Tropico 4 Review

The Chinese envoy sports giant buck teeth, and greets you at every opportunity by saying things like “Most Honowwable Weader” in a stupefyingly offensive accent. The envoy from the Middle East, portrayed as an extremely unflattering caricature of Yasser Arafat, is constantly making reference to his multiple wives and the extra “camels” he is going to throw in to sweeten trade agreements.

Why Haemimont felt justified in indulging these hateful stereotypes is a question only they can answer. The decision to do so while introducing a highly-touted new feature in the year 2011 is doubly distressing. I am sure they are not hateful people; perhaps cultural norms in Bulgaria are simply not well-armored against anti-Asian or anti-Arab racism. More likely, the game’s woeful missteps will be excused as part of the Tropico series’ consistent indulgence in very, very dark humor.

This is a shame, because when Tropico gets the black comedy right, it’s at its best. Though there are some dubious anti-Latino underpinnings in the original game’s decision to treat Spanish-speaking banana republics as a target of derision and a source of entertainment, the game’s “be the bad guy” approach helps it stand out from the strategy pack.

It’s hard not to feel a cynical glee when you’re fleecing put-upon Tropicans to top off your secret Swiss Bank Account, and indulging your cult of personality by building a giant statue of Presidente offers an interesting comment on the ego-stroking inherent to God gaming, in addition to being a fun thing to do.

Even when the game trades in literal gallows humor, as you’re ordering the execution of unruly citizens or selecting a heinous real-life war criminal as your in-game avatar, Tropico is saved by its sophisticated understanding of the realities of third-world dictatorship during the Cold War. However, when you’re being constantly bombarded by messages from a Chinese diplomat with an accent that would embarrass the creators of Team America: World Police, its hard to be forgiving.

In fact, it is often the bombardment itself that can rankle. Over the course of many hours with Tropico 4, you will hear the same greetings, complete the same tasks, and contend with the same crises, over and over again. The soundtrack, an assortment of amusing and well-performed Latin tunes, will eventually begin to haunt your dreams.

Even the natural disasters, well-rendered and much-promoted by the game’s developers, quickly succumb to the crush of familiarity. Once you’ve seen one unskippable volcanic eruption, you’ve seen them all, and the natural disasters pile up fast, thanks to their prime real estate on the back of the box.

It is this stultifying sense of sameness that eventually sinks Tropico 4. For all its multifarious features, buildings, and modes, you end up repeating things far too often. Being El Presidente may look like a lot of fun, but in the glinting style of the made-up medals gleaming on a dictator’s chest, a lot of it’s mostly for show.

Pros:

  • Beautiful, detailed world
  • Clever adaptation of historical source material
  • Easy-to-use controls and UI

Cons:

  • Repetitive missions, tasks, and gameplay
  • Eccentric, unpredictable mechanics (freighters, imports, shacks, etc.)
  • Racist content


Final Score: 65/100

Ed. note. The original version of this article was changed to reflect the fact that Haemimont Games is based in Bulgaria, not in Finland.

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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.