Tropico 4: Modern Times Preview
Considering the disappointment that was Tropico 4, one would have expected Kalypso and developers Haemimont Games to offer something enticing in the game‘s Modern Times expansion. Instead, depending on the platform, gamers will shell out $19.99 or 1200 MS Points for the privilege of playing the same mediocre game, with mostly cosmetic changes.
Modern Times’ most obvious additions are garish new buildings like the Bio Farm, the Borehole Mine, the Electronics Factory, and the SWAT HQ. Though some edifices offer amusing, darkly comedic gameplay options in true Tropico style, others seem to be trying way too hard. The idea that tourists would want to visit the political dissidents you’ve got locked up in the new Sanitarium building is certainly macabre, but also a little desperate.
New content is delivered via 12 new scenario missions, which Kalypso promised would be “bizarre” and possibly involve things like the Illuminati. That’s all fine and good, but there’s distressing news: each new scenario will require you to start your island from scratch, wasting hours on vanilla content before finally accessing the “Modern Times” you paid so much for. Wiping the slate clean after each scenario was annoying enough in the original.
Gameplay, unfortunately, has been left mostly unchanged, with one major exception: Metro Stations, which have been introduced to magically whisk Tropicans from one part of the island to another. Given that the game’s major selling point is its careful modelling of individual NPC behavior, the Metro Stations amount to an admission that the pathing in the original version was totally broken. The inclusion of such a risible, band-aid solution in the game’s over-priced expansion pack just adds insult to injury, even if it does explain why I spent so much of my time in Tropico 4 with the speed cranked up, trying to figure out why it took so long for my construction workers to actually find the building they were supposed to construct.
The rep demoing the game claimed that Tropico 4 players wanted their towns to look more modern as time passes, which begs the question: why? The mid-20th-century setting of Tropico is one of its few unique features. The Cuban colonial architecture and the jokes about jefes and firing squads are what set the game apart from other, more mundane city-planning games. New cars and glass skyscrapers simply homogenize it. If I wanted to rule a polity that had its own space program, I’d play Civilization — I play Tropico to be a tin-pot dictator of a banana republic, and banana republics don’t go to space.