Tropico 5 Review: El Presidente’s Triumphant Return

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Posted on May 27, 2014, Ron Whitaker Tropico 5 Review: El Presidente’s Triumphant Return

Tropico 5 is the best installment in the Caribbean strategy-sim series so far, but its rush to simplify things may have gone too far.

If you’ve played any of the Tropico games, you’ll know what to expect from Tropico 5. You’re still the dictator of a small Caribbean island, and you still have some of the most incompetent advisers in the history of politics. Through careful planning and some underhanded deals, you try to keep your citizens happy enough that they don’t vote you out of office before you can accomplish the single-player campaign’s goals.

Like the other titles in the series, Tropico 5 combines its trademark wit with the challenge of managing a truly volatile settlement, one where a rebel uprising could remove you from office at any time. While the challenge of the game is nice, some of the changes in Tropico 5 actually make things harder to handle.

That said, it’s still a fun take on the genre. Think of it as Sim City, but with a seriously irreverent twist.

Tropico 5
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso
Release Date: May 23, 2014 (Steam release)
MSRP: $39.99
Available: Steam

Tropico 5 starts you out not as “El Presidente,” but as a lowly Caribbean governor in the service of the Crown. This serves as your introduction to the game’s mechanics, which will be very familiar to returning fans. Once you get your approval rating among your citizens high enough, you can declare independance, assuming your rightful place as El Presidente.

Once you’ve gained your independance, you’ll advance through the years from the Victorian Era through the World Wars era, into the Cold War era and even up to Modern Times. Along the way, you’ll unlock new technologies that take will take your island from a conglomeration of Caribbean shacks to a nuclear-armed world power. In this effort you’ll be guiding by your bumbling chief advisor, Penultimo, and a wide array of equally useless “experts.”

Your advisors are one of the high points of Tropico 5. As in the previous games, they offer up moronic ideas that are just rewarding enough that you have to consider implementing them. For example, when the threat of invasion looms, Penultimo concocts a scheme to make our enemies less likely to attack by borrowing so much money the island’s credit rating goes in the toilet. This, he says, will stop the invasion because no one wants to hurt someone who owes them so much money. He’s apparently never met a loan shark before.

Besides just working toward the goals the scenario sets for you, you also need to make sure that the populace is content. There are several factions living on Tropico, and all of them have expectations. The trouble is that you can’t make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try. Every decision you make that pleases one faction will anger another, and like most politicians, you’ll settle for having 51 percent of the people on your side. Let happiness deteriorate too far, and you could be voted out of office. Even worse, you might find yourself with a rebel uprising on your hands.

If you manage to stay in office long enough, you might find yourself needing a replacement. If so, you can always turn to a member of your dynasty, one of the new additions to Tropico 5. Throughout the game, you’ll have the opportunity to add members to your family dynasty. Some will be cousins selected through arduous singing or arm wrestling competitions. Others might appear from an illicit affair a family member had.

Wherever your dynasty members arise from, you can appoint them to cushy jobs, send them off to represent Tropico on diplomatic missions, or even have them attend to college abroad. Each of them will have special attributes. Some might be great generals, while others are environmentalists. Put them to work in the right places, and they’ll improve your island paradise.

Another big addition to Tropico 5 is four-player multiplayer. Hop into a game, and you’ll find yourself sharing an island with three other players. As your cities grow, you’ll have to decide how you want to handle the other players. Will you form an alliance, or treat them as an enemy? Basically, you have the ability to interact with your opponents however you please, and it’s a lot of fun. Most importantly, it plays almost identical to the single-player game, meaning that you don’t have to learn a whole new skill set just for multiplayer.

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