My earliest memories of gaming are booting up our family PC and spending hours on The Sims, Populous and Age of Empires, games which in the 17 years since I have rarely looked back on. To me these were just games that asked me to create a few people, build things, keep them happy and keep them safe, but little did I know these “games” were actually called “life simulators” and that contrary to belief, I really sucked at playing them. During my gaming years I’ve never ventured into anything that wasn’t your typical FPS, Hack N Slash or RPG, however for some reason, like a sign from a higher power, the Tropico franchise has always inexplicably caught my eye, though I’ve been too scared to part with my cash and give it a crack. So here we are, 2015, I have generously been sent a copy of the latest edition for my PS4 to bestow, Tropico 5, a “construction and management simulator”, a collection of words that don’t bode well for me and bring back harrowing memories of ill equipped soldiers and burning kitchens in the late 1990s. So firing it up for the first time, do I have what it takes to be a ruthless El Presidente? Has my gaming matured over time to an extent where I can look after a virtual colony of civilians? Bow down to your leader Tropicans!!
Tropico 5 is the newest instalment of the ever popular Tropico franchise that makes its first leap onto a Playstation console a whole 12 months after releasing on PC. For those new to the franchise and genre such as me, Tropico places you in charge of our own colony in the heart of the Caribbean. Starting life as a mere governor working on behalf of The Crown, it’s your job to gain favour with your people, claim independence, remain strong through global changes and gain favour with political parties around the world to keep you in place. In order to achieve all of these you must, as the genre suggests, construct and manage your island to supply produce for trade and keep your community happy. Sounds simple right? Think again as economic struggles and rocky relationships can drain you financially and money doesn’t grow on trees. Gaining favour with one group of people will make you an enemy in the eyes of the less fortunate and dealing with mother nature too will often but a spanner in your works. Featuring a lengthy campaign mode through the ages, additional missions/scenarios to complete and the infinite time spanning sandbox mode, Tropico 5 appears to be carrying an awful lot of content to keep El Presidente busy, and with a franchise first ‘Multiplayer Mode’ there’s definitely a vast world to create at your fingertips.
Tropico 5’s campaign takes you the ages and struggles of every young settlement, from gaining political favour with allies to fending off rebel attacks from your own people. Each chapter will ask you to complete a number of objectives that will lead you to victory, as well as giving you optional objectives to carry out that will reward you with money, trade routes, buildings or Tropicans. The opening mission instructs you to gain independence from The Crown, and in order to do so you must satisfy your people, making them feel safe and happy will give you enough approval to buy your independence and transport you to The World Wars era; progressing further through the campaign will take you through The Cold War and Modern Times. Buying specific buildings and enough homes will greatly satisfy your folk as too will be adopting certain edicts and constitutions, however to do so you need money, which will buy you plantations, ranches, factories … you get the idea. This is the basic structure for every campaign mission, make money, trade your riches, buy homes, build armies and expand your island. In Tropico 5 there are so many things you need to keep your eyes on and letting one of these vital meters get the better of you can quickly turn your beautiful industry rich island into a rebellious unsupportive dump. The campaign length differs on how well you play the game as some objectives, permitted you have the right requisites in place, can take 30 minutes to complete, whilst others can take multiple hours if you let your standards slip and your people get the better of you. After each campaign you leave your island and move onto the next one, which can be a shame if you’re enjoying the current state you are in, however you will return to that island as you progress, leaving you with 2 fully functioning and profitable islands in your care by the end of the game, which is a great touch. Though each campaign follows the same suit and you are effectively doing the same thing each time, I found it hugely rewarding and fun each time as you will always be expanding from that tiny island you began with, whereas if it was a new landscape each time the campaign would have been downright pointless.
A brand new feature to the island paradise franchise is the inclusion of a ‘multiplayer mode’, which contrary to my presumption doesn’t feature a death match between civilians and a race to nuke your opponent. How the multiplayer function works is simple, evolve your settlement and complete set objectives before you rival does, who you will see is doing the exact same thing on the other side of the island. Following the same direction and rules as the campaign and sandbox modes, you have an indefinite time limit to keep your civilians happy, your country rich and your home safe from invasion, or if you really wanted to be competitive you can always invade your advisory’s retreat. This too is what your opponent will be thinking, invasion will give you an edge and the advantage in completed the quests first, or working together will give you more opportunities to have a booming island paradise, how you win is totally up to you.
Where Tropico 5 excels for me is its humour, madness and blatant creativity from the start. I had no idea what to expect from a sim such as this, however the fact it never takes itself too seriously is perhaps why I am enjoying this game so much. Throughout your entire journey through time you are joined by an array of advisors, friends and foes to guide you through difficult choices and to offer advice on how THEY think you should run your country. Each of these characters are greatly bizarre and different from one another that do genuinely influence your decision in how you want to tackle financial and political issues. From a duel to the death to hide an unexpected regal pregnancy to sending an ally to negotiate with pirates, each scenario is hugely surreal and daft that’ll keep you playing for longer just to see the outcome. Tropico 5 unfortunately doesn’t come without its frustrations and struggles that can see your settlement be run to the ground in a matter of seconds without any real guidance on how to prevent it from happening again. Keeping your islanders happy is a rather difficult task and you aren’t offered much help on how to improve that stat until it’s too late, which is when rebel attacks start. Rebellions occur primarily when a group or class of people aren’t happy with your regime, however you won’t be made aware of this unhappy bunch until they start attacking your defences and some of your buildings. Each Tropican has vague stats that very simply tell you what they think of the island and even when you build requested structures, the Tropicans only appear to be satisfied if you build it right next to them, which when you’re trying to keep your island uniformed and tidy can be annoying.
Where Tropico 5 really disappoints is how many features, structures and customisable options are seemingly missing from its highly acclaimed predecessor. Considering how much I’ve enjoyed Tropico 5 I purchased the 4th instalment for comparison after many had recommended to me how much better it is, and unfortunately that is the case. For avid fans of the series there is a large amount of content not released with the game, so much so that after playing on Tropico 4, this latest release almost feels skinny; ‘Tropico 5 Light’ perhaps would have been a better title. Previous El Presidentes have built water parks, massive shopping complexes and had their voices tweaked in hilarious fashion, however it appears all of these will be saved for a later date, in expensive DLC form. It’s a shame when a new release is constantly compared to its previous outing, however for those who have been with the franchise since the start will find a lot to be desired in Tropico 5. There’s no doubt that the game’s expansion packs and DLC will feature a large amount of content that will truly expand your game, however when a few are in the pipeline so soon after its release you can feel a little robbed at how much money you’ve already spent.
In short, Tropico 5 is a hugely enjoyable game that I really didn’t expect to like so much so quickly. It looks great, its humour is greatly appreciated and the seemingly infinite amount of content with the inclusion of a competitive multiplayer mode is refreshing for the series. Sadly Tropico 5 does feel rather bare compared to its critically acclaimed predecessor and avid fans will tell you this, so be willing to invest a lot more money into the game’s new and upcoming expansion packs. With some vague instruction and advice in game can make some events and campaign missions incredibly frustrating, however the fact that the campaign sticks with the same 2 islands from the start means you’ll never be wasting your time putting all those hours in. ‘Construction and Management Sims’ may now be a genre I seriously invest in and I plan to remain in office on Tropico for the foreseeable future, but whether it’s on the 5th or 4th edition I don’t know.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.