Tropico Review

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Publisher: Gathering of Developers
Developer: PopTop Software

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium 200 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 820 MB HD space

Tropico is a simulation game in which you play as the dictator of a small Caribbean island. The gameplay is familiar to anyone who has played games such as Sim City or Roller Coaster Tycoon. Choosing from a range of customizable settings, you select the qualities of your island and your dictator. You begin with an undeveloped nation of farmers and laborers and seek to create a prosperous, politically stable island while making sure that your personal Swiss bank account is fully stocked so that you may enjoy retirement in a manner befitting your stature. Along the way, you must provide housing, jobs, entertainment, education and healthcare for your people. You must also be sure to keep the local political factions happy (or scared) lest you get voted out or overthrown in a bloody coup. Further complicating matters are your relations with foreign powers (limited to Russia and the U.S.) who, when sufficiently pleased, may provide invaluable assistance in the development of your country. The game may be played at various turn speeds and is fully interactive even when completely paused.

Rob de los Reyes

This game will eventually bore me, but that day is not today. Nor tomorrow. Nor next month. I am not ordinarily a fan of sim-type games, but this one has what the French call a certain "I don't know what." Much of the game is standard sim. What has earned this game a place on my hard drive is that it improves upon those standard elements and sprinkles in just enough new features to create a game which is rather more than the sum of its parts.

Instantly noticeable are the sounds. Of course, you get the usual sounds of sawing lumber and hammering, but, zoom out enough and the ground noises will fade into the sky noises of bird calls. More important than that is the music. I cannot say enough good things about the music. It's an easy Caribbean beat that I just feel compelled to leave on. Ah, you can feel the sticky hot breeze and the chill of an ice cold mojito in your hand. Clicking on the people is also good for a few laughs. Each person is a true individual (more on this below). My favorites are the tourists. Clicking on them reveals their country of origin, and their commentary reflects that origin. I once clicked on a tourist from New York who blurted out "Gra-CEE-us". Of course, as any European can attest, it was downright un-American of him even to try to speak the native tongue.

As mentioned, each of your people is an individual. They may belong to one or more political factions and feel various degrees of allegiance to each such faction. Unlike some games of the genre, you cannot simply force a person to take a particular job or go to sleep when he's tired. The people go about their business more or less on their own. You are able, however, to check any individual's thoughts to get a sense of what's occupying his mind (e.g. maybe he wishes there was a nice place to have a drink after work). While you may fire people from their jobs or evict them from their homes, most of your power is exercised by setting incentives (like good wages and proximate, quality housing) and generally shaping the direction of your national economy and foreign relations.

Also critical to your development (and, not coincidentally, one of the features that adds replayability) is the ability to customize some of the features (good and bad) of your dictator. He may, for example, have risen to power through military coup, in which case he will enjoy an improved relationship with the military, but which will leave the people with a gloomy outlook on their liberty. Your dictator might also be ugly. That's right – ugly. You are required to give your leader flaws, and this one will hurt your tourist trade. There are even more juvenile (and, OK, funny) flaws, but I'll leave you to discover them. Irritatingly, however, you cannot seem to name your own dictator. You're forced to edit one of the pre-existing dictator dossiers. As there are no sounds files in the game which refer to your dictator by name, it wouldn't seem too much to ask to add this ability. It's a small thing, but I'd love to reflect on the golden age of Tropico under the beneficent guidance of Wrathful el Magnifico.

This leads to another small issue – the end game. There is a high score page, but only a very rudimentary one, featuring dictator name (which, without individual naming is fairly meaningless) and total score. As the game lets you play for various types of victory conditions, however, it would be nice to see high scores broken out by, say, population, happiness, wealth, etc. in the style of Alpha Centauri. One nice thing about the end game is the audio evaluation you get from your aide. Once, having thoroughly trashed my environment, my aide informed me that while I was not altogether beloved by the Environmentalists, they simply didn't understand the demands of progress. Truly, I am ahead of my time.

Another mixed bag is the information system. Via your trusty almanac, you may access a wealth of information about your status. It is fairly daunting to look at, but, with a bit of patience, you soon learn how to filter the information. Yet, in spite of all of this mass of data, I can't seem to get the two pieces of information I really want: (1) available housing vs. housed people and homeless people, and (2) available jobs vs. employed and unemployed. A typical island is only going to have between 100 and 400 residents, so such a display would be visually manageable. In the course of gameplay, you can access the "happiness" screen to give you a spectrum reading on individuals' housing and job happiness. This is nice shorthand, but, given all the other specific information, I'd like to have some aggregate numbers.

Still, to my mind, these criticisms are the type of thing that would make a good game great rather than being fatal flaws. The good humor, delightful music and overall lightness of spirit make for an easy and satisfying bit of escapism. People who normally play this type of game will find this to be a must-have. What's more, Tropico's clever touches and quirky central concept should grab more than a few gamers who normally skip the strategy/sim games.

¡Viva Wrathful! y vayan con dios, mis jugadores.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 4, 2002 6:37 PM.

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