Viva la Revolucion!
September 25, 2009 – The original Tropico game was released for PC back in 2001 and sought to ask one simple question: Who wants to be the dictator of an up and coming, Cold War era banana republic? It turns out more people than you’d expect, as the original IP was a hit – at least popular enough to spawn two sequels and create several expansions.
When it hit the shelves, Tropico’s formula was simple and ingenious. Instead of being some unknown, godlike force building a city for the sheer joy of architectural and economic superiority, why not put you in the shoes of the island nation’s leader and give you the keys to the kingdom to run it as you see fit? It was a good instinct and developer PopTop Software created an engaging strategy sub-genre (sim-dictator) with a good amount of humor and enough tongue-in-cheek references to Cold War era headlines and newsmakers to satisfy anybody with a Che t-shirt.
The game’s sequel Tropico 2: Pirate Cove was not as well received, as the new development team, Frog City Software, and the same gathering of publishers (along with newcomer Take Two) decided to focus this time on the fictional (duh) Pirate Island. The new objective was to take control of Pirate Island as the Pirate King and amass as much gold as you could sink your hook into while keeping your scurvy squad of pirate colleagues from rebelling and your prisoners/workers from escaping the island and bringing a navy back with them.
Gamers didn’t take as much to this new interpretation as the original, and new developer Haemimont Games AD (from Bulgaria no less) and publisher Kalypso Media (PopTop Software was absorbed by Firaxis a while ago and Kalypso purchased the rights to the sequel in 2008) wisely decided to return the franchise to its faux-Caribbean roots (Am I the only one who wonders what happened to Tropico 1.5: Slobodan Milosevic edition?).
Players will see the results on the Xbox 360 and PC in October, but the gameplay will be familiar to anybody who played the first Tropico. When the game begins, players will be flown into the newly seized seat of power and handed the reins to an island with little more than a few shacks, a presidential palace, couple of docks, and a set of workers/army. From here it’s up to the fledgling leader of your new empire to increase agriculture, strengthen the army, protect your country from foreign invasion, and placate the masses. Of course, nobody would blame you if you pocketed a few million for retirement, in fact it’s encouraged. Along with the maintenance of your authority, Tropico 3 will evaluate players based on their final fortune. But all this comes later.
At the onset of gameplay, players will decide who they are and what kind of dictator they’re going to be. In the first game, players could choose from icons like Juan and Eva Peron, Noriega, and Pinochet as player avatars. Tropico 3 provides players with similar archetypes (Guevara or Castro for instance) or create an original leader by choosing your appearance, background, and flaws and strengths. Background provides you with favor from differing factions early on, which affect gameplay right from the start. Are you a Communist former general? The Soviets will be much more diplomatic, and the KGB will make recruiting soldiers a breeze, but the capitalists on your island and the Americans might not be so eager to help you out. Are you a religious autocrat installed by a CIA coup? The faithful will respect you more and those US dollars will be coming in regularly, but the communist faction on the island might get fed up enough to stage a revolution. From religious Tropicans to capitalists and the foreign interests (US and Soviet Union), each of the game’s several factions will provide you with benefits for furthering their goals. Flaws and strengths add an extra dimension to gameplay with buffs and anti-buffs making you popular with one or more factions or, conversely, making some group of your people respect you less.
As in life, the key in Tropico 3 is balance. While building your national economy-selecting crops to grow and export, building roads to transport, managing docks to ship things, and brokering deals with distributors-you must also create a powerful infrastructure, protect your nation from foreign invasion, protect yourself from a revolution by placating the people and even manage your country’s elections (who needs ’em I say). As ‘El Presidente’ the people are counting on you, literally, for everything from food to faith. If things get rough, you can make speeches, assassinate dissidents, or build hospitals, churches, or army bases. Benevolence and militaristic dictatorship are in the balance. When the game releases in October, you’ll have the future of the island of Tropico on your shoulders. Don’t blow it.