Tropico 4 Review

Each and every year we are inundated with incrementally updated sports titles. It’s something we have become accustomed to and certainly something we have come to accept over the years. On that basis, is it unfair to criticise Haemimont Games too strongly for the lack of discernible improvements apparent in the recently released Tropico 4? It looks good, it plays well, it’s entertaining, but it’s also, for all intensive purposes, the same game that was released back in 2009. It’s a tricky question and one that, depending on your answer, will go a large way towards answering that most important of questions – is this game worth buying?

Like its immediate predecessor, Tropico 4 is all about managing the needs of your populace. You’ve got the different factions to take into consideration, the tourists and those pesky global powers trying to kick up a fuss – it’s quite the headache being El Presidente. As you preside over your little Latin American island, you’ll be tasked with building the city from the ground up by introducing an infrastructure that will allow your people to thrive. Whether you want to do this in an idealistic or corrupt manner is up to you, but if you are to complete the 20 campaign missions and the many mini-missions in between, you’re going to have to work hard to keep everyone happy. From global economics to local decision making, communists to capitalists and intellectuals to environmentalists, Tropico 4 is a game that, if nothing else, endeavours to keep you on your toes

While this feels more like an update than a true sequel, there have been a number of refinements and general improvements to the core gameplay that make Tropico 4 a more streamlined and entertaining experience than its predecessor. The problem is, despite these improvements, there has been little done to address the series’ inherent lack of depth. I appreciate that this is a more casual take on the city building simulation, but Tropico 4 still feels a tad on the slight side. The foundations are rock solid and the interface is consistently user-friendly and accessible, but beyond the basic three step progression built into most aspects of the game, there is very little opportunity to take your city in a unique direction. Don’t get me wrong, Tropico 4 is an enjoyable game from start to finish, it’s just a shame that the majority of improvements remain skin deep.

The biggest change for Tropico 4 probably comes from the introduction of natural disasters. With earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis and volcanoes all rearing their ugly head at one time or another, it seems Mother Nature holds something of a grudge against the fine people of Tropico. Although visually impressive and well implemented into the overall Tropico experience, it’s a shame that you can’t actually do anything to prevent or prepare for these catastrophes. About all you can do is co-ordinate rescue efforts after the event and make sure that your economy and infrastructure are strong enough to deal with the aftermath. Failing that, it’s simply a matter of hoping that foreign aid will come to the rescue.

The other obvious introduction is that of export trading to go along with the imports introduced in Tropico 3. As you can imagine, it doesn’t add a great deal to the overall experience, but it is something else to think about as you build your island society and does increase the importance of trade and relations with other countries. Other than that, it really is business as usual. There are 20 new building types to choose from and a stronger emphasis on tourism built from the game’s collection of shopping malls and roller-coasters, but again, the tech advancements behind these additions are just as limited as they are in other aspects of the game.

Saying that, I did enjoy the introduction of The Council of Ministers that requires you to hire five members of the public, or a few skilled foreigners, to successfully carry out specific edicts and amendments to laws such as littering laws and tax cuts. These Ministers can turn out to be skilled members of staff or can bring shame upon your administration by making fools of themselves in the public domain with things inevitably getting quite interesting when dealing with issues such as gay-marriage rights or the introduction of a secret police force. Whether you fire them or keep them around for laughs is completely down to you.

At this point, it probably doesn’t sound like I’m much of a fan, but honestly, despite its shortcomings, I really enjoyed my time with Tropico 4. Sure, I wish it had more depth and I did get occasionally annoyed at the reactions of the factions and society at large not matching up with my own actions as leader, but this is highly likeable stuff from beginning to end. Those who have played Tropico 3 will inevitably be disappointed by the lack of advancement, but newcomers will likely find a lot to like in Tropico 4’s colourful and, at times, genuinely funny game world.

One thing most would agree on though, is the success of Tropico 4’s subtle but nonetheless effective pacing techniques. By streamlining many of the minor, but often arduous tasks found in Tropico 3, Tropico 4 proves a consistently smoother experience than its predecessor. There are no major changes to the design or interface but the inclusion of mini-missions that fill in the gaps between the game’s 20 core campaign missions really help to keep the game ticking along nicely. These missions rarely represent anything too imaginative, but they certainly keep you pointed in the right direction while making sure you are trained up in all of the skills needed to be a successful Presidente. When combined with the game’s ongoing narrative and entertaining cast of characters, Tropico 4 is a game that does a great job of keeping you invested in the long-term creation and running of your island.

The visual style throughout is bright, breezy and impressive. Whichever way you decide to rule your island state, chances are, the world you create will most likely be a very attractive one, helped no end by the impressive lighting and sharp design of the environments and its inhabitants. The catchy Latin American music, broad satire, caricatured characters and fantastic radio broadcasts all combine to make Tropico a very pleasant place to spend your time. In stark contrast to its often dire looking, overly serious city-sim counterparts, Tropico 4 is an appealingly pretty and consistently light hearted take on a genre rarely known for its sense of humour and honestly,  and it’s all the better for it.

Tropico 4 may not be all that different from its predecessor, and it certainly falls short in the depth department, but it’s still a fantastic game in its own right and will certainly appeal to newcomers to the genre and series alike. The 20 Campaign Missions don’t offer a great deal of content but when combined with the game’s Sandbox Mode and the ability to create and upload unique scenarios, Tropico 4 actually offers up a reasonably impressive bang to buck ratio. It looks great, sounds great and has a fantastic cast of characters. Needless to say, despite its shortcoming, Tropico 4 certainly does a lot of things very right.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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