Released almost exactly two years after its PC debut, dictator-simulator Tropico 5 this week finally arrives on the Xbox One, but is it Top Banana or will it be allowed a final cigar before facing the firing squad?
Tropico 5 is, like its predecessors, a city-builder set on an eponymous fictional Caribbean island in which players assume the role of El Presidente. As tin-pot dictator, it is up to you to build plantations and ranches, developing your country through the centuries from lowly banana republic to technological powerhouse. Or tourist paradise. Or military superpower. The choice is yours, oh Glorious Leader.
What’s it all about, Presidente?
Unlike previous Tropicos, this game takes place over a number of distinct eras, each with their own challenges and opportunites, and allows you to control a dynasty of Los Presidentes, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. You start the game in the employ of the British crown as a governor sent to manage their tropical colony and produce some revenue for your beloved monarch. But what’s this? Rebellion is in the air and, as you grow into the sugar capital of the Caribbean, revolutionaries whisper words like “independence” and “constitutional democracy” into your ear. Soon your beautiful plantations are overshadowed by looming fortresses and the people are chanting your name as they sweep the hated redcoats from your sun-bleached shores. Viva la revolucion!
But freedom does not bring peace. Before the ink on your newly minted constitution is dry your Banana Republic is swept up by the tide of war and 1914 is a dangerous time to be making enemies. You must turn your now well-oiled city-management skills to protecting your island from the incursions of your enemies as new technologies become available and your little island falls under the eyes of Axis and Allied powers alike, each offering trade and alliances, but at what cost?
From there you must guide your country through the Great Depression, the treacherous game of nuclear roulette that is the Cold War, and through to the Modern Age and beyond. Will you rule with an iron fist from a throne of skulls, feed your secret Swiss bank account from your opulent palace as your people starve, or weave your way through the political machinations of your enemies and lead your island to a bright and glorious future?
How it plays
Tropico’s guts are its production and trade systems, which have been overhauled somewhat from previous iterations. You build mines, ranches, and plantations where once were palm tree-covered idylls and your teamsters cart all your iron, goats and sugar down to the docks where they’re exported to smugglers and the West India Company early on and then to world superpowers as time marches on. What you produce and with whom you trade are entirely up to you; different trade agreements pop up every now and again and you’ll soon find that some of the more lucrative offers require gaining favour with one foreign power or another. The mechanics here are deceptively simple once you’ve gotten used to the controls and navigating through the different menus available. Every business you build is tweakable with you having control over how much it pays its workers, who you employ as manager and an array of upgrades, allowing you to be involved in running the city to a meaningful degree without the game asking you to micromanage every little detail.
But, like my dear old dad used to say, selling cows to pirates can only get you so far in life. In order to expand your empire you’ll need to explore the island for new resources and begin researching new technologies to open up further building and management options. These aspects too are kept simple, almost to the point of being superfluous, and, as long as you give them a nod every now and again you can largely ignore them and get down to the fun of building up your dictatorship.
No dictatorships are bloodless, however, and yours is no different. At various points in the game you will find your loyal Tropicans beseiged by enemy forces, which is where you military comes in. Unfortunately you don’t have a large amount of control over them and they can be a little ineffectual, losing their way on the game’s map squares or poddling off back to the palace as the wolves tear down the door. As you progress the threats to your corrupt little paradise increase in line with the times. For example, a well trained army will serve you well during the World Wars, but come the Cold War you’ll need to bring your political and economic A-game if you want to survive unscathed.
The march of eras also adds a unique redevelopment challenge missing from previous Tropico games in that you’ll find yourself in situations where your 200-year old shantytown is overshadowed by skyscrapers and, if you’re not careful, those poor farmers will be turning their pitchforks and scythes against their corrupt tyrannical president.
Stylistically, the game is beautiful. Oil paintings of Tropico adorn the loading screens and, when zoomed out, the island paradise is stunning. The trademark Tropico sense of humour has survived intact (for better or ill), and the cartoony style makes for a fun, engaging experience.
The game can be played in Campaign mode, in which you complete tasks for various characters to further the story, a more free-form Sandbox mode, or multiplayer in which up to four players can work cooperatively or competitively, sharing resources or declaring war over the eras.
Tell me more!
The Xbox One version includes the “Big Cheese”, “Bayo de Olaf”, “Mad World”, “Generalissimo”, and “Joint Venture” DLC from the PC version along with five exclusive maps for Sandbox mode, but doesn’t, I feel, capitalise on the graphical power available; whereas in previous games you could zoom in and watch your city bustle with activity, in Tropico 5 even at maximum zoom the people seem little more than specks in the distance and the streets never really seem to fill no matter how large your population. The controls however are fantastic and remarkably intuitive for a PC-to-console strategy port. Radial menus abound and the myriad menus can be navigated with very little effort. Movement across the map is easy and quick, although camera bugs crop up here and there which, although fixable, can add an element of irritation when trying to navigate across your domain. Of course this version also comes packed with Xbox Live Achievements to add to your collection.
When I first picked up this game I vowed to be a benevolent leader, bringing the light of democracy to my people with a fair and even hand. Mere hours later I had murdered a man and his entire family for sharing different political views and had amassed a small fortune in my Swiss banks account from corrupt building permits and siphoning money from foreign aid. And I loved it. Compared to other city management games, Tropico 5 may seem a little simplistic, but I can honestly say I have enjoyed playing it far more than Sim City or Anno purely for than reason. If you’re a die hard strategy fan, you’ll still find plenty to hold your interest here, but even if you’re not, Tropico 5 is still a fun, enjoyable taste of paradise and a solid addition to the franchise.
Tropico 5 is available from all reputable video game merchants from 27th May, RRP: £39.99