Had I been born in the Caribbean, I would have been destined for dictatorship. With my dashing good looks, brilliant mind, and iron will, I could have rivaled Fidel Castro with my own little island paradise to control. Sadly, I was born in America, and am forced to live out my parallel future in a gem of a game called Tropico 4.
Tropico 4 is a unique twist on the city building sim. Instead of building some continental urban metropolis within the confines of a larger nation, you’re given an island to rule as you see fit. Sure, you’re still building power plants, residential buildings and such, but your level of control extends to all walks of life. Does a peasant disagree with your rule? Throw them in jail. Is a professor plotting sedition? Have them executed. Is the military about to stage a coup? Buy them off.
The game’s greatest strength is the wide variety of possible play styles. You could cater to the needs of your people, focusing on making them as happy as possible. You could construct of tourist paradise, or become a paragon of industry, or export your island’s natural resources. It’s even possible to build your island on weapon’s trading. I tended to bounce around a bit with my economy, but I really favored military dictatorship to rule my people. The game includes a host of factions for your island, from the intellectual elite and the communists, to staunch loyalists and pesky environmentalists. Instead of bending over backwards to please them all, I elected to focus on building large military forces and convinced my simple island folk that my way was the best way of doing things. The fact that this is a viable strategy in any game is astounding, and here it works with dramatic effect. The oppressed people will occasionally rebel, and a bloody battle over some particular object in your domain will ensue. If you have enough soldiers, your victory will be assured.
Your island is part of a global economy, and you are forced to deal with other powers on the world stage. Foremost are the United States and the Soviet Union. Anger either one too much, and troops will land to end your reign. This was an issue in Tropico 3, but Tropico 4 also adds additional power. Lesser powers include China and the Middle East, who are important in trade but lack the strength to actually attack your island. Really, I failed to see the effect of this addition. Often, when choosing sides in a political dispute, you will be left with opting between one of the great powers that could oust you from power, and one that you only have to deal with in trade. This made a lot of the political events really trivial decisions.
New to this iteration of Tropico are natural disasters. I have to admit having dreams about the tsunami event in the game, as it was rather impressively shown off. The effects can range from insignificant damage from a tornado or earthquake to the destruction of nearly every building on your island. As awful as the latter result sounds, in the grand scheme, it’s really not so bad, as the United Nations will pour money into your island so that you can fix everything that was broken. This makes disasters an interesting diversion, but one that will delay (and not destroy) your efforts to rule your island.
If I have to commend Tropico 4 on anything above all else, it is the stellar tutorial. It has become far too commonplace for strategy games to offer insufficient tutorials, leaving the player to scour forums and strategy guides for advice. Tropico 3 suffered from this mentally as well, which is what made it refreshing to see the focus on teaching in this new effort. The game walks you through not only how to navigate the map and build buildings, but also goes into depth explaining how the various items interrelate. You end the tutorial not merely knowing how to play the game, but the fundamentals of building an economy. My first few play sessions of Tropico 3 ended in dismal bankruptcy and failure, so it was nice to be able to play around and feel like I actually had some sense of what I was doing.
Tropico 4 offers a refreshing change of pace to the slate of fall gaming releases. If you have never had the pleasure of playing a Tropico game, I highly recommend you take this one out for a spin. If you highly enjoyed 3, Tropico 4 will provide you with new content (though the two are very, very similar), and a campaign which allows interrelate missions, as you build Tropico into a veritable Caribbean empire. Detractors should probably stay away, as the fundamentals of Tropico 3 are still dominant in the gameplay. But then, suddenly there aren’t any detractors. Perhaps, perhaps, someone has made them “disappear.”
Pros: Ruling an island with iron first, fall release that isn’t a shooter, amazing tutorial
Cons: Very similar to Tropico 3, sound track is way too short for a game with many hours of play
4* out of 5