same buildings, CRTL+click on wages lets you set one wage for all jobs in one education branch. Very slick, very nice.”]
In summary, Tropico is a wonderful and engaging strategy game, combing some unique ideas and setting with the old tried and true aspects of other strategy/sim games. Don't be surprised if this game gets Best Strategy Game of 2001 – it's that good. Once you start playing it, you will discover how deep and complicated the game is, despite first impressions. Two thumbs up!
Reviewed by: SoulBlazer