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Tropico 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Tropico 4 (Xbox 360) review

"Remember how back when you first got your PC and you played Sim City for hours on end without really understanding why? Welcome to the 2011 version of that phenomenon. Say goodbye to large chunks of your time. "

This review should write itself. Make a few clichťd jokes about illusions I donít have about world domination then talk about how the closest Iíll ever get to that is through Tropico 4. Throw in some Sim City comparisons despite the titles being decades apart then phone in the rest of the review, let the game collect dust and move on to something I might just care about. Iím good at being militantly indifferent; Iím hard at work making a career out of it. But! Iím going to shift the clichť Ė in this story we break out the ugly duckling morale. Tropico is better than you think it is. Itís stealing my life.

Hereís a simple scenario. You, a random power-hungry passerby, have decided that itís probably in everyoneís best interest if you were in charge of everything, and everyone around you is too busy being a brow-beaten peasant to take issue. So youíre now the President of a united realm of tropical islands, and if you donít do a half-decent job at running the place, people will starve, revolt and string you up in the town square.

As such, itís a good idea to pretend to care about the little people, if only to try to dissuade their subconscious desire to kill you in a barbaric fashion. Build them farms and ranches so that they might eat, thatís a basic. Fishing wharfs and markets can add to that and create jobs. Producing more than you need? Export if for cash. Not producing enough to feed the masses? Allow the markets to import food from outside your shores.

Of course, this means running the risk of pissing away vital funds. Your island doesnít have to be totally self sufficient; youíll receive foreign aid from the USSR and the USA providing you donít annoy them too much. Kowtowing to the higher powers might provide you with greater funds to spend on your islands, but it also means being subservant to their every whim. If they slate the Chinese, you best side with them and take a hit in Eastern relations. If they decide you need to start exporting cigars and tobacco, you best stop building that hospital and do as youíre told. You could ignore them, of course, but a drop in funds wonít always be your only punishment. Annoy one enough, and theyíll send a hitman over in an attempt to do you in.

A strong army will protect you from these threats, as well as any rebel uprising the little people might organise should you neglect them enough, but pumping up your armed forces has its own peril. Maybe theyíll start to think they can do things better and start a coup; throwing you into a bitter civil war against the very people youíve been raising to protect you.

Tropico is a huge juggling act wherein you try and keep the entire world happy while stuffing your personal accounts with fair or ill gotten gains. When youíre not fretting over the superpowers, the differing factions that make up your nations will find themselves clashing. Capitalists want a booming industry, tourism and thriving export, while Communists wish to see profits from the sweat of the workerís brow rewarded with free housing and healthcare. Intellectuals donít see the point in a military presence at all when people are only trying to kill you every other week, and instead push hard for schools and universities. Loyalists donít like it when you hold elections as they believe you shouldnít be questioned by the unwashed masses. The unwashed masses prefer they had the illusion of freedom.

Each island has different strengths and weaknesses you need to cater to. One was annexed from the British Empire recently so has a high tax on any goods you import, ensuring you need to make your money through other means. Itís a pretty place, so buy a luxury cruiser, whack a cocktail bar on your most picturesque beach and call it a tourism hotspot. From there, you can bribe famous faces into making a well-published visit. Some might request a beefed up police force for their own protection while others demand more luxurious accommodations. Mineral-rich lands are sponsored by eccentric billionaires looking to add a few more piles of gold to their personal riches and willing to help establish a strong industrial foothold. They wonít do this for free; your less inhabited islands will suddenly become dumping grounds for members of their less-skilled workforce they want to get rid, but donít want the expense of laying off. Youíll need to scramble to find them valid employment as well as accommodations and the mod-cons they were used to back home, all the while trying to silence the uproar caused by locals suddenly finding themselves the minority in their own home.

Then the environmentalists will bemoan the fact thereís litter everywhere, but become even angrier once you build a garbage dump on a stretch of field they seemed particularly fond of. The defence minister will inform you of an incoming hurricane in the same manner as he might announce the invasion of a hostile army, and order his own forces to try and hold it off. Your second will ask you to order the local volcano to stop spewing fiery rocks of molten death amongst your people while representatives from the Middle East will promise you their second finest camel if you would only consider building an arms factory. People will be unhappy that they have no electricity, then they will be unhappy when you supply it through either a coal-fuelled power plant that smogs up the skies or a nuclear one that makes them think theyíre always only seconds away from an explosive demise.

