Hola amigos! It’s time we bring this pathetic charade called democracy to an end and welcome in the age of your new glorious leader, namely me, Karlos Morale. Under the new regime, you’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities to work for the furtherment of the empire and – if you work hard and don’t question authority – you might be rewarded with a shiny new review to keep as your very own.
Praise be to my eternal majesty!
This review comes from the standpoint of someone who has had very limited engagement with the Tropico series up to this point – so if anyone has thoughts on the differences between iterations, feel free to comment at the end of the review.
Tropico 5 places you in the role of the leader of a banana republic somewhere hot, sweaty and probably ‘insect-y’. Your job is to secure growth for your island nation and – perhaps more importantly – assure your continued legacy on the island and beyond, by growing your family and stashing money in Swiss bank accounts. You are assisted in your endeavours by Penultimo, your right hand man and a host of other advisors from both home and abroad. You listen to their suggestions, weigh up options and ultimately decide whether their recommendations will ensure the continued prosperity of your island.
Similar to other city building games, you need to develop areas of agriculture and industry. Then you must ensure they are well staffed by your Tropicans, who of course need housing, education and – should you choose – religion in order to thrive. They’ll also need shops to buy produce, hospitals if they get sick and media to enjoy. Finally you must develop the infrastructure of your island, with roads to get about, power to keep your industry going and any other amenities or beautifications the Tropicans require.
Naturally, being a fledgling nation, your island has to suffer quite a lot of political upheaval before it can truly prosper. Initially, you’ll find that you control the island on a mandate from the British, but as time goes on for you and your dynasty you’ll need to politically manoeuvre between the axis and the alliance during the war era, navigate the cold war and then experience the future age. You’re also introduced to the shadowy secret society known as ‘The Order’ who like to have a finger in each pie of world politics. As time passes, the world without and the world within your Tropican home will change and mature which is reflected in the developing needs of your nation and how that nation appears from your God’s eye-view.
Although by no-means a beautiful game, graphically Tropico 5 is certainly pleasant on the eye. It’s lush foliage, rolling ocean waves and ramshackle buildings contrive to convince the player that they are taking the reins of a society in its’ infancy – still close to nature. Later in the game, your island becomes more cluttered and most of its pleasant areas are swallowed up by the necessary march of industrial progress. In the end game, you can make a strong effort to clear-up your island and make it once more the island paradise it can be.
Although not immediately apparent in your early days of growing plantations, exploring the island and building decent houses to free your island from the menace of shacks, trading is a vital component to the successful Tropican nation. Careful cultivation of trade routes – some legitimate, others using the black market – has the triple benefit of obtaining resources that are otherwise scarce on your island (mine was almost completely bereft of coal, so reliable trade routes were vital, lest my power stations grind to a halt early/mid game), appealing to or deliberately annoying foreign powers, and of course making money.
Tropico 5 does a very good job of introducing newcomers to the series, although there are many claims for other writers that this comes at the expense of some depth. I have to say that once you’re involved in trying to mollify the competing interests of factions on your island – and discovering what will make those hijos de puta happy for more than 5 minutes at a time can be difficult work – develop your island and organise trade, I feel like it’s hitting a comfortable balance. It’s a strategy title with a low barrier of entry that makes you feel good about playing and doesn’t want to bog you down with endless minutiae. Yet at the same time it offers enough depth to keep you interested in playing and give you a sense of really having control over the island and the people who – in your graciousness – you allow to live there.
Tropico 5 is, without doubt, a high quality game; only a couple of issues prevent me from giving this an unqualified recommendation to you. Firstly, developers Kalypso earned themselves something of a poor reputation for the endless DLC that came following the release of Tropico 4. It’s possible to find 12 pieces of additional content for that game on Steam, including the relatively infamous ‘Quick-dry cement DLC’, which gave you a cement factory, a hat, a mission type and a couple of other things of little value. Bought today, the DLC adds up to over £60 (probably double the cost of the game at release), although you can spend half that if you buy the full package. The aforementioned reduction of the number of features in the latest edition of Tropico might hint at some extensive DLC for this title to come.
Secondly, I found in my playthrough number of situations where my island suffered problems for which no solution was apparent. For example, despite having plenty of basic and educated workers on the island, many Tropicans seemed to remain steadfastly unemployed whilst my factories cried out for employees. A road system was in place and the houses not prohibitively distant from the work, the populace generally happy. Turns out that some of the people who wouldn’t work were too young to work and I had to engage in a little child labour to get things up to speed. This half-solved the issue but not completely. Tropico 5 is not a game mired in complexity, however I feel that it’s ease of play could lead to mid-game frustrations for players who can do ‘well enough’ without understanding all the game’s systems and then hit a progress barrier they were not prepared for.
To end on a more positive note, Tropico 5 has a fantastic soundtrack and voice acting, which although in both cases are certainly stereotypical and cheesy, both do a great job of lending extra flavour to the world and are effective in drawing the player in to leadership of their own personal island hideaway.
Tropico 5 is out now on PC