Tropico 4: Running a better tropical island dictatorship

November 10, 2011

Tropico 3 felt like it could have used a little more time in the oven. There was a great game and some interesting mechanics in there, but most of it felt like it was slapped on top, while the developers hoped that people found it fun instead of finding it odd that so many new mechanics weren’t adequately explained. Tropico 4 is Tropico 3 with the presentation that should have always been there.

If you already own and understand Tropico 3 you should save some money and just play that. If you’re new to the series though, Tropico 4 is a great place to start. It’s polished, it looks nice, and you’re led through a series of 20 missions that introduce new concepts and elaborate on old ones well. There’s also a story thread running through the whole thing which is a great change of pace from console strategy games like Civilization: Revolution.

One thing that Kalypso has added to the Tropico formula is mini-missions. You still have an overarching goal for each level, but now while you’re waiting for the fishing industry to get its act together or for yet another parking garage to get built you can roam around your island and click on various exclamation points to take on small side objectives. These objectives will all serve to make your island nation a better (or at least more profitable) place, but we would never have thought to erect a church flanked by rum factories which serves to increase religious satisfaction and creates a profitable export. Other missions will have you arresting the leaders of various factions or cleaning up after the ministers you’ve appointed from overseas (because none of the locals are smart enough since you spent all your money on gold mines and rum factories instead of schools).

The ministers are new this time around. You’ll appoint five ministers to various posts of government and they will, in turn, allow you to take on special projects like the Secret Police. If nobody local fits the bill, you can hire a foreign national to take the position. Regardless of who you choose, the ministers will screw up and create internal (if you’re lucky) or international (if you’re not) incidents that you need to clean up. These are technically mini-missions, but they’re a step between the run-of-the-mill “build this thing” mini-missions and the large goal of the level. You and your loyal Tropican subjects also have to deal with the weather. Taking a page out of SimCity’s book your island will face droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. There isn’t a whole lot you can do but sit back, wait, and try to repair your economy when it’s over, but it certainly keeps island life from getting boring.

Our favorite feature, though, is the lessons learned summary at the end of each level. When you complete a level the game will analyze your work and tell you what could and should have been better. It actively campaigns to make you a better leader, and that kind of accessibility is something that more strategy games need. Tropico 4 looks enough like Tropico 3 to give longtime players of the series pause, but if you’ve been on the fence about it before, this is the Tropico title to dive in to.

Pros: Lessons learned summary, mini-mission keep a brisk pace, everything is explained
Cons: Feels like the game Tropico 3 should have been instead of a new version of the game

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.