This should be fun, right? Thrust into the squeaking, tropical shoes of a cruel and vitriolic dictator, you’re going to get to lord it up over your very own island paradise, raking in oodles of cash and setting up the sort of brutal military regime that’d make Darth Vader blush. Unfortunately, like the luxurious tropical island holidays we’ve all been on, a chunk of Tropico 3 is spent sheltering from perpetual drizzle, clutching a soggy pina colada and instead dreaming of what might have been.
Despite all the sweet spots Tropico 3 tragically misses, what it does, it does rather well. It’s a deep sim game with enough graphical oomph and mix of strategies to make for a thoroughly satisfying build ’em-up. Construct farms and houses for your little chaps to live, connect them all with a network of roads, export some pineapples and then wait for the next boatload of cash to come in so you can build yet more stuff. All the classic stuff, solidly done. Then there’s an interesting mix of political dabbling thrown in to add to the guts of what is a well-crafted economy simulator.
Your underlings and citizens are affiliated with various factions, be that the communists or charmingly-bonkers religious zealots, and you need to juggle their wants in order to keep everyone as happy as possible. On top of all that, let’s not forget, you’re a dictator: when election time comes round, you’re well within your rights to rig it entirely. Or start bumping people off. Or lower everyone’s wages to nothing and prevent them from leaving the island no matter how upset they are about it all.
Yep, Tropico 3 is crammed to bursting point with hilariously cruel and comical things to do. Such a shame, then, that the game then restricts their usage with an overly-realistic and ultimately very boring set of true-to-life consequences for your actions. So the opportunity for ‘removing’ anyone who disagrees with you and ruling a broken populace with an iron fist is sadly lost, and instead your time as a cruel and twisted maniacal tyrant is largely spent making sure everyone has adequate wages and setting a reasonable immigration policy.
As a result, Tropico 3 towers with one foot firmly in ‘wacky scenario’ and the other in ‘boringly realistic,’ and you’re left inbetween, glancing up at its undulating, slightly-weird looking winkie as it wees out disappointment all over you. Where problems pop up is how bitterly unforgiving the game is – the tutorial gently teaches you how to spin the camera around, before bewildering you with a whistle-stop tour of a baffling array of menus and sub-menus. All good stuff for depth-of-gameplay later on, but when the campaign starts proper you very quickly find yourself left all on your own.
The first scenario will take about three hours – if you don’t run out of money or lose an election, your population will likely reduce your palace to rubble by standing outside day and night hurling rocks and fistfuls of grass. So back to the beginning you go, trying to re-do all the things you think went right, all the while idly guessing what some of the mistakes might have been, with nary a word of advice from any in-game advisor.
You have to work it out for yourself, living your life in constant stressed-out fear of the game snatching away your power at any second should your regime go slightly sour for one of a bazillion potential reasons – rig an election, and angry people will turn up complaining that you rigged the election. While the game does get easier as you get used to second-guessing it, you’re going to have a constant struggle to hold onto power. Tropico 3 basically hates you and wants you to lose. Its crippling lack of a user-friendly, gently-gently approach means you’ll need to stick with it if you want the best out of it.
So then, ignore what Tropico 3 screws up, and focus on what it does right, and you’ll find there’s a really involving little sim to be had here. If you’re expecting it to be funny and clever and allow you to flex your evil muscle at the expense of some faceless minions, you’ll be disappointed. If you like seeing virtual cash flow in by the shipload and making ever-larger tacky tourist traps, there’s more than enough here to keep you going for a few Sunday afternoons.
Oct 20, 2009