As a huge fan of the “Tropico” series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on “Tropico 5”. This does potentially make me a little biased, though I’ll do my best to be as objective as possible. If there’s one thing that I’m absolutely sure about however, it’s that I know my “Tropico”. I think I’ve logged more hours (300+) into this series than I have any other…this means that you should probably pay attention to what I have to say. The heartache of watching my Tropicans revolt, the sighs of frustration as my finances went into the red, the raging shakes associated with hours of work flushed down the toilet…I’ve experienced them all.
For the sake of those new to the series, allow me to briefly recap. The original “Tropico”, released back in 2001, was not an easy game. The mechanics were complicated and the interface was not very user-friendly. Those who stuck with it had a leg up when “Tropico 3” rolled around in 2009, which used a lot of “Tropico’s” gameplay mechanics. “Tropico 2“, the oddball of the series released in 2003, had a pirate theme…some folks deny its existence altogether, though I enjoy coming back to it from time to time. “Tropico 4” (released in 2011) was very much a clone of “Tropico 3”, though the “Modern Times” expansion did add some welcome features.
What is “Tropico”? In short, it’s a city-management game usually set on some type of tropical island in the Caribbean. The player fills the shoes of “El Presidente” and must complete certain objectives across a number of different scenarios and locations. As “El Presidente”, you’ll house your Tropicans & see to their needs all the while trying to keep your economy from going into the crapper. Exporting raw goods grown from farms is an option, or you can construct industry to refine those raw goods into something more profitable. Keeping your people happy and healthy gets very expensive and if they don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll revolt and possibly remove you from office (assuming your military isn’t up to snuff). Like most city-builders, it’s a balancing act between making money and spending said money to keep your citizens happy.
I’m not going to bother rehashing how that game is played as I’ve done this in both my former reviews and the guides I’ve created since this game came to pass. Instead, my focus here will be how “Tropico 5” compares to “Tropico 4”. My worry was that it would turn out to be another clone…”Tropico 4″ did have a few new features when compared to “Tropico 3” but the look and feel of both were the same. This is both good and bad…good in the sense that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but bad in the sense that you’re paying forty bucks for something that doesn’t redefine the series in a major way or at least try something new. “Tropico 5” doesn’t exactly do the former, but certainly observes the latter.
One of the selling points the game boasts is the fact that the game is played across multiple eras. This is something that “Modern Times”, the expansion to “Tropico 4”, introduced. Like “Modern Times”, a timeline will depict what buildings and edicts will be unlocked for use at any given time. The eras covered in “Modern Times” and “Tropico 5” remain roughly the same in that they both reach the 21st century. What’s interesting though is that “Tropico 5” introduces a total of four eras, the colonial era being one of them. In this era, you’re appointed rather than elected and must appease the motherland in order to stay in power…an interesting twist to the series as a whole, for sure. Advancing this timeline requires that you first complete certain objectives, which I suspect, was implemented for balancing purposes.
With that said, “Tropico 5” does a lot of new things, all for the better. For one, you can now renovate old buildings and bring them current. This is a welcome change from having to demolish old farms so that the new biofarms could take their place. As you may have guessed, upgrading your buildings and bringing them current usually comes at an extra cost (both immediate and over time). Some buildings can even change their roles altogether as they are upgraded across the eras. El Presidente’s family makes an appearance and act like cabinet members a bit, granting bonuses wherever they happen to be assigned. To top that off, your swiss bank account actually has a purpose now as opposed to just granting you extra points to your final score. In “Tropico 5”, you’ll be able to improve upon your family members’ skills with the money you imbezzle…a feature that I’ve personally been looking forward to for a long time. There’s also the new “research points” mechanic, which allows you to unlock technology and structures. Constructing and manning libraries and the like contribute to how quickly you’ll research these items.
The biggest addition has to be the inclusion of multiplayer, something never tried before on any of the prior “Tropico” games. Up to four players are free to develop on the same island, share resources, go to war with one another…the works. The idea that one player could concentrate on gold exports while another grows vast amounts of food, for example, has a certain appeal. I’ve always considered “city builders” to be a solo experience, at least until the most recent edition of “SimCity” came along. I’m actually glad that more and more developers are going this route, as it’s making me realize that a social gaming experience doesn’t always have to involve virtual guns, boss raids, and flight sims. The idea that you can sit and chat casually on Ventrilo or Teamspeak while you and your friends manage the same island is a concept that I hadn’t considered before. It’s all a bit satisfying and stress-free, in a way.
Now on to the things that I don’t like and surprisingly, there are a number of them. For one, the almanac seems to be lacking in key information readily available in “Tropico 3” and “Tropico 4”, specifically the price of particular export items. You also can’t set the individual rents, prices, and wages of the various buildings…at least from what I’ve experienced. There is a “budget” slider, but you’re limited to a preset number of choices (1-5). It seems like things have been dumbed down a bit in that the things I was used to having access to are no longer there. “Tropico 5” also adopts some of “Omerta: City of Gangster’s” gameplay style…not a bad thing per se, but different. The voice acting was also a bit…off. Penultimo may be back, for example, but he’d definitely not as I remember him. The ability to pick your traits on the character select screen are also gone, replaced by the above mentioned dynasty system. You simply level up you and your family’s chosen skills with swiss money…not a bad idea mind you, but I liked being able to switch off at will before embarking on a new mission.
Chances are, if you’re a “Tropico” fan, you’re going to pick this up anyway despite what reviewers may say. As such, allow me to address those completely new to the series. “Tropico 5” doesn’t exactly redefine the series, but it makes some very ground-breaking additions that make playing the game much more enjoyable. It unfortunately takes away some really important features (setting rents & wages to an exact value, etc.), but adds almost just as much to keep things interesting. If you’re on the fence about dropping forty bucks (the price as of 4/30/14), then go and download “Tropico 3” or “Tropico 4” for much cheaper. They won’t give you the full experience (“Tropico 4” with “Modern Times” comes closest), but will give you an idea if you can handle life as “El Presidente”. If you can’t, then you’re only out ten or twenty bucks instead of forty. As a whole though, “Tropico 5” is a joy to play and I’m looking forward to many, many hours of ruthless dictatorship the likes of which my Tropicans have never seen.
Final Verdict: 8/10
You can learn more about and purchase “Tropico 5” by visiting the following websites: