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Posted on Jan 14, 2011 in Electronic Games

Tropico 3 – PC Game Review

By Jim H. Moreno

Tropico 3 Gold Edition. PC Game. Publisher: Kalypso Media. Developer: Haemimont Games. $20.00 at Amazon.com.

Passed Inspection: Fun, challenging, and humorous gameplay. Easy to learn, yet engaging.

Failed Basic: No actual combat strategy.

The first Tropico launched back in April 2001, followed closely by Tropico 2: Pirate Cove in April 2003. I don’t remember much media hoopla over them from back then, so I passed them by. (The original was great, and Tropico 3 is an update of the original. Pirate Cove was terrible – Ed.) My cursory glances at the series since then haven’t caught my gaming attention, either. Until now. After playing Tropico 3 Gold Edition, I am more than a bit sad that I seem to have missed out on one very entertaining piece of RTS computer gaming!

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Tropico 3 Gold Edition is the latest (September 2010) release in the series of banana republic strategy and management simulations set in a historical and whimsical Caribbean environment. Players become ‘El Presidente’ of their own tropical island, and must manage all the daily living aspects of the people in an attempt to remain in power. The Gold Edition is the original Tropico 3, first released last year, and includes the new Absolute Power expansion, released in March 2010.

Haemimont Games, the developer of Tropico 3, has turned out a couple of RTS games since their inception in September 1997. ArmchairGeneral.com has so far reviewed two of them: Celtic Kings: Rage of War, and Imperium Romanum, both of which are very good games in their own right. Tropico 3 Gold is a testament to the increase in quality game design that Haemimont has been building on, and shows the studio may well be on its way to becoming an RTS giant.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, as I was, Tropico is a 1984 Pat Benatar album a city building and management simulation modeled on a scenic Caribbean island starting in the 1950s era of the Cold War. The theme of capitalism vs communism runs throughout the game, in both serious and tongue-in-cheek modes. Younger gamers who grew up after the Cold War may not get much of the humor but should still find a challenging and rewarding game. For those of us who do remember at least some of the Cold War (as is my case), Tropico balances the challenging gameplay with a lot of chuckling, and perhaps even some LOL moments.

Tropico 3 Gold once again leaves the choice up to the player as to what type of ruler they wish to be, and gives them the tools to play that out in full. Tropicans are the first and most available tool, as you can inspect them for insight into every facet of their life, everything from food, health, job satisfaction, wages earned, family, happiness, and even their thoughts. This game element has been done in other RTS sim games before, like the Caesar series, but never to this valuable degree.

Buildings are the next most useful strategic tool, and Tropico has a whole lot of ‘em. As expected, the common buildings such as houses and apartments exist for use, as are common infrastructure buildings, like banks, police stations, ranches, farms, and mines. Accommodations include bungalows, motels, and hotels. Industrial buildings include factories in the cigar, furniture, and jewelry varieties. Tourist attractions (botanical gardens, pools), human services (schools, churches), and entertainment (casino, movie theater) are just a few of the other buildings types available in Tropico 3.

Edicts are a prominent method for use in managing or manipulating your stay in power. As El Presidente, you may issue a Literacy Program to increase the experience of your workers and students, thereby making them into more intelligent citizens. Or not, and keep citizens’ intellect from rising above your own in game. You may choose to publicly praise the US if you wish to build a more democratic regime, or choose to praise the USSR and hope they send you lots of vodka with their next humanitarian mission. Many other edicts are available, mostly weighted towards either capitalism or communism, so choose carefully.

With the Tropico 3 Absolute Power expansion comes a host of other game mechanics, like more buildings and edicts, and also a new 10-mission campaign and an advanced tutorial covering what’s new. Also included is a new avatar feature, where players may create their own in game avatar who wanders the island at will or by players’ direction. Sending the avatar to a building will increase that building’s effects, such as providing a better quality of goods or service, for a short time.

These are but a few items off the surface that help make Tropico 3 Gold Edition an excellent and very enjoyable RTS game. The game is 3D, with a very maneuverable camera. The graphics are high-quality, whether the camera is zoomed all the way out, or all the way in. People, vehicles, buildings, landscapes, and the weather are all rendered in nice detail, and look how they should. The soundtrack is top-notch, and adds greatly to the overall Caribbean island ambiance, along with the more mundane sounds of the city.

On the personal side, I would love to see more of the strategic elements of the game have just a little bit more combat flair. For example, you can build an army base, an armory, and guardhouses, but you can’t really build “an army”. Tropico 3 has no actual fighting forces to speak of, but then again, the game is designed to be a city-building game governed by balancing several political factions. I would also like to see some military naval units available, even though scant they may be. As it is, the only real possible threats from the outside world come from invasion by US or USSR forces, which can happen if political relations grow too frosty with one of them. If, say, modern day pirates, or a nearby El Presidente antagonist were introduced, small unit combat actions could also be added, and I would be extremely satisfied. Maybe there’s still time to add those into Tropico 4?

Nonetheless, Tropico 3 Gold Edition has what is needed in a solid RTS management sim, along with a healthy dose of humor very often missing from the genre. Don’t skip this one for seven plus years, like I did. El Presidente commands it!

Armchair General rating: 90%

About the Author:

Jim H. Moreno dropped his first quarter into a video game back in 1977, and has been avidly gaming ever since. He joined up with Armchair General just before the website went live as a game reviewer, and remains a regular contributor of war, combat, and strategy articles here. When he’s not working on an ACG piece, he’s freelancing MMORPG articles for The WarCry Network and The Instance Podcast, catching some sci fi shows, or just being zen with his cat, Spritzer.

5 Comments

  1. Pity this game does not have the ‘combat’ element as the reviewer states but more so pity that it does not have multiplayer!

    • It’s really more of a city-building game with a political model than combat game. There is a dynamic for jailing or assassinating political opponents, but that can run you afoul of political factions if you get heavy handed. It also is heavy on the humorous sarcasm. Having a combat layer would likely take the game in a direction that it isn’t supposed to be.

      I play plenty of wargames. This isn’t a wargame, and that’s what makes it refreshing to me :)

      • Hi Jim yes I agree that combat would certainly not be a priority in this type of game which -as quite rightly stated by you is not a wargame per se. Actually it is the intricities of multi player which I sorely miss and would much prefer to have rather than any combat scenario.

  2. Still no railroad I am quite disappointed!!

    Nevertheless it’s still fun to pass the time away and you can stay in office for 100′s of years.

  3. Pirate Cove wasn’t that bad, was it? The setting was lame but there were some cool mechanics to it- particularly raiding the entire Caribbean from your little ramshackle island. It was kind of like a rougher Port Royale with less busywork.

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