Tropico 3 Review
There has been plenty of debate over whether controlling a first-person shooter with a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad is better. To-may-toe. To-mah-toe. Both are equally effective as far as I'm concerned and Iím happy to play a shooter either way. Strategy games are another matter entirely, though. These games have long been darn near impossible to play and manage on a console, but recent innovations such as radial menus and smarter control schemes have made console-based strategy games a lot more playable, perhaps even viable. And then you have Tropico 3, which manages to throw most of that away in its return to the bad old days of console strategy game control. It's as if the developers in charge of the port from the PC to the Xbox 360 never really played a console game before - they certainly haven't played any recent console strategy games at least. The first mistake is that the interface is completely unchanged from the PC version of the game. An interface with tabbed dialogs and Windows and mouse friendly controls such as sliders and buttons just doesn't work well for a mouse-less console game. On the Xbox 360 version of the game you're faced with holding down a couple of buttons at once and hopping around the controller face as you navigate your way through a set of tabbed dialogs. The control scheme is awkward enough that I felt that it had to be addressed from the very start of this review. If you're interested in the game, and have a PC that you can use to play games, check out the review of its PC version and decide from there if it's your kind of game. Otherwise, you should think about whether or not it's worth it to you to put up with the control awkwardness to play it, and proceed only if you have a tolerance for such things.
Tropico 3 is a city-building sim at its core, placing you in the role of the dictator of a small Caribbean island nation in the mid-Twentieth Century. The game is essentially a collection of scenarios that gives you an island with a few buildings on it and then challenges you to meet a set of goals within a set time limit. These goals are generally along the lines of meeting an export target, attracting a certain number of tourists to your island, or merely avoiding a coup for a few decades. You need to worry about the many of the typical kinds of things that you do in a city sim - keeping your treasury in the black, providing jobs and housing for your citizens, and building the infrastructure to keep your city humming. Tropico 3 adds a twist to this formula in that your population is divided into a number of factions, and since different groups may have diametrically opposed desires, it's impossible to keep them all happy at once. You'll have to constantly juggle priorities to keep enough of the people happy enough of the time so that they don't rebel against you or vote someone else into office. You might be able to buy one group off by building something for them (the religious faction loves churches), issuing edicts such as launching a literacy program to keep the intellectuals off of your back, or you can resort to sending the secret police after a particularly noisy rabble-rouser or rebel.
The game has a decidedly humorous take on things, which begins with the briefing message you'll see before each mission. When you enter a mission you'll be able to customize your dictator, including dressing him up as a pirate in a beret if you'd like. The customization screen is also useful for changing your dictator's traits to suit the goals at hand, such as making him a former farmer to give your crops a boost. Once you're on your island the game will serenade you with tropical beats occasionally punctuated with news reports from a DJ that are always tongue in cheek. It's too bad that the soundtrack is so small and the DJ reports so few in number, because what should have been great atmosphere for the game becomes repetitive far too quickly instead.