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Posted on Jul 31, 2014 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Tropico 5 – PC Game Review

Tropico 5 – PC Game Review

By Jim H. Moreno

T5 - boxTropico 5. PC game review. Published by Kalypso Media. Developed by Haemimont Games. $39.99 on Steam.

Passed Inspection: Gameplay advanced and improved over the previous Tropico editions; multiplayer; excellent new game features; military strategy!

Failed Basic: Lackluster humor; repetitive sandbox scenarios; no social media connection.

The land is mired in the woes of hunger brought on by overpopulation and not enough food. Constitutional corruption abounds, as the government manipulates its edicts to endorse more election fraud, embezzlement, and a nationwide surveillance state. Mass social unrest is on the rise, and implementing martial law and legal assassinations is just around the corner

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No, it’s not America. Well, actually, maybe it is. But I’m describing much of the last 65 hours I’ve spent playing Tropico 5, the latest in the series from Haemimont Games and Kalypso Media. As bleak as the description sounds, it’s also been another mischievously entertaining RTS romp as El Presidente, and I hope it doesn’t end here.

When the Modern Times expansion was released for Tropico 4—to much adoration and praise—the devs and pubs realized they had created a gameplay mode worthy of something more. Tropico 5 is that something more. Unlike the previous Tropico editions, T5 is not locked into a single historical (Cold War) era. Instead, players are treated to a timeline that stretches from the 19th to the 21st century, and covers the Colonial, World Wars, Cold War, and Modern Times periods.

A few new features have been added, including new art, trade routes, research, a dynasty system, and, finally, multiplayer. Oh, and my personal favorite new feature: military strategy! Aside from the new features, Tropico 5 retains many of the old features that have been in play throughout the series but improved yet again to make this edition better than the last. Therein lies the heart and success of Tropico, and explains why I and many other gamers keep returning to lord over our very own tropical islands of misfit tyranny.

Tropico 5 gave me that warm glow of totalitarianism much more so than any of the previous editions. Multiple layers of information are available via the Almanac, which shows valuable charts and graphs on revenue and expenses, population growth rates, faction loyalty and threat rates, raw resources, tourism, the military, and much more. Even your trusted advisor Penultimo doesn’t have the level of knowledge to match what’s in the Almanac, so I made prolific use of it.

Balancing the broad array of information found in the Almanac are Tropico 5’s deep levels of control, which allow you to actually do something with all that info. For example, I needed a couple more percentage points added to my Popular Support rating in order to have a better chance of winning the next election. The Almanac showed my lowest Overall Happiness score in Entertainment. So, rather than plop down a couple more brand new entertainment buildings (which I didn’t have the funds to cover), I clicked into the Restaurants I had and appointed a Union Leader (worker job quality increased by 10) as manager of one, and a Landlord (increases housing quality of nearby residences by 5) as manager of the other. I then selected the Kids Meal upgrade for each, which added family tourists as the preferred tourist class. Sure enough, in the span of one game month those minute adjustments were enough to raise my Popular Support by the couple percentage points I wanted. Total cost: $1,000.

Managers and Upgrades are available for nearly every building, and provide players with an exacting level of control the previous Tropico versions don’t have. Buildings also have a Budget available, which may be raised or lowered as the economic situation dictates. A Predicted Effectiveness rating has also been added for some buildings, showing a gauge of how well they may or may not work where you plan on placing them. So, from planning stages to construction to long after a building is complete, Tropico 5 allows you a high level of supervision to establish and evolve your ultimate Tropican empire.

Way back in my Tropico 3 review for Armchair General, I lamented about the lack of actual combat actions in game. Political and military actions go hand-in-hand in our real world, and not having military units in such a highly political strategy game just didn’t feel complete to me. Tropico 5 has fixed that—much to my joy, as you probably guessed by my use of an exclamation point whenever I write “military strategy”! A number of military buildings may be built, and more importantly, those buildings provide military units that will automatically deploy, seek out, and attempt to destroy all rebels, pirates, and invading armies who happen onto Tropican territory. It doesn’t bring Tropico 5 up to bonafide wargame level, but it does add another element of dictatorship that works well.

Sometime between Tropico 4 and Tropico 5, it seems the humor writer for the series vanished. The humor in the latest game is disappointing, nowhere near the quality of the previous versions. The whimsical political caricatures in game and their voice actors match those of Tropico 4, and the tasks they present are written well enough to get their points across. But the jokes just aren’t funny.

Sandbox mode is also still off target, at least to me. On the plus side, there are a wide variety of pre-made maps to play on, along with an assortment of options to generate and configure a new map. Negatively, each pre-made map seems to offer the same tasks in the same order each time you play them. For example, each time I’ve played on the Puerto Coco map, it’s started off with the Pyromania tasks. Isla de Cortez starts with the Food Fight tasks. Maybe those initial tasks will be adjusted in future patches, or at least have some more added.

Starting off each sandbox map with a few buildings already established also doesn’t feel sandboxy to me. Draw me an island with the options I choose, but keep all starter buildings off of it, and instead allow me to place them where I want, beginning with the Palace and onward. That’s my idea of sandbox mode. Other than these couple of minor offenses, I don’t have any other problems with Tropico 5.

Bravo once again to the Haemimont and Kalypso teams for another excellent and improved addition to the Tropico series. Like any properly governed authoritarian state, Tropico 5 is easy to get into—since you are at the top of the authoritarian pyramid—and so enjoyably difficult to put down. Gamers, get this one added to your gaming library ASAP. Viva El Presidente!

Armchair General Rating: 94%

About the Author
Jim Moreno dropped a quarter into his first video game (Pong) back in 1977, and has been avidly gaming ever since. He joined Armchair General as its first official game reviewer just before the website went live in 2003, and remains a regular contributor of war, combat, and strategy articles. Jim often streams his gaming on TwitchTV, on his own channel (http://www.twitch.tv/gamer_jim) and on behalf of MMORPG.com (http://www.twitch.tv/mmorpgcom). When he’s not writing or gaming, he’s usually keeping physically and mentally fit, watching the latest sci fi shows and movies, or just being zen with his cat, Spritzer.

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