Tropico 5 Review

By Nelson on July 10, 2014

It's time to start building that tropical city paradise once again with the release of Tropico 5, only this time things have been changed up quite a bit. Now you rule not only through El Presidente but also attempt to make a thriving dynasty, and the time line is expanded more openly to run from the early 1900's to the modern day era.

Anyone familiar with the series will know it's pretty much a straightforward city builder, players are given an area of land or in Tropico's case an island. Populating the island, managing its economy and the welfare of its people are key to victory, though In Tropico's case the welfare of its people only matters in the sense of staying elected and in control. As such the populace will have no issue with telling you how much they disapprove of you by rebelling and starting uprisings, unless you keep their happiness and the many factions in check. The rest of the world also wants your support too, and they'll have a lot more weight to their demands if you choose to upset them. It's a fine balance and one of the things that makes Tropico quite an interesting game because there are many ways to deal with it, such as rebel leader causing you problems, have him killed, the Americans don't like you harbouring crime lords, or just banishing them from your island. There's a diverse way to deal with the situation many of them questionable, but if course if you prefer you can be benevolent too, which for the most part was the playstyle I adopted.

In order to even begin players will need to think carefully about their town to city development, accommodating for the various needs, some of these are more clearly defined like the crime level, or how well your healthcare is working. But others such as how well your people can get around the city, deliver resources and exports and their general needs is much harder to track. Sure you can scrape by, with placing buildings in a decent array and providing enough of each to progress, but with the new introduction of managers things can be much more intensive. Managers come with a wide range of skills, and many of them can be used to really boost the running of your nation, and some of these apply to the buildings around the ones they manage really boosting your production/efficiency capabilities. Once your city gets really big, it starts to get a bit problematic and very easy to lose track of, who is where and what buildings have managers, chances are you'll discover you left one in a really old building and his skills could be much better used elsewhere. It's a nice addition all the same though.

Another addition is as previously mentioned you span the 1900's to the modern day and a bit beyond, this doesn't happen through just time passing, but on the research you manage and developments in the world. Yes, there's a researching system now, and buildings specifically to cater to unlocking new developments, be it access to stronger military buildings to specialised production facilities. The research tree covers four eras: Colonial, Revolution, Cold War and Modern Era, where advancing through each unlocks access to new constructions and edicts. The later is either a one off payment or a monthly cost to enforce some particular order, not always bad but many are questionable, ranging from having your people pay for health care, to giving them more rations, to have a secret police. The way their eras are handled is quite interesting, though for whatever reason the Cold War era is by far the hardest to deal with.

Theres one aspect that the eras feels both great and at the same time frustrating and thats in the campaign itself. The game no longer works on a mission based structured mode and there's sort of a story this time around. Players are given access to two islands and upon picking one construct a city and complete an outlined objective, afterwards they must then build a city on the second island and complete a different objective. The objectives themselves are often fairly straight forward, such as surviving an invasion that will hit in x number of months and completing tasks in the mean time to extend that deadline, to exporting uranium. The problems occurs in that each of these pairs of missions covers an era, the first two colonial, the second two revolution etc. Each time you complete a pair of missions you have to choose which of the two islands you want for the third and fourth, the later you have to chose blindly to some extent as you won't know the objective, and this is a problem because you have to return to the island as it was the last time you did a mission there. This becomes a huge problem if you managed to mess it up and scrape a mission completion before hand, and since there are a total of eight missions on these two islands, getting to the end to find out you've made a huge mistake could be irreparable. Having said that there are ways to combat most situations, but it does feel far more stressful having to plan ahead in time for an objective that conflicts with a previous setup. After having completed those eight missions the game opens up two more islands and at time of writing I can't confirm if there's more beyond the further eight missions.

Aside from that the majority of the game will feel very familiar, and for the most part improved over its predecessors, though from a graphical point of view it doesn't feel that much different, animations and effects are quite similar and the music and humour is still there, which isn't a bad thing. Though the cheery nature of the tropical based sound track will send you loopy when everythings going wrong. Speaking of the humour, the story does focus on that element too and its a bit silly but charming none the less, and the announcers response to various constructions or edicts are still just as smile inducing, at least when things are going to plan!

Additional the game does feature a sandbox mode for players who don't want to be restricted by the campaign itself and new to the series multiplayer for cooperative and competitive play, though at the moment there some issues with the multiplayer such as the ability to save and despite being on steam the friends list is specific to Tropico itself so inviting people you know is more awkward than it should be.

Final Thoughts

Tropico 5 builds on the previous games and the additions add a new level of depth to the success of a thriving island paradise, the eras are interesting and change up the gameplay a bit and the addition of multiplayer is welcome given a few tweaks and changes, and currently patches have been addressing various problems. The campaign does feel a bit restrictive with actually having to plan for the long haul and remembering what state your other island was in when you return to it can be challenging in a bad way. But the game offers more of the same and it works, its satisfying when things are going well, and challenging enough that you'll want to keep trying to turn a series of bad decisions around.

Interesting changes in the form of eras and managers.
Multiplayer is a good concept.
The islands are really well designed.
The campaign feels restrictive.
Hard to manage managers and people when population gets above 1000 (the cap is around 2000)
Still some bugs and issues to sort out.
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