Tropico 4 Review

Tropico 4 (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Released: August 30, 2011
MSRP: $39.95

Soy El Presidente. My spiced rum factory – the bibulous basis of my fledgling economy – is not producing. Could it be an incursion by the rebels in the sugar-rich highlands? The molten results of last year’s volcanic eruption? Or maybe I’m just not employing enough teamsters.

In Tropico 4, you never really know. Developed for the second time running by Bulgarian studio Haemimont, the real-time autocracy sim is defined by its model railroad quality: the player’s job is to set up the buildings and the scenery, then sit back and enjoy watching it all unfold.

It’s a frustration that dates back to my initial, brief experience with the first Tropico, three iterations and two developers ago. Like the intractable problem of third-world dictatorship that the game intends to parody, some things change – some things stay the same.

Most of the activity in Tropico 4 revolves around making money, a goal accomplished by nurturing three areas of your island’s economy. There’s basic harvesting — things like iron mines, logging camps, and papaya plantations — but the viability of these activities is dependent on the island’s natural resources. More lucrative are industrial buildings, like the above-mentioned rum factory, which process locally harvested commodities into finished products. Alternatively, you can “allow imports,” giving factories access to foreign sources of raw materials. This new step is often necessary to kick-start production, even if you have a domestic source of the required commodity. The game offers no explanation for why this is the case.

Exporting goods, it turns out, is an extremely unpredictable basis for an island economy. Your nation’s coffers will fill at the whim of AI-controlled freighters, which arrive without a discernible pattern and export goods in amounts that seem entirely arbitrary. Most of my time with the game was spent veering wildly from export-powered surplus to precipitously increasing deficit. Even with the game speed on its fastest setting, there was a lot of time spent waiting around for that magic freighter to provide the cash needed to finance construction — in other words, to actually play the game.

Tourism, Tropico’s third source of income, is intended as a more consistent money-getter. Erecting hotels, theme parks and other tourist traps is a good way to paper over the cracks in an export economy, but it can be difficult to keep all your revenue-generating balls in the air, while keeping money left over to placate a demanding populace.

Tropican citizens have a wide variety of demands, viewable at the click of a button via the game’s attractively designed but occasionally opaque “almanac” screen. Though the nature and intensity of these demands will differ based on scenario and circumstance, certain issues cause crisis again and again. It is, for example, virtually impossible to build churches, clinics, and housing units fast enough to accommodate a growing populace.

In fact, these repetitious requests soon become tedious. Because you always start with the same limited handful of buildings, the beginning of every scenario is virtually identical. Build a church to placate the religious. Build a clinic to improve healthcare. Build a police station to control crime. Build a high school to provide education. Once you’ve done it at the beginning of 10 missions, it’s hard to look forward to the 11th.

Good governance doesn’t end with keeping your individual citizens happy. Tropicans are organized into various “Factions,” such as the Communists, Capitalists, Intellectuals, and Nationalists, all with specific preferences and demands. Keeping them all in line involves carefully balancing building projects and social policies; policies like Free Housing quiet the Communists, whereas declaring a National Day holiday pleases the Nationalists.

Your standing with these various factions can also be affected by your leader’s traits; players can select from a number of pre-made avatars modelled on real-life dictators (Anastasio Somoza, Che Guevara, etc.) or customize their own composite. If you decide that your Presidente should sport a fancy Harvard education, he’ll be beloved by the Capitalists, but distrusted by their Communist counterparts.

The goals of the Communists, of course, are often aligned with those of the U.S.S.R., who along with the U.S. and Europe are a constant presence on the island. They’ll ask you to export certain goods, or perform certain tasks, and reward you for keeping a high approval rating with their country. Let it sink too low, however, and you’ll soon see meticulously animated foreign gunboats patrolling your shores.

New to Tropico 4 are two factions Haemimont was keen to mention when I saw a demo of the game at E3 2011. The inclusion of China and the Middle East certainly provides fodder for the Bulgarian developer’s ripped-from-the-headlines approach to in-game events, but I regret to say that the portrayal of both factions is thoroughgoingly racist.

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15 Comments on Tropico 4 Review

Red Menace

On August 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

If you didn’t like Tropico, which was almost universally well received, why would you like Tropico 4?

Unregistered

On August 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

It’s not like Gamefront is a respected gaming site anyway, so why bother listening to their opinions?

Darkraidor

On August 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

i actually thought it was a good review, thanks

Ben Richardson

On August 30, 2011 at 6:15 pm

@Darkraidor — Thanks! Positive feedback means a lot.

@Red Menace — I liked the original Tropico OK. However, it is often the case that I like the sequel to a game more than the original. I’m not sure what your point is, exactly.

@Unregistered — I’m sorry you feel that way. Is there something about the site we could change to make it more respectable?

Ben Richardson

On August 31, 2011 at 5:32 am

@Ivan-Assen — I apologize for the error. It has been corrected.

