Tropico 4 is more of a giant expansion pack than a true sequel. It features very few new art assets, the music is ripped from the last game, and the core gameplay is almost exactly the same with a few interface tweaks. That said, I have a hard time faulting the game for it. It’s a polished version of an already great game with 80-plus hours of content for $40. That sounds pretty good to me.
If you’ve never played Tropico, here’s the quick rundown (if you played the previous games in the series feel free to skip the following two paragraphs): It’s a city simulator that puts you in charge of an island country. You, as El Presidente, have to build up the country’s economy and infrastructure from 1950 to the end of the Cold War. You can turn your island into a socialist democratic paradise with universal healthcare, free housing, and social liberty for all. Or you can create your own despotic dictatorship with a populace kept in check by fear of reprisal from the secret police. Certain governments are more stable than others, and they each come with trade-offs. Socialists will be hard pressed to provide for their people early in the game because a robust economy is necessary to pay for social security, food programs, housing, education, and healthcare. Environmentalists will find their economies pinched, and their citizens will chafe at the loss of liberty from anti-litter ordinances. Libertarians can create their objectivist utopia, but may find that they have to rough up underpaid workers to prevent them from striking. This doesn’t even begin to address the issues of military size/spending, religious satisfaction, entertainment, or the attitudes of hardline nationalists.
Click the image above to check out all Tropico 4 screens.
While juggling the domestic circus of factions, you’ll also have to manage your foreign relationships. The USSR and US will offer development aid, anger them though and they’ll threaten an invasion that can only be prevented by placating them or forging a permanent alliance with the opposite power (which has its own impacts on domestic politics).
For Tropico vets, the new game offers the following features/tweaks:
•More foreign powers to juggle: you’ll have to worry about Europe, the Middle East, and China now. Though only the US or the USSR will invade. Pleasing the new powers will give you access to certain rewards. For example, the Middle East gives out cash gifts and camels.
•Massive campaign: The new twenty mission campaign will take you forty hours to complete at the minimum. This doesn’t include the sandbox mode or challenge missions which can double your playtime.
•Quests: Quests icons appear on the map from time to time. Click on them and one of your advisors will offer you a task and an appropriate reward. The leader of the environmentalist faction might request you build a garbage dump away from the city, while the capitalist leader may ask you to build a new factory. Foreign powers will also issue quests. Most are optional, though during the campaign some are required. They do a good job of funneling your island toward a stable state. In Tropico 3 it could take hours of trial and error before you figured out the right balance that would allow your island to grow without going broke or inciting a rebellion in the people.
•New buildings: Stock exchanges, shopping malls, and mausoleums amongst others make their appearance here, but none of them drastically alter the balance of the game. You’ll find yourself building these new structures only under very specific circumstances when a quest demands it.
•New Disasters: Disasters like earthquakes are now a staple of the genre, but the new calamities in Tropico 4 must be managed in real time. You’ll have to order helicopters to water crops during a drought, or repair buildings during a volcanic eruption or tornado. It also pays to watch the tsunami disaster zone when building your country up. Tourist economies that rely on scenic ocean shore are particularly susceptible to the massive waves.
•Import goods: Want to build a cigar factory but don’t have the soil for tobacco? No longer a problem. You can import raw materials allowing you to build an industrial economy even if your island is a barren hellhole.
•Appoint ministers: In order to issue many edicts in the game, you’ll need to have ministers of economy, defense, education, and a few other areas. The nationalist faction always seems to hate one of them, and if you don’t have a college on your island replacing them can get expensive.
Some fans will undoubtedly be upset that the new game is so similar to the past. When a company creates new content for a gameplay system but uses the same art, sounds, gameplay, and even the music, we’re accustomed to calling that an “expansion pack.” If it runs without purchase of the original it’s a “stand-alone expansion pack.” By the simple act of adding a progressing integer onto the title of the game rather than a subtitle developer Haemimont Games creates a certain expectation — one that it doesn’t meet. I imagine some fans and more than a few other reviewers will call foul. However, the price is right and, I have a very hard time working myself up over what ultimately is a matter of semantics. If it plays like an expansion, and is priced like an expansion, I’ll judge it as such regardless of the number in its title.
The game is available on the 360 for $50, but it’s best to ignore that version entirely. There’s really no reason not to play it on the PC, the game will run on a five year old machine — dual-core processor, gig of RAM, and any video card made since 2005.
Tropico 4 is a more refined version of its predecessor, even if it looks and sounds exactly the same. The new gameplay options add depth to a game that was already fun, but don’t solve Tropico 3′s big issues (lack of end-game challenge being the most obvious. Once you’ve established a stable economy very little can disrupt your plans). Whether Tropico 4 is really Tropico 3.5 is immaterial; it’s fun, it’s cheap, and it’s worth playing.