Tropico 3 Review
If you played the original Tropico, then you'll pretty much already know if you'll like Tropico 3. There are a few minor changes here and there and a modern graphics engine under the hood, but aside from that Tropico 3 is pretty much Tropico Redux (the pirates of Tropico 2 are nowhere to be found). It's been a few years since Tropico, so for the benefit of those who've never seen the first game (or can't quite remember it) I'll take a closer look at the game rather than just leaving it at "Tropico, but with better graphics".
Tropico 3 is a city-building sim with a banana republic theme. You take on the role of the leader of a small Caribbean island "democracy" during the Cold War. Like most city-building sims your goal is to build a city and its infrastructure from the ground up and creating a thriving economy, all the while ensuring that you keep your citizens happy. Tropico 3 is more than a SimCity game with a tropical tileset, though. Politics play a large role in the game, both internal and external. There are a number of political factions on your island such as intellectuals, communists, environmentalists, and the church. Each faction has its own agenda, and efforts to please one will certainly offend another. Anger one or more factions too much and you'll soon find yourself with rebels in your jungle or calls for an election. External politics are consideration as well – you're in America's backyard during the Cold War, after all. Following a general capitalistic or communistic agenda on your island will please one of the Super Powers while angering the other. A happy Super Power sends money, an angry one doesn’t', and a really angry one may just send in the troops.
Politics aside the game is a city-building sim at heart, and while the objectives may vary between missions they all involve building the right mix of building and infrastructure and building up an economy and keeping it humming. Your prime sources of income are from export of surplus crops of tropical fruits and tourism, as well as the traditional favorites of taxes and good old corruption. The economic model tends to play out the same in each game, with you constantly running the risk of bankruptcy at the beginning but then eventually finding yourself flush with cash. Those initial lean times will turn off some players for a couple of reasons. The first is that the game seems to make the assumption that you've already played Tropico before. There's very little in the way of help or tutorials in the game to aid new players in learning the benefits of the various structures and how they interact with each other. The other issue is that you'll spend a lot of time simply staring at the screen waiting for the funds to build the next critical structure. Even when the funds are finally there, you may still have to wait a while for the building to appear. The game requires construction workers to build new structures and each construction office that you build can only host a limited number of workers. Structures will frustratingly sit in an incomplete state for long stretches of time and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which buildings the workers decide to work on at any particular time. You can try to direct their work by setting a building's priority as high, medium, or low, but this doesn't seem to work most of the time. It always seems that the waiting game is a big part of the game.
There's more to the game than laying down foundations and waiting for the buildings to appear. Random events from sources both external and internal sources occur periodically and are delivered in the novel manner of an enthusiastic radio DJ breaking in to the game's upbeat Latin soundtrack. For example, a fruit company may offer you a bonus for increased exports, but at the cost of less food for your people. Micromanagers will appreciate the ability to twiddle with little levers like rental rates at tenements or wages at the docks. There's also a wealth of graphs and data available on your island, but it will take some time and study on your part to determine what's important and what's not. The game has a nice little achievement system which is probably the precursor for the achievement list for the Xbox 360 version of the game when it is released. There are online leaderboards to compare scores and share islands and user-created challenges, but I couldn't get the game to let me create an account and so couldn't try out those aspects of the game.
So here's the deal: If you like sims and have the patience to let things run on their own for stretches of time, you'll probably enjoy Tropico. If you're a Tropico fan from the old days, expect more of the same except with prettier graphics and make your decision based on that. If you're the type of sim player that enjoys building large SimCity style metropolises, Tropico probably isn't for you as you won't be building any San Juans in the game. Lastly, for everyone else, the slow pace of the game and the time it takes to get a working economy will probably try your patience too much.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 78%. You've been to this island before, but it's a nice place to visit.