Game review: Tropico 5

Into its fifth iteration, the Tropico city-building simulation series is Sim City with a twist.

Seriously twisted, that is.

Instead of merely creating infrastructure, building armies and researching new technologies, you can siphon off government money into your own bank account, issue edicts to impose martial law, assassinate your political opponents and decide if you want to rule the fictitious Caribbean country of Tropico as a democracy or a dictatorship.

Start by customising your avatar with the few faces and costumes available. Adopt a grandiloquent name (mine is Galeno Garza) and choose your trait - financier (higher income), inventor (more research points) or green thumb (increases beauty of the vicinity).

Your advisers are not the usual serious types found in games of this genre, such as Civilization or SimCity. Instead, their advice is full of wit and humour, and designed to put a smile on your face.

For example, when you research Embassy (foreign relations), your advisers will reveal, via some hilarious voice acting, that they have not done any research but were able to steal it from the French.

In the single-player campaign, you play through four eras - Colonial Era, World Wars, Cold War and Modern - via several mission-based scenarios.

You start off not as El Presidente, but as a mere governor of a colony. Your aim is to gain independence, then turn your agriculture-based banana-exporting economy into a technology-based economy exporting electronics and cars.

Your little country can even join the nuclear arms race. To do so, you have to meet objectives in campaign missions, from garnering enough support from revolutionaries to researching the nuclear programme.

At the same time, you must build your economy, make your citizens happy, ensure that trade routes are profitable and build a formidable army to fight off rebellions and fend off enemy attacks.

You can enrich yourself by siphoning off money to your Swiss bank account. Get rich and you can upgrade your own levels to increase your trait level. This comes in handy when you have to bribe foreign officials to get deals done, for example, in order to delay an impending invasion.

The music is typically Caribbean, with some radio deejays trash talking at times. The 3-D graphics are gorgeous. You can pan, tilt and zoom in to look at the edifices you have built, and spy on your denizens.

Compared with Civilization or SimCity, Tropico is far simpler and sometimes too quirky. My avatar, El Presidente, can be found in the middle of a banana plantation in the mid-afternoon sun. Twelve-year-olds can enlist in the military. And my political foe may just be some poor farmer instead of a more likely rival, such as a union leader. Still, the micro-management is addictive and enjoyable.

There is also a multiplayer component, but it is too stressful playing against real people when Tropico is all about relaxing and having a laugh.

I would recommend the Sandbox mode when you finish the campaign. This mode lets you create your own requirements and difficulties, such as natural disasters and rebels, and there is no time limit, so you can kill in your own sweet time.


Rating 8/10

$56.90 (PC only)


This article was published on Aug 6 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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