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Tropico 4 Review: Sand, Sun, and Dictatorships!

Updated Thu, Sep 29, 2011 by jeffprime

tropico 4 review

Tropico 4 is the latest installment of the single-player sim franchise developed by Haemimont Games and published by Kalypso Media and builds upon the popular Tropico 3. While everybody’s favorite satirical radio personality is gone, new features such as monitoring imports, more superpowers, and ministers have been added. The premise is that the player is El Presidente, the dictator of a small Caribbean island nation during the Cold War and who wields absolute power. In this tongue-in-cheek sim, the player attempts to build up his tiny island, dealing with a myriad of problems (exports, farming, factions, foreign powers, natural disasters, etc.), while also trying to squirrel money away in a Swiss bank account for retirement. Is playing a tyrant in Tropico 4 fun?

Cautions

The only caution is that the humor in the game can be very broad, so there are a lot of stereotypes and caricatures of different nationalities, political types, and ethnicities. If you’re thin-skinned and easily offended, then I recommend staying away. If you don’t have a stick up your ass, then you’ll have no problem.

Gameplay

80GoodTropico 4 has all the elements that you would expect in a nation-building sim. You build the structure of your island nation over time, starting off with essentials such as farms and housing. Later on, you’ll attempt to improve the situation of your people (and your bank account!) by adding industry, wooing tourists to your island paradise, and trying to keep your people happy and safe.

tropico 4 review
My little island nation looks prosperous under my "benevolent" rule.

The gameplay of Tropico 4 is, overall, very solid and quite fun. One aspect of the game that keeps you on your toes is all the factions that you’ll have to contend with as you try to stay in power. You’ll have to deal with divergent groups such as communists, capitalists, loyalists, religious, intellectuals, and even tree-hugging environmentalists. Keep the factions happy and your reign of power will be an easy one. However, not only do you have internal factions to deal with, but there are also different foreign powers to appease as well. The leaders of the various factions will make demands to you from time to time, such as passing an edict to curb litter (environmentalists) or prohibit alcohol (religious). Each citizen of your island has their own views and opinions, which you can see by clicking on them. Are they communist or capitalist? What faction do they belong to? You will definitely want to make sure that the larger factions are happy. If building roads and timber mills will make 60% of your population happy but will piss off the 10% that are environmentalists, you’ll definitely will want to tell the tree-huggers to get stuffed.

As you chug along in your tyrannical ways, various tasks (missions) will come up that you can undertake in order to get a reward upon the completion of that task. These tasks help add some spice to nation-building as it provides kind of a little storyline to the game. Adding to the mix are the various natural disasters that can occur. In one scenario, my poor little island got hit by two earthquakes, one erupting volcano, and a drought! There’s nothing more irritating that having just built a building only to have it fall down during an earthquake or get burnt down by the erupting volcano. (Hint: build a fire department!)

tropico 4 review
Damn hippy environmentalists and their never-ending demands!

There are three modes to play this single-player sim: campaign, sandbox, and user-created content. The campaign mode is comprised of 20 scenarios, each dealing with a specific theme (foreign factions, mining). Once you win a scenario, you can stop or continue playing if you wish. In the sandbox mode, you can create your own custom island or choose from a list of islands and just go to town. Finally, there are some user-created scenarios that you can choose to play, or you can create your own and share them.

The game is definitely light-hearted and is chock full of humor. The humor can be very broad and the game definitely uses stereotypes for comedic effect. I found the humor to be refreshing and it kept the game of playing a dictator fun and light, rather than depressing if you’re oppressing people and setting up secret police and prisons. One example comes to mind. After an earthquake, some miners became trapped. I had the choice to rescue them right away or hold off to get some foreign aid for disaster relief. I decided to wait and gave a speech about unity that helped out my prestige, and I eventually got some foreign aid (some of it diverted to my Swiss bank account). Afterwards, I allowed the rescue of the miners and I came out smelling like a rose.

tropico 4 review
Each citizen has their own characteristics.

There are a couple of drawbacks to Tropico 4. First, the game can have a steep learning curve for players new to sims. While there is an excellent tutorial, there is a lot of depth to the game that is glossed over. Newer players will do a lot of trial-and-error. An example is creating an army if you’re worried about rebels. How do you create soldiers? Do you build an army base? The answer is no as that the army base provides housing and medical care for soldiers. You have to build an armory to get a general. Once you have a general, you build a guard station, which then gives you three soldiers. You need one general per three soldiers. I lost a few mines to some freedom-hating rebels before I found this information out. I would heartily recommend thoroughly going over all the information on each building when you first start to play. There are a lot of pre-requisites for special buildings that you will need to be aware of if you truly want to retire in luxury in the Swiss Alps. 

The gameplay can also become a bit repetitive during the scenarios. While you’re focusing on a theme, the basis nation-building strategy stays the same: start by building food sources and housing and then later adding infrastructure and advanced structures. Also, there are times when you’re playing a scenario where you’ll see that you’ll obviously fulfill the winning conditions, but you’ll have to grind it out to export that last piece of merchandise. Still, while Tropico 4 doesn’t re-invent the wheel for sims, it is solid fun.

Graphics

87Very GoodThe graphics in Tropico 4 are nicely detailed and vibrantly colorful. The look of the game really nails the Caribbean theme of your little island nation. From the jagged mountains to the sandy beaches, this game will put you in a tropical state of mind just from looking at it. My particular favorite is the ruins that can occur, which you can turn into profit by either excavating or turning it into a museum. The game is great to look at, and I am guilty of wasting time just watching my little country chugging along. (Unless rebels are attacking my precious ore mines!)

tropico 4 review
Volcano erupting! Good thing I have a fire department.

Sound

77Pretty GoodTropico 4 has pretty good sound with Mariachi music playing in the background along with voices from the various faction leaders. Of particular note are various radio broadcasts that occur after certain events, such as firing an incompetent head of a department. Voices are usually done in a humorous way, such as the trippy accent of the environmentalist leader or the Margaret Thatcher-clone that talks in a very broad, uptight English accent. However, the music quickly becomes repetitive and you’ll find yourself tuning it out pretty quickly. It would have been nicer to have more of a music selection as you play the game.

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