E3 2011: Tropico 4 preview – volcanoes, assassinations, and oil spills. Welcome to paradise

Ten years ago, Tropico was the toast of the town. It breathed new life into the simulation genre, and put a unique new face on that genre of strategy gaming. Ten years later, most gamers have long since forgotten about Tropico. Series publisher Kalypso seems to be aware of this, and is trying some new things in hopes of once again finding the spark that made Tropico a hit.

Some city building/strategy games will simply rehash the same formula over and over again, milking the same fans for every dime they’re worth. Up until now, except for the fact that you’re building a banana republic empire, Tropico hasn’t deviated very far from the formula. But this time, the developers are looking to take things a bit further towards the zany. Instead of focusing so heavily on more mundane things like your relations with a foreign superpower, now there will be bigger events to occupy your attention. Maybe it’s not entirely realistic for a volcano to erupt on your island, but it still might happen.Along the way it can light up your buildings and cause considerable damage.

How you deal with these sometimes scripted, sometimes random events is all part of the game. We watched as an oil tanker spilled in the waters around our island, and we were given a number of choices for how to deal with the crisis. We could have played the cheapskate and mostly ignored the spill. While that would save us money in the short term, it could have a disastrous effect on our tourism industry. Therefore your response to the disaster must be dictated by what type of island you’re running. If you’re entirely industrial, you may not care whether your tourism dips since nobody is visiting your ugly smoke-stack ridden landscapes anyway.

Developers have also added a bigger focus on maintaining relations with foreign superpowers. The United States, Russia, China, the Middle-East, and India will all try to influence your political and social leanings. Interestingly, their influence can wax and wane in real-time as the game progresses. Russia, for instance, loses much of its influence after the game passes the 1980s. The superpower alignment has always been one of the coolest features of the Tropico series, and we’re excited to see this get a renewed focus.

Each superpower’s interest in you will evolve over time as well. According to the decisions you make as a leader, the superpowers will change their stance with you. If you hold constant elections and coddle your people, you’re likely to catch the loving eye of the USA. If you focus on commerce then China is more likely to take a shine to you. Likewise the Middle-East focuses on oil production, and can become testy if you start selling your own oil.

Also new to the series is an almost Sims-like attention to your civilian Tropicans. You can get to know them by name and follow them around the streets on their daily routines. You may even choose to hire one of them to your personal council if they have the right skills. This level of simulation is probably the most exciting aspect of Tropico 4. The people are actually down in the streets trying to go about their daily lives. If, as the developer explained, the Pope comes for a visit, he’ll actually be driving around in the streets in the pope mobile. This can affect different things in your city. For instance, if you choose not to assign a police escort to the Pope, there’s a chance he’ll get assassinated on your streets (though, to paraphrase Eddie Murphy, who shoots the pope?). This no doubt would have implications for the rest of the island.

So, to summarize: among other things, Tropico 4 enables the player to survive a volcano and keep the pope from getting shot. Wow – good thing we’re not in charge of writing the back of the box bullet points.

Jun 15, 2011