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Tim Stone

Sep 11, 2011

Tropico 4

I'm guessing Haemimont's last Latin American despot simulator didn't go down too well in Havana or Buenos Aires. In Tropico 3 if you chose Che Guevara as your avatar you got an inspiring workhorse with alcohol and anger issues. Picking Juan Peron meant donning the dinner jacket of a flatulent moron.

This time out Che's only vice is his paranoia, and super-smart Juan leaves the gaseous emissions to his chemical works. Welcome to the subtly tweaked world of Tropico 4.

While this instalment confirms the series as gaming's most charismatic city builder, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Bulgarian devs are running out of ideas.

We won't be putting this pic on the tourist brochure.

Exhibit 'A': the introduction of pointless building plans and inconsequential ministers. Exhibit 'B': the extra foreign presences. I'm perfectly willing to accept that my tiny banana republic must spend much of the Cold War delicately courting the two superpowers, but should I really be worrying about relations with the Middle East, the 'European Union' and the famously insular Chinese? The Tropicos have always overflowed with tangy period flavour. Anachronistic additions like this only dilute that flavour.

The same could be said for some of the new structures. Many of the added buildables – amenities such as the shopping mall, aqua park and cruise liner – augment the game's lucrative but frothy tourist-industry side. Personally, I'd much rather have seen transport or civil engineering improvements. Four episodes into the series, and we still can't set up bus routes or tram lines, dig tunnels or build bridges. Just as in Tropico 3, the most pressing late-game concerns are usually traffic jams and garage provision. Huge island communities can get by with a single restaurant or pub, but seem to need a vehicle supplier on every corner.

The most useful new facilities have to be the weather and fire stations. Erect these and your populace is protected from the worst ravages of volcanoes, tsunamis and twisters. More tiresome than fearsome, these natural disasters are accompanied by some of the game's most toe-curling humour. When the DJ narrators make sly references to El Presidente's colossal ego or economic illiteracy, giggles are sometimes justified. When they make jokes about tsunamis and earthquakes, it's hard not to think about Japan and Haiti, and cringe.

Sod the tourists, I want a surveillance blimp.

I did find myself chortling at the nods to the Chilean miner rescue and Icelandic dust cloud. The 20 story missions milk recent news events mercilessly. Crammed with optional challenges and intermediate goals, the campaign episodes feel more structured and, perhaps, a tad easier than those in Tropico 3. They are, however, just as silly, and just as effective at turning spare time into sprawling shore-to-shore cityscapes. You know how it goes. You tell yourself you'll go to bed after the construction of your first pineapple plantation and cannery. You finally crawl off to Bedfordshire four hours later, the happy overseer of a tinned fruit empire Señor Del Monte himself would be proud of.

I suspect the fresh batch of infectious salsa rhythms has a part to play in Tropico 4's compulsiveness. (There's just something about those driving Latin beats that makes me want to build another cigar factory and abduct another opponent.) The streamlined interface also ensures the game is dangerously easy to play.

Don't let anyone tell you they didn't enjoy this palm-fringed politics-'em-up. Do, however, report them to your local party official, if they claim not to be bothered by the game's woeful lack of revolutionary spirit.

Tropico 4

It’s not a great leap forward, but growing bananas and rigging elections remains remarkably entertaining

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