Tropico 3 (PC) review
"A city building game that adds enough new gameplay elements to make it stand out of the crowd."
Aaaahh.... sun, sand and the threat of constantly being overthrown by rebels. Welcome to Tropico 3, the latest city-building sim from developers Haemimont Games. This third outing of the Tropico franchise, which is more of a remake of the original Tropico rather than a sequel, adds some interesting gameplay elements to the traditional city-building sim formula. These elements make this a fresh and welcome addition to the franchise, as well as to the genre itself.
The game takes place during the Cold War, with you being the dictator of a beautiful Caribbean Island. The Single-Player Campaign is divided into 15 independent missions. Each mission takes place on a separate tropical paradise, and each has one main objective you must complete in order to clear that mission. Objectives include various tasks such as exporting a specific amount of tropical goods before time runs out, making sure a certain number of tourists visit your island before a fixed year-end, and even staying in power for 20 years in the face of extremely tough conditions.
Once you have decided which mission to play, you get to choose who you want to be as El Presidente. You can choose your avatar from an impressive line up of real world leaders such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, or you can create your own custom tyrant. Besides having basic customization tools at your disposal, you also select two positive and two negative personality traits for your character. Each trait has a different effect attached to it. For example, choosing the "well-travelled" trait gives a +10% boost to your island's tourism rating, while the "hardworking" trait gives a +10% boost to the overall production of the island. Likewise, negative traits such as "ugly" and "pompous" have negative effects, such as decreasing your relations with the different factions residing on the island.
Having factions on the island is one of the many new gameplay elements introduced by Tropico 3. There are various groups on your island such as Religious, Communists, Militarists, plus you have relations with the US and USSR to balance. Each faction requires something different from you in order to keep them happy. For example, the Religious faction needs churches and cathedrals to stay happy, while the Nationalist faction is content when foreigners are not allowed on your island. Similary, pro-capitalist policies improve your relations with the US, while pro-communist policies helps you befriend the USSR. As these examples show, there is a lot you can do when it comes to policies and politics. You can issue edicts, set rates for tourists, decide how you want to deal with terrorists, give election speeches and much much more, including handling random events such as hurricanes, llama flu epidemics, and so on. Each action that you take can have a positive or a negative reaction (or both at the same time) which in turn affects your popularity as a ruler. Overall island happiness determines how many citizens will turn into rebels; if the number of rebels outgrows happy citizens and/or your army, then it will surely mean an untimely end to your regime. You can also travel around the island with your avatar and visit construction sites to increase construction or gun down rebels. Having an avatar is a nice touch which makes you feel a little more connected to the game than just using a mouse pointer or a hand, which city sims usually have.
Aside from dealing with local/foreign relations and touring the island with your avatar, you will also do your run-of-the-mill city-building chores such as laying down roads, constructing housing complexes, and building entertainment or work sites. These routine tasks never become a burden on you because they strike a nice balance between player and AI management. After laying down a structure, you just have to determine the employees' wages and what they will produce; the rest is then handled by the AI. For example, farms can produce various crops such as sugar, tobacco, and pineapples, so once you lay down a farm and decide what the farm should produce, the workers will automatically arrive and start producing the desired crop. Once the crop is harvested, the produce is automatically delivered to the citizens as food and the excess is exported. It is a nice simple system that only requires you to make decisions when a structure isn't producing anything or when it doesn't have a workforce, which means you won't have to spend any extra time in micromanaging the island.
When your island economy is booming and your population is happy with you, you will probably spend some time admiring your tropical paradise. The game looks quite good; each of the 15 islands is unique in design and landscape. The overall visuals bear a cartoonish look which suits the game's light-hearted mood perfectly. Each structure available for construction is detailed and different from the rest. When the sun is setting, the color on the screen turns to a golden yellow, which looks really beautiful. You'll also see lush, green grass and tall trees, random thunderstorms, sea gulls flying near the coastline, and other details that add to the overall beauty of the game and make you feel as if you really are ruling a Carribbean island.
Similarly, the audio of Tropico 3 goes a long way in making the overall experience more enjoyable. Tropico 3 has a radio station named TNT with an RJ by the name of Juanito, who not only gives you regular updates about the happenings around the world (such as President Kennedy being assassinated or Fidel Castro seizing power) but also gives updates on the island's happenings. These can be quite funny at times; for example, a llama successfully assassinates El Presidente's hat! TNT Radio adds a lot of character and personality to the game; Juanito's accent and tone make TNT Radio a pleasure to listen to. When Juanito isn't giving you news and updates, he will play music for you. Tropico 3 features a Latin soundtrack which, although fitting the Caribbean island setting perfectly, isn't perfect for the ears. The songs are too loud (maybe Latin songs are supposed to be that way) and the list of songs featured in the game is quite short. So while the music sounds nice during the first two or three missions, you will most probably lower the music volume or maybe turn it off completely in the later scenarios. Other sound effects, such as cows mooing on ranches, sea gulls chirping in the sky, and tower bells of churches and cathedral, all add to the island atmosphere.
The main complaint that I have with the game is with the speed. Everything in the game moves at a snail's pace at the normal setting. This is because almost everything has to wait a certain amount of time before it becomes useful to you. For example, crops planted need a few months before they mature and can be harvested. Similarly, immigrants land on the island once every few months, and goods can only be exported once a ship docks. As a result, you will most likely play this game on the fast or super-fast speed, which makes it difficult to take in the entire experience.
The lengthy campaign and user-created scenarios available for download from within the game means there is no shortage of content. The new elements that this game adds to the city-building genre are what set it apart from other games and make it a must. A bare-bones tutorial that doesn't explain much about the concepts might turn some gamers away, but those who stick with it and learn as they play will find Tropico 3 to be a great game that they will play for hours on end.
Freelance review by Sohail Saleem (December 02, 2009)
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