“The ability to control time could be very
useful,” says your fictional Presidente after one of Tropico 4's optional
tutorials. Really, that sums up the game pretty well. You're an island dictator
who's capable of, well, pretty much whatever he damn well pleases. You can slip
on your goodie two-shoes, kiss a few babies (and a few more asses), and
climb to the top the hard way, or you can bulldoze your glorious tropical
paradise to make way for a menagerie of military bases. Sorry, rebellious
types, them's the breaks. And by “them's,” we mean “your kneecaps.” And by
“breaks,” we mean, well, you know. Our point is you've got some serious power –
including, yes, limited time control. Like many politicians, though, El
Presidente's incredible promise lacks substance. Dig beneath the surface, and
there's really not much to see.
Above: Yeah, take a look at that, Democracy. What
have you done for us lately?
Here's the thing: Tropico 4 is an incredibly open
game. Sure, there are mid-mission quests periodically given out by advisors,
foreign diplomats, and their ilk, but there's no real tension pressing a knife
against your throat. As a result, it's incredibly liberating for a bit – which
is a tad ironic, given that this is a game about, you know, iron-fisted
oppression. However, as time wears on, the incredibly sexy dictator
lifestyle devolves into rote day-in, day-out repetition. Fun as your first many
hours with the game are sure to be, there's simply not much here.
See, you're given access to all manner of piggy
bank-stuffing revenue streams, each with their own paths toward glorious
industrialization. Yet there's barely anything to it. Let's say you're working
with gold mines. There's money to be made there, sure, but that's hardly worth
cackling maniacally while pelting puppies with stolen baby candy over. Your
next step, then, is to get a jewelry factory up and running. Now you're in
business, right? Well, yeah, but not big business. Now fine jewelry?
That's where the money's at. And that's also where the tech tree ends. Three
steps. No branches. Other resources are similarly straightforward.
Granted, there's more to Tropico 4 than making
sure that your various money trees take root. Foremost, your duties involve
dealing with various factions both on your island and abroad. If, say, stomachs
start rumbling or your citizens go coo-coo for communism, you could be looking
at anything from a ragtag force of rebel pests to a full-on invasion from the
good ol' US of A. It's a precarious balancing act, to be sure, and one that can
create some incredibly high stakes situations. Again, though, after those first
many hours, you might realize it's just a case of 27th-verse-same-as-the-first.
Don't expect to find a magical wonderland of infinite fun on the other side of
this rabbit hole. It's pretty shallow.
Above: Not pictured: The environmentalist faction
never shutting up ever
Similarly, the in-game Almanac – which keeps tabs
on your economy, foreign relations, faction standings, and things of the like –
lays out the recipe for success without taxing your brain too much, and the
aforementioned mid-mission quests keep you from accidentally bumbling your way
into World War III. Initially, it's a fantastic safety net. Even if you've
never touched a Tropico game before, you won't feel like a fish out of water.
On the flipside, though, Tropico 4's lack of depth and newfound (at least, in
comparison to Tropico 3) focus on mid-mission direction join forces to forcibly
declaw the game's difficulty level.
There is, however, an exception to that rule:
citizens. Even during the best of times, they can run you over in their
well-traveled whaaambulance, and you'll probably never see it coming.
Sometimes, it's no problem. Throw them a bone and they'll clam up instantly.
Other times, though, they'll throw out some outrageous demand you simply can't
meet. Sadly, there's rarely a middle ground. On the upside, this is Tropico
we're talking about. If they piss you off too much, there's always the option
to burn their precious landmarks to the ground, outlaw leaving the island, and
tell the police to find their kneecap-busting sticks.
Above: They want to keep their kneecaps, of
course, because waterslides
If you're a longtime Tropico fan, this is all
probably starting to sound awfully familiar. And that's because it is. As far
as core game changes go, there's very little new content here. Sure, you can
hire ministers now, but they're basically just an extra barrier between you and
Tropico 3's familiar set of policy-altering edicts. Natural disasters have also
entered the picture to stir up some trouble in your paradise, but again, we're
talking about a minute change. Worse still, entire building models, menu
screens, and other UI bits have been lifted wholesale from Tropico 3. Which –
if you think about it – sounds like some kind of evil dictator scheme: “First a
glorified expansion packaged as a sequel, and then... the world!” This is the
gaming industry. We've killed Hitler, like, a million times. We don't take shit
from evil dictators.
It's tough, then, to recommend Tropico 4 to
experienced players. If the closest you've ever gotten to a banana republic is
inside your local mall, however, Tropico 4 is definitely your best entry point
into the series. It's certainly got the “accessibility” part down, and –
despite its lack of long-term appeal – it's a uniquely humorous city builder
that's worth a look on the merits of its well-honed core mechanics alone. As a
sequel, though, Tropico 4's just passable. If only its developers had
time control powers; then maybe they'd have eased off the fast forward button
and taken the time to flesh out their game.
Sep 13, 2011