Review: Tropico 609 Apr 2019 0
Review: Tropico 6
Released 29 Mar 2019
Caribbean waters and green islands are one hell of a setting, as proved by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the Tropico franchise. A beautiful, vibrant background with a relaxing colour palette naturally lends itself to long stays -- brilliant if you’re vacationing, and almost similarly great in a city-builder game.
Tropico 6 is the latest instalment of the almost two-decades-old series, putting players in the male or female dictatorial shoes of “El Presidente” and giving them full control over some tropical idyllic islands. Over four different eras of history -- colonial, world wars, cold war, and modern -- players are able to guide the country from a small Imperial colony (with very strong Spanish influences) to a… not quite major superpower, but more of a small territory in the middle of the ocean that is doing surprisingly alright for itself.
City and citizen management are the bread and butter of the game, as El Presidente constantly walks a razor-thin line between expanding the country and pleasing all of its people. Just like real life, it is impossible to make everyone happy -- capitalists, socialists, militarists, and religious people constantly vie for your attention, fighting and demanding changes at every edict and trade deal you sign. While a city builder in name, Tropico is very much a social management game at heart.
Unlike the eternal dictator of the game’s eponymous banana republic, previous developer Haemimont Games moved on to something else (the excellent Surviving Mars). Tropico under its new custodians Limbic Entertainment is still very much Tropico. The setting, the humour, and even the evolving time periods are all carried over from its predecessors, with the greatest changes being the ability to rule a whole archipelago instead of just single islands -- and the option to steal some of the world’s major landmarks and bring them to your island nation.
That last part may sound ridiculous, but it fits perfectly with the game’s tongue-in-cheek penchant to not take itself seriously at all. From your trusted second-in-command Penultimo to the revolutionary quest givers that are surprisingly placid and non-revolutionary, Tropico 6 is a quite pleasant game. Everything from quests to descriptions tend to have jokes that either make you smile or burst out laughing, which is surprisingly effective at keeping you playing for long periods. Both the writing and voice acting are absolutely spot on, with believable or over-the-top accents that perfectly capture the joke behind each line.
While Haemimont’s Tropico was always humorous, Tropico 6’s jokes seem to verge into the funny way more often -- especially during missions. Those specific scenarios make up the meat of the game, presenting a tailored campaign that acts as a counterbalance to Tropico 6’s customisable sandbox modes. In it, players follow the journey of El President through time ever since he was an island governor for the British Crown, chronicling major Tropican events like the colonial revolution, the Cold War allegiances, and the chance meeting with Penultimo during the late 1800s (don’t think about the lifespan of characters, it’s wibbly-wobbly).
As the game progresses, international third-parties consistently become more numerous and relevant, culminating in a massive balancing act as you try to not cause an invasion by any of the US/EU/China/Russia superpowers of the modern era. While Tropico does have a slight militaristic side on its construction of forts, watchtowers, and other defence buildings, they serve very much a social purpose -- their main role is fighting rebels and keeping tabs on hidden spies embedded in the population, both local and foreign. As a loading tooltip helpfully puts it, you will never be able to survive a full superpower invasion.
Luckily, those aren’t a common occurrence. Tropico 6’s main conflicts often take the shape of rebellions and insurrections, as displeased pockets of the population plan a coup against your iron-fisted government. The game does a good job of laying the blame entirely on your shoulders, tying almost every single event to a series of rejected demands, a purposefully hostile edict, or the sub-optimal drafting of a constitution. You are often able to keep things balanced if you try, which can prove quite stressful -- despite what it’s tone and visuals may imply, Tropico 6 is not a relaxing, mindless game.
“What about the sandbox mode”, you may ask. Well, that one is also frantic, packing all the features of the normal campaign like decisions, ultimatums, and happiness to deal with. The mode does allow you to choose any map in the game and individually determine the intensity of each metric, from unlimited money to frequent natural disasters, but it weirdly does not allow you to create your own city from scratch in any way -- the minimum amount of people you can have is set at 50, and you always spawn with the Presidential Palace, docks, and a dozen other buildings in pre-set positions. If freedom is what you’re looking for, Tropico 6 is (suitably) not a good place to look.
On the technical side, the game also drops a few major balls. Some of the main game elements are either excessively obtuse or counter-intuitive, such as the way raids work; instead of starting and ending on the scheduled times (e.g. 3 months), raids take forever to launch and completely ignore the “Very soon” prediction to complete, making tooltips absolutely worthless. Worse still, many of them run into “setbacks” that force you to complete side objectives like exporting a certain amount of materials or building a specific thing, which means that any minor operation can easily take years to come to fruition. Worse still, the game never tells you properly how any of this works.
Similarly, the general city building part is significantly arcane, as construction offices suddenly stop erecting a structure midway through for no reason and not a single menu in the game explains why. A few weeks or months later, they magically come off their season long siestas and resume the project, priorities be damned. Trade production is equally befuddling, as I couldn’t find a simple goods produced/stocked counter anywhere in the game’s very extensive Almanac database (which also makes it exceedingly hard to see if you are actually having a monthly deficit or profit in your treasury).
While not game breaking, those issues just further muddy what are already very packed waters. Tropico 6 requires you to constantly pay attention to hundreds of things, lest you suffer a rebellion/lose an election/endure an invasion/lose the Crown’s support/et al. Random delays in construction or the inability to see if your next month will bring in money or create a hole in your finances can quickly snowball into frustration, and just like the tendency of cargo ships to leisurely sail through bridges as they were holograms, only serve to jarringly pull you out of the game and shatter the illusion.
Still, Tropico 6 is a competent game. It is exceedingly similar to its predecessors -- just like every other Tropico game after 3 -- keeping their better parts while sprinkling in a few new additions of its own. If you like the idea of running your own tropical dictatorship or just can’t get enough of Kalypso’s running parodical franchise, Tropico 6 is your game to go.