Tropico 5 first look: guide a baby dictatorship from the colonial era to the modern age

Coups are delicate work. You've suckled from the teat of a mothering monarchy for decades and it's time to flip some tables, build some barricades and embrace autocracy. But do you have enough food to feed your populace? Can you hide the resentment and plotting of your plebs from your overlords long enough to grow an independent military? Welcome to Tropico 5, the dictatorship sim that lets you build a dubious paradise from scratch.

The latest entry in the Tropico series will now let you manage your country from its historical foundation in the colonial era, through World War II, through the Cold War and up to the present. As always, you'll have to run your city, keep your economy afloat, protect your citizens and squash resistance – dictators aren't fond of delegation. But you'll also have to move through the eras as a political loner, fighting for independence in a shifting sociopolitical climate.

Your constitution is a useful new way to keep yourself in power, and define the sort of country you want to run. What if only men were allowed to vote? Would that keep El Presidente in place? What if only party members were allowed to vote? You can be as brazen as you want if you've got your people under a tight screw. But as the world modernises and becomes more progressive, it becomes harder to hold onto extreme traits without alienating potential trade partners or even provoking military action. “We want to make the player adapt to changing situations. The world does not stay the same,” warns producer Bisser Dyankov.

This means you'll be making interesting decisions about allegiances. Will you sit down with Axis or Allied factions in World War II? Can you make it through the Cold War without being absorbed by an ambitious emerging superpower? You can research new skills that will improve your diplomatic abilities. If you'd rather be an isolationist police state, you can focus on creating a better economy so you're less reliant on trade. Or: resort to illegality. “This is still Tropico,” says Dyankov, “you should be able to embezzle anything.”

The change in timescale is a significant step outside of the comfort zone for a sim that's spent recent years iterating on its core management systems. It's still got the sunny look and tongue-in-cheek tone, but Tropico 5 is showing more ambition than its predecessors. A new combat system will add depth to conflicts and there's a fresh multiplayer mode that'll let you compete for resources with adjacent player-run dictatorships. The addition of multiple eras raises a succession question as well. How will you ensure that El Presidente junior steps into papa's big black boots? Clinging to power is a challenge.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.