Kev

On August 31, 2011 at 8:51 am

It’s all about population control, immigration office should be built before anything. Then housing and church, clinic etc. Only let in people when jobs/housing is available. Your welcome.

Red Menace

On August 31, 2011 at 3:26 pm

@Ben – I probably overreacted, because your review is quite long and thorough, so I apologize. I guess I was reacting, not necessarily to you, but to an issue (in my opinion) I see on this site (a site, I immensely want to see succeed as a long time member of the community) where reviewers state their initial biases for not liking a game (which I took your experience with Tropico being both “brief” and “frustrating” to be. I was probably reading too much between the lines.) and then, well, don’t like the game. I’ve seen enough reviews/playthroughs/first impressions that start out with “I usually play genre x games, but here I review a genre y game, diametrically opposed to my play style and it sucks.” That is an exaggeration and certainly an exception, not a rule, but enough to have it start getting me irked.

I play games that most people would find immensely boring, I know that and I understand that. My distillery workers are on strike? Causing my military to not get their whiskey ration? Raising their mutiny chance and this is all just text on a screen? Perfection. I’ve come to expect low ratings for them as most people just don’t understand what I find to love in these games and I’ve learned not to trust reviews because their just doesn’t seem to be a rhythm or reason as to who reviews what here. Is there a system or dedicated writers for genres? To me, that is a must.

I apologize for this long winded post and for nitpicking your fairly well done article (it really is quite a bit more thorough than I’m used to). Anyways, I’ll shut up, but if you guys are looking for a dedicated “I play games that put most people to sleep and love them” writer, I’m available.

Red Menace

On August 31, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Also, sorry for the grammatical errors, I don’t proof read these.

A Hardiansyah

On September 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

I think the repetitive side of Tropico isn’t a big issue. The selling point of the game is the feel of dictatorship in a fun way. I appreciate your site reviewed it just after the release date. This site has potential. If u can’t do it better, at least you do it faster. Thanks for the review!

Ben Richardson

On September 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm

@Red Menace — Thanks for the long and considered reply!

I’m a life-long strategy gamer, so I generally review most of the strategy games around here. I, too enjoy games with striking distillery workers and thirsty troops — the problem with Tropico 4 is that, in my opinion, the game doesn’t do a good enough job making clear when these things are happening, how they’re affecting each other/the island at large, and what can be done to fix them.

Severian

On September 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I loved the original Tropico, but was disappointed in how “samey” T3 felt. So imagine my disappointment with T4, hearing many reviewers same that it’s basically T3.5. I think this was a well-written and informative review, and I appreciate the criticism that playing different scenarios of Tropico just gets repetitive. It’s always been that way, and I’m frustrated that the developers didn’t take this opportunity to rethink the franchise and offer players radically different approaches to running their island.

Games For My Website

On September 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Thanks for this very thorough review… I plan to get T4 and chose to read reviews first and your thoughts helped me decide. I’ll probably stick to the older version.

Metallov Pinwinov Konradov

On September 14, 2011 at 12:38 am

I can’t help but be sorry that the review didn’ answer one major question I ever had about this game:

How does it compare to Tropico 3? The question remains, do I want to, or need to, spend more money on a 65% Tropico4, if I’ve got a perfectly good 3 laying around that I enjoy?

Plan

On March 10, 2012 at 3:38 am

Let’s not confuse racism with the idea of gleefully mocking tyrants. Knocking Fidel Castro does not equal knocking Cuba or the Cuban people. Poking fun at the absurdity of dictatorships doesn’t mean the devs have some sort of animosity toward the Chinese or the Saudis.

In fact, assuming people in those countries would view the game as an insult to their nationality — being offended on their behalf, essentially, because the joke is on “their” tyrants — is condescending. I’m sure you could show this game to Cuban immigrants in Miami, and most of them would think mocking Castro is a fantastic idea.

Claiming the game features “hateful stereotypes” is going way too far and it’s not fair to the devs. Those designers and programmers are Bulgarian — they did not grow up in the U.S., they don’t share our worldview, and they don’t share our guilt and hang-ups when it comes to this stuff. Our country’s history is marked by racial strife, theirs is not. They’re not racist…we’re hypersensitive.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this was a thoughtful review, but this kind of navel-gazing really kills the fun. It’s a fun, clever game, with faults like any other game has. But “hateful” and “woefully” racist? Not even close.

John

On February 13, 2014 at 8:10 am

If you are really ignorant enough to consider caricatures of different ethnicity as this huge racist scandal, you really shouldn’t even be reviewing games. Basing part of your score on this is rather pathetic. It’s also amusing how you single out the Chinese and Middle East Representatives, but say nothing of the USSR “stereotypical Russian” or the Nixon impersonation for the US, or even the Tropicans themselves, who portray a stereotype of Cubans.

The point is, the decision to use stereotypes is part of the humor and is universal in the game… they make fun of EVERYONE. It’s absolutely NOT racist in the slightest. To even try and pull the \ race card in this review shows how poor your writing abilities are and makes me question how you even got your job in the first place.