Reviewed: September 14, 2011
Released:September 1, 2011
For a game with revolution constantly under the surface, or on its sleeve, Tropico 4 takes a pretty conservative stance to pushing the series forward. Filled with incremental improvements that make it easier and more engaging than ever to fill the role of dictator of a Caribbean island, Tropico 4 never quite takes the steps to fully distinguish itself from the third entry in the series.|
For those new to the series, Tropico is a city-builder, where the player needs to balance the needs of citizens in a third world island nation with economic growth through industry and tourism, as well as building up your military for the time when the public gets restless and revolution starts to spread across your island. Along the way, you have to pander to local political factions, try to please the USSR and US to stave off invasions and secure aid, and, in a new addition to Tropico 4, try to work with lesser powers as well, dealing with the EU, China and the Middle East.
This complicated balancing act is aided by a new addition to the game's information screen, which shows what each faction and nation expects of you, and what you're doing to displease them, removing the guessing game of previous installments of Tropico and giving you access to a quick and easy to-do list. In a game with so many factors to balance, changing the focus from guessing what will please others, and making it a matter of balancing your priorities.
Additionally, faction leaders at home and abroad will always be sure to let you know what they want. While many of these missions are natural extensions of your goals, and were probably things you were planning to do anyways, the times when environmentalists demand you build a wind turbine on an island that has no power draw, when the US requests you start producing and exporting oil on an island with no oil deposits, or when lesser powers ask for a loan from a third world country with a GDP of twenty thousand a year, add a bit of a Kafkaesque vibe to the game's events. Fortunately, aside from a lack of favor and bonuses, there's no real downside to ignoring the more insane requests that come your way.
Past the informational upgrades that Tropico 4 provides, there are a fair number of new additions that refine the game, even if they don't revolutionize it. Nearly two dozen buildings give you new options to please tourists and keep your people in line, and new edicts help flesh out your options. On the other hand, the edit system's newest upgrade, requiring a ministry and ministers to enact policy changes, feels a bit like wasted potential. While you appoint islanders, or appoint foreigners, to high government positions, once there, they simply act as edict dispensers. It seems like the game missed a major opportunity for scheming, bootlicking, and potential governmental strife that would have fit in perfectly with the theme of running a tiny Caribbean nation.
Making your dictator is as fun as ever. Setting up El Presidente's background, rise to power, and traits customizes the way you play fairly well, running from a tourist president to a military dictator, to a sweat-shop operator. In fact, the last is better supported than ever before, with the ability to import raw materials to manufacture into finished goods and ship to America. This new addition to Tropico's economic system is one of the most notable changes, even if it's not a very dramatic one.
When it comes time to play the game, unfortunately, the sandbox mode is where it's at. That's not a bad thing by any means, mind you, since it's a hell of a sandbox, and trying to perform the balancing act that the game demands will keep you busy for a while. The downside is that the game's campaign is fairly lackluster. As a huge fan of campaign modes in strategy games, I was pretty deeply disappointed that Tropico 4's ended up being a rather long tutorial, followed by a number of repeating mission objectives and drawn-out scenarios waiting for counters to hit arbitrarily high numbers. The campaign will certainly teach you how to play the game, but with the enhanced data screens and missions provided to you ingame, it would be pretty safe to skip it and get to the meat of the matter.
All told, Tropico 4 is a good game. While it might not have revolutionized the series, it does a good job of fleshing out some of the options that Tropico 3 lacked. For people interested in city-building games who're new to the series, it'll make an excellent starting point, with more intuitive decision-making than ever before. For series veterans, it'll seem more like a standalone expansion than a full sequel, and it might be good to wait for a Steam sale to bring its price down to match. Either way, it's a game that's well worth having.