Tropico 4 feels awfully familiar. Although there have surely been countless coups, rebellious outbreaks among the general population and career-ending scandals, El Presidente is still alive and well, managing the populous as he sees fit and enjoying life at the top. Like the banana republics portrayed in the game, matters left alone quickly become stale and déjà vu turns to frustration. Not all is lost, however, persistence does reveal Tropico 4 to be worth a look, especially if you’re a newcomer to the series.
With its tongue set firmly in its cheek, Tropico 4 puts you in the shoes of the glorious, beloved (by force) and benevolent (debateable) El Presidente as the Cold War rages around your tiny, but strategically significant, banana republic. It’s up to you to manage the island’s fledgling economy, forge political links, suppress rebellion and be sure to pad your slush fund in case everything goes wrong.
While it’s wise to avoid messing with a tried and trusted formula, Haemimont Games have changed little of the game’s core structure since releasing its predecessor back in 2009. With no multiplayer, the focus is on completing the layered missions that carry you forward with ever increasing complexity, requiring careful decisions on how to handle decisions that affect the whole developing nation. You can play the benevolent humanitarian, putting your people first and ensuring everyone has a voice, a home and food on the table. Alternatively, you can send dissenters to the firing squad, line your pockets, rig elections to stay in power and maintain a firm grip of the police and media to serve your needs. Every decision has its own repercussions and, while you do find yourself managing the day-to-day essentials such as farming, population and trade in the same way each time, there are enough distractions to keep you busy before you get bored.
While in Tropico 3 you were able to issue edicts on a whim, you now much rely on a staff of advisors picked from the local population or shipped in at great expense. With your puppets in place, you can make decisions that affect the lives of your people and how other, more powerful administrations view your presence – be you an annoyance, an ally or a threat – and react accordingly.
Thanks to the heavy dose of humour that can be found throughout the game (although the high-spirited DJ Juanito appears to have been silenced since last we saw him), Tropico 4 never seems bleak but, instead, gleefully trots out a parade of stereotypes and comic clichés that are (thankfully) more likely to make you smile rather than cringe.
Sound has never been the Tropico series’ strong point, but it gets by with the usual selection of samba rhythms that will get inside your head before you have time to notice or resist. Visually, some aspects have been spruced up and Tropico 4 provides a welcome splash of vivid colour to the usually drab image associated with many management sims. Natural disasters, a more pressing threat this time around, provide an opportunity for the game to show off its graphical flair and even the run down shanty town looks charming, set against a perfect Caribbean backdrop.
Certain core features have been expanded, earning Tropico 4 some validity as a new iteration on the franchise. Through trade you can now select imports to help build your nation, carefully keeping an eye on the ports and harbours that line your coast. Similarly, faction control has become a major part of the mission structure, encouraging careful diplomatic decisions as you you work to bring in allies and appease or deal with rivals. With your advisors and well-presented tool tips, the game’s learning curve is fairly relaxed, lending a laid back air to proceedings that will likely appeal to more casual players. It can become frustrating, however, as you’re forced to wait for the lengthy missions to play out even when it’s clear that defeat is nigh on impossible.
As a true sequel, Tropico 4 fails to present enough new material to warrant a purchase from anyone who, unless they’re a truly dedicated fan, has played the last version. The minor improvements do, however, make it a more appealing first-time experience and it’s an excellent introduction for anyone interested in getting into the genre. It’s disappointing to see so few improvements to the core gameplay but, with such a refined system already in place, that doesn’t mean this sequel is inferior in any way.
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