Shanty towns made of scrap metal huts make for grumpy inhabitants and a galling lack of rent. Droughts mean either exhausting stored resources at great cost or calling a water ban to the chagrin of everyone. Everything you do has a reaction of sorts and while it can result in making some peopleís lives better, itís almost certain to piss somebody else off somehow. Building better housing means the people who bought the shoddier versions you used to build feel theyíve missed out. Educate the masses, and suddenly they start to think they know better than you, while the uneducated generation before start to resent their ignorant ways. Then an election rolls around and the world holds you to ransom. Promise better housing, more attention to religion or environment. Praise your foreign allies or the army to try and sway more votes. Promise a pardon for the rebels living in the hills.

Tropicoís range of actions are staggering, right down to the smallest details. Should you want, you can zoom in on individual citizens and read their thoughts; what they like, what they desire, what makes them happy. But following their wishes will only serve to make other people furious. People wishing for the ability to shop for luxury goods will infuriate the people who want to continue their simplistic existence. Running your island empire is a constant game of give and take. Nothing stands still and fixing one issue will only draw attention to another three that have been lurking in the shadows.

To that end, Iíve spent hours on the various scenarios offered. Iíve custom-built my Presidential avatar to suit my gaming style, ignoring the option to prompt for noted historical leaders instead. Iíve mastered the mining island rife with unfortunate earthquakes that trap miners underground and established an import/export hub on a barren patch of land sitting conveniently in the middle of an international shipping route. Iíve done my best to pry apart warring factions and still found time to appease my ego. Look in the middle of the busiest town and, rotating gently and regally, youíll spy a solid gold statue of myself, reminding everyone that Iím watching. Always watching...

I didnít expect to be as suckered in with Tropico 4 as I eventually was, but lurking behind the disarming humour is a challenging political building simulator that doesnít pull its punches. Thereís a twenty-mission story mode, online challenges and infinite sandbox stages that constantly supply you with things to do, or overbuilds to revaluate and reattempt. Maybe that map would have been better if you made people feel more liberated with a privately-run newspaper or if you let your TV station run BBC programs rather than 24/7 propaganda. Maybe it would be a better idea to allow a USSR military camp on that map to ward off the overly-aggressive United States and maybe it was the wrong choice to build a cabaret instead of that cathedral your religious head of state was bleating on about.

Remember how back when you first got your PC and you played Sim City for hours on end without really understanding why? Welcome to the 2011 version of that phenomenon. Say goodbye to large chunks of your time.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 06, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted November 06, 2011:

Hey. Hey you. Hey! Was this the thing you were leading up to all last week in your blog that you've since deleted because you missed the deadline last night? Is it? Will there be more? =D =D =D
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wolfqueen001 posted November 06, 2011:

Hurray! A new review from you! Oh, wait. I expressed my excitement over that in the last post.

Anyway, this was pretty good, considering you haven't written a review since last year. You made the game sound really interesting. Hell, I wouldn't mind giving it a go given the opportunity. For a simulation title, it sounds awesome, and the political aspect really appeals to me. You also do a good job describing all the features and facets involved, too, without (undoubtedly) giving too much away. Good job.
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Masters posted November 25, 2011:

This is a great review, Emp. The opening was particularly strong, as your openings usually are, really.

Anyway, the piece flows easily and logically as you run down the examples of how we are likely to become criminally immersed in the game should we try it.

You weren't gone for THAT LONG, but this is a "I'm back, bitches" piece all the same.

Now, where's the next one?
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EmP posted November 25, 2011:

Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years.

Thanks for the kind words, gang. I stumbled through this one a little bit, but it's gratifying to see I'm not past my sell by date just yet.

I'll crank something else out before 2012. Probably.

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Masters posted November 25, 2011:

Before 2012? You've given yourself a huge window. Challenge yourself properly: tell yourself you'll have something else up by December 2011.
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EmP posted November 25, 2011:

Bleh. We'll see.

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