With the glut of shooters, brawlers, and generally anything being associated with action set for release this holiday season, it’s sometimes easy to let a game that doesn’t focus primarily on racking up a huge body count escape your notice. However, amidst all the big tent-pole titles, there’s usually a few that deserve at least some of your time, if only to cleanse the pallet from all the shootery-goodness.
Enter Tropico 3. Developed by Haemimont Games for the PC and X-Box 360, Tropico 3 is a building and management simulation that puts you in the boots of “El Presidente”, iron-fisted dictator of a small banana republic in the Caribbean. The time period is the 1950s and onward, so you have to play the US and the USSR carefully against each other, managing all your resources wisely if you don’t want to be invaded by one of the super-powers.
In the demo, you’re given a tutorial and two separate campaigns to play around in: one focusing on building a successful banana-fuelled dictatorship, and the other features a scenario where you’re deposed by your twin brother, taking your former government’s treasury and a few loyal supports onto a new, less hospitable island to start anew.
So, how does the demo stack up? Does this tropical city management sim have what it takes to stand against the deluge of holiday titles, or is it a few bananas short of a republic? Read on.
The first thing you’re urged to do once you boot up the demo is take the tutorial to give you a grip on what you’ll be doing as a newly-installed dictator. The basic mechanics of Tropico 3 are very similar to Sim City in that you build housing, businesses, infrastructure and the like while trying desperately not to fall into debt (which will also hurt your standing with the super-powers). Right clicking on the map brings up your build menu, and up above the mini-map are three little icons: one for your avatar, one for issuing edicts, and the other is your almanac, which gives you detailed statistics for everything on your island. The almanac is great for figuring out how much you’re spending and where, and what your citizens think you need to improve on. What it isn’t good for is telling you how to improve certain deficiencies. Obvious things like Health Care and Housing are rectified by building clinics and apartments, but stats like Liberty are raised through having a media instead of issuing edicts, which seems a little backwards to me.
While you’re spending time in your island paradise figuring out how everything goes together, you’ll also have the friendly adviser chiming in every few seconds to let you know how to do something. Of course, when I say friendly, I mean the most annoying person I’ve ever had the misfortune of listening to. It wouldn’t be so bad if they could give you the option to turn off his voice, but they don’t. The only way to get him to stop talking is to click “Next” on the hint screen and skip everything he was trying to tell you and figure it out for yourself. If you’re going to insist that we sit through the tutorial, at least have a voice actor who doesn’t have the cheese grater to your face equivalent of a tropical accent.
With a good understanding of ins-and-outs of tropical dictatorship under your belt, your next stop is going to be actually running an island for yourself. Of the two campaigns in the demo, only one is available from the outset, so you have to play through the appropriately titled “Banana Republic” scenario to unlock the second.
In each of the missions you can choose an existing avatar, all modeled on famous historical figures, or you can create your own digital dictator. The character creator is simple but severs its purpose, and the costumes are a complete collection of everything you’d expect a cigar-chomping despot to wear. In addition to molding your character’s features, you can also choose a few characteristics that give you benefits during game-play. These include stats like how you came to power (War Hero, Coup, etc), and some benefits and faults. You can choose two benefits, like being a smart business man, or being charismatic, but you have to select two faults, such as alcoholic and womanizer. Just because they’re called faults doesn’t mean they only impart negative stats; for example, having an alcohol problem gives you +10 relationship with the USSR. Vodka!
While you may have different goals for the campaign, the main focus of your time in power is to stay on top. If a rebellion is successful or if your palace gets blown up or torched, it’s game over for you. If you have a good hand on the rebel problem, the health problem, and the dissatisfaction of your populace, everything should be right as rain in your country. If the USSR or the USA doesn’t like how you’re doing business, they won’t hesitate to invade your fledgling nation, which will also put an end to your reign.
Tropico 3 is just as addictive as any city management game before it. It’s hard not to feel elated when your bank is swelling with sweet, sweet banana money and your populace cheers at you every time you give a speech on your balcony. Conversely, when you’re deep in debt, you aren’t shipping enough products to make your contractors happy, and the USA is on the brink of invasion, you definitely feel the pressure. Although the demo is not small by any means (it’s about a gig in size), I had a yearning to just go into the sandbox and see if I could run an island nation on its own without any extraneous goals.
Check out the demo for yourself and see if this is going to make your purchasing list this holiday season. Now that you’ve read my impression of Tropico 3, I was wondering if any of you guys have played the Tropico games of the past, and what you think about city building simulators. Do they tickle your fancy, or would you rather stick to something a little more fast paced?
Demo Download: File Planet