Stogies and Fatigues
The Tropico series has put a very interesting twist on the classic city-builder simulation. Taking on the role of dictator or ‘El Presidente’ of a fictitious, Caribbean island nation means you’ll be bending your people to your will, playing world powers against each other, and, of course, padding your Swiss bank account with funds siphoned from the national treasury. Hey, retirement pensions have to be set up for the ominous day when the populace, or a foreign threat, removes you from power.
In Tropico 3, you’ll have to do a lot more than just build infrastructure, industry, and tourism to see your country flourish, you’ll have to balance tons of internal and external political pressures in order to rule your nation successfully. You see, rather than living in a vacuum, factors such as foreign trade, political ideologies, immigration and emigration, religion, health care, quality of life, foreign perception of your nation, and much more all play a vital role in the stability, or lack thereof, of your rule.
For example, you’ll have to build farms that both feed your population and fill the country’s coffers; getting one of the two off kilter can lead to drastic consequences such as widespread starvation or serious debt. Such incompetence will eventually draw the ire of the U.S. or U.S.S.R., which will lead to you being deposed. In the same vein, foreign conglomerates will try to support and/or sabotage your labor force and industry. If you allow a company to come in and use your countryside and workforce for their fiscal endeavors, you can expect to be given kickbacks, infrastructural improvements, and even cold, hard cash. On the contrary, give an exclusive deal to one outfit and you may find a snubbed competitor meddling in your internal affairs, inciting strikes and riots.
Additionally, government buildings provide their own challenges. A clinic, for instance, will not only improve the health of your citizenry, but it can also improve the fertility of your population or even the longevity of tourists. Of course, getting trained professionals means shelling out a lot of cash and recruiting skilled foreign workers. In order to get educated helping hands, you’ll likely have to build an immigration office and set attractive parameters. However, bringing in too many foreigners will upset the Nationalist faction, which, with enough disapproval, could also lead to a coup d’état. That’s when you may have to decide to walk the streets of your nation, shaking hands and kissing babies along the way. Or, perhaps you’ll prefer to address your paisanos directly from the podium; be careful though, failure to make good on your promises could also get you into hot water. Sometimes, when all else fails, you’ll want to simply rule your people with an iron fist; sometimes it’s better to be feared than loved.
As you can see, there is a lot to Tropico 3. Every improvement you make, program you start, deal you cut, or allegiance you forge will have consequences – both good and bad. Striking the right balance typically means pissing off the least amount of people. After all, even if your island is rolling in dough and your people are contentedly suckling at the swollen, capitalist teat you’ve provided, you’ll still have to worry about the Communists steamrolling your best laid plans. Heck, even too much outrageous nightlife, which will attract loads of tourists, will have the religious faction within your country whispering revolution. Tropico 3 is full of intricacies that will challenge you time and time again.
All of the complexity, strategy, and fun found in the PC version, surprisingly, have been well translated to the home console. While such strategy games are typically a no-go with console controllers, the development team at Haemimont Games really outdid themselves; they successfully horseshoed the innumerable in-game commands onto the console interface device in a logical and accessible way. In fact, this might be the most impressive feat pulled off by the devs. If the controls weren’t as good as they are this game would have really suffered mightily. That being said, things still aren’t perfect. For starters, despite the logical control mapping, there is a lot to learn, so there’s something of a steep learning curve. This could discourage some players.
Furthermore, laying out infrastructure can be trying, especially on rough, island terrain. Laying down roads that maximize efficiency and still leave you with space to plant crops and construct buildings is an often frustrating experience with the Xbox 360 controller.
Graphics and sounds aren’t nearly as compelling as the controls are, but they still support gameplay nicely. Your island nation is well rendered with recognizable buildings and even people and cars roaming the street. However, there isn’t a lot of detail to get excited about. In terms of visuals, things are skewed toward functionality rather than beauty. The aural complements are far worse. While I enjoyed the pseudo Tito Puente / Celia Cruz menu tunes, things get repetitive and the game itself is often devoid of a soundtrack. Morover, the “radio” announcements that give you an overall idea of the events and state of your nation are quite bad; the guy doing the announcing seems to be stuck between five different accents, none of which come through clearly.
Tropico 3 is a good translation of a quality strategy game. Even on the Xbox 360, there are hours and hours of fun to be had, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series evolves now that it has ventured away from the PC. What Tropico 3 seems to be missing is PvP, online matches. While most LIVE gamers likely aren’t patient enough to slog through hour after hour of turn-based strategy a la the Civilization franchise, putting players in control of a number of factions on the same island with some strategy-lite game modes could be great fun. Alas, all you’ll find here is leaderboard support.
Tropico 3 for Xbox 360 is one of the best strategy games available for the platform, so console gamers looking for this type of gameplay will be pleasantly surprised. Of course, the PC version still trumps the console edition, so don’t expect miracles.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The game looks good, but the visuals do little more than nicely support gameplay. 4.1 Control
Though they’re not ideal, the developers did an excellent job creating a user-friendly interface. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds are serviceable but should have been a lot better. 4.0 Play Value
Tropico 3 offers gamers hours of strategic goodness on Xbox 360. However, playing by yourself will probably only hold your interest for short stints. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.