El Presidente’s Legacy Continues
Ah, life on a tropical island, with its wonderful pleasures, laid back attitudes, and dictators with a firm grasp on every aspect of society. In Tropico 5 you are the one in control, deciding which crops to grow, how many people get the luxury of living in houses, and how to cheat your way to electoral victory. There are more than enough activities to keep you busy, and more than enough problems that you’ll need to keep the rum bottle close. You are El Presidente! Well… almost.
Unlike past Tropico titles, your rule is not absolute from the get go. Thanks to the welcome addition of an era system, you actually begin the game as the governor of a newly colonized island. Appeasing or dismissing the Crown country is the most important decision you’ll make during the colonial period, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do both during your mandate as governor. You’ll be given requests from the king as well as tasks from the revolutionaries eager to break from the motherland. Having an almost constant list of objectives keeps the game from slipping into monotonous city-building, but can also send mixed messages. You may receive an ultimatum from the Crown by rejecting a request, only to have them send you a commendation seconds later for completing a separate task.
After swinging fifty percent of the popular vote, you’ll gain independence through purchasing the land or through conflict. This marks the end of the colonial era and moves you into the World Wars era. New buildings are unlocked, new research becomes available, and now you must choose to side with the Axis or the Allies, or tick them both off trying to maintain neutrality. After the World Wars comes the Cold War, and again is a struggle between two major powers, the Soviets and the United States, both trying to gain your approval and support. Once you move into the Modern Times, it’s the final stretch to victory, based on points, completing a nuclear program or making it to space.
The tutorial benefits new Tropico players and veterans alike. There are certain familiar concepts, such as building revenue through trade and keeping the locals happy with entertainment and luxuries. But the era system provides a vigilant watch throughout the entirety of your empire building endeavor, quelling the former strategy in Tropico games of building a strong nation early and riding the profits to victory. The campaign mode is actually more of a substantive tutorial, piecing together singular objectives that familiarizes the player with deeper concepts such as the effects of taxes and imports/exports. There’s also a sandbox mode that gives you the freedom of selecting your island, your starting era, even having unlimited gold to play around with. Finally, we have the first Tropico title with multiplayer, and it is a decent attempt. Sharing an island with another player, you can play cooperatively and keep the peace locked, or competitively and battle for control of the island. Victory in the competitive mode is determined by winning challenges, such as exporting certain goods or building certain structures, instead of military might. Troops play more of a supplemental role by removing fog of war rather than offensive strikes.
No matter what mode you’re playing in, your dynasty travels with you. In Tropico 5 you not only play as El Presidente, but build a family legacy. Your offspring come packed with overworld perks as well as managerial bonuses when put in charge of a business. Their skill grows the more you play, and though you will eventually pass away, the legacy lives on through the unfaltering support of your family. Well, almost. Depending on the decisions you make with their career path, or whether you use them as emissaries, their opinion of you has a chance to change. You could play the sheltering father, keeping them away from possible corruption, but then their skills would remain low, and not make for fine successors when it is time for you to step down. As with everything in the game, success or failure is about the choice you make.
Things aren’t so hunky dory with the rest of the populace though. Every citizen of your nation can be put under the microscope, where you can see the various factors that determine their approval of your job as their leader. Housing and job quality, crime safety, liberty, religion, and more determine their overall happiness. You can also check recent thoughts and see which political faction they lean towards. You of course have ways to persuade or silence them to shift the islands opinion in your favor. Or you can be civilized and generous, making sure every citizen has a job and a comfortable place to live by building industries and residences.
Your decisions come at a price though, literally. Resource production and export is the main source of income, but if buildings are not performing effectively and workers aren’t happy, you’ll end up in the red instead of making a profit. This can be offset by making shady trade deals with pirates and imposing edicts. Like in real life politics, every decision you make can have an adverse effect, and you will never be able to please everyone. Tropico 5 constantly throws choices your way, which you can work hard to find the perfect balance, or be prepared for the consequences that will inevitably arise. You also have to contend with natural disasters, things like volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, oil spills, and other catastrophic events that can easily upend all your hard work and have you scrambling to recover.
Though there are harsh decisions to be made in our taboo perception of dictatorship, the game brushes aside any dourness and replaces it with mocking humor. At critical moments we will hear radio broadcasts from a bubbly announcer reminding us that everything should be taken lightly. A homeless person may elicit pity, but when their thoughts are about taxing people as a tourist attraction because of it, it’s hard to take them seriously. Even the quests find jovial tones. The United States may request you build a waste treatment plant to hide rockets for them, but then a subsequent quest has you building a pig ranch next to the treatment plant because the pig manure is needed to coat the rockets and stop them from exploding due to a design flaw.
The music also keeps the game perpetually laid back. The ever present upbeat Latin music plays lightly in the background, and doesn’t change even when angry citizens are storming the palace or tornados are sweeping through the city. It seems out of place during many of these moments, but again I believe it was a design choice to keep the game from getting too serious. The tracks are generic, with trumpets, guitar plucking, and the like. It’s a good backdrop, but nothing memorable.
The visuals are very archaic. Citizens wander around town smoothly enough, and the gentle animations give your city a sense of believability, but closer inspection reveals very rough details. Most buildings are blocky and boring, and the limited character customizations make you look like a dried up prune in a military green outfit. I plopped a clown nose and green hair on my Presidente just to add a splash of color to the bland palette.
In technical respects Tropico 5 feels more like an expansion rather than a successor in the series. Many parts of the gameplay feel similar to past titles, but the inclusion of the era system, an overall campaign that is brimming with choices and consequences, as well as a plausible maiden attempt at multiplayer gives long time fans something new to try out. With touchy political subject matter that is completely mocked and music that makes you move in your seat, it’s hard not to play Tropico 5 without a smile on your face.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Lightly coated animations give your paradise island life, but the overall graphics are very bland and dated. 3.5 Control
Relatively clunky camera controls and sifting through numerous menus are an annoyance. Shaping your ever-growing empire and keeping tabs on everything within it is better than most city builders. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
With the hip moving Latin music playing in the background, you’ll feel all your tension waft away. The voice acting is pretty hammy, but likely designed that way. 4.2 Play Value
It is the most robust Tropico game yet, though many features still feel recycled. The online multiplayer is a valiant first effort, but let’s hope it is given more attention in the next incarnation. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best