Get your cigars and Castro hats ready, it's time to return to Kaylpso's tropical dictatorship
The latest entry in the long-running political city management series, Tropico 5, doesn't take itself too seriously, and that’s one of its main advantages. Rather than bog you down with excessive busywork and endless tinkering, it gives you a tropical island playground to lord over, along with an entertaining cast of advisors and antagonists to help you handle it. With fun characters , an endearing sense of humour, and simple city-building mechanics, Tropico 5 makes slowly growing your tropical paradise (or fascist utopia) a fun, visually attractive challenge for wannabe dictators, even if it does occasionally feel like you're the one being dictated to.
Developers Kalypso have added four distinct eras to Tropico this time around, from the colonial era to the modern age. Each of the four has their own idiosyncrasies, though in all but the first one, when you're under direct Imperial control, there are always two competing powers that you have to choose between. In later eras this could mean ignoring threats from the Communists in favour of appeasing the Capitalists, but it starts more simply in the Colonial era, with what is essentially the British crown constantly pressuring and making demands of you.
Sod the Cold War, I'm off for a cocktail and a game of volleyball
Your aim here is to proclaim your independence, and if you'd rather just take the Empire's coin and keep your mouth shut, well you're out of luck. The campaign mode, which drafts in everything from conspiratorial secret societies to a nuclear race, does a good job of slowly building up the difficulty and guiding you through the increasing complexity of each age. You pretty much have to do what you're told though, which is a recurring theme in the game that we'll talk more about shortly. First off, that means garnering enough support amongst your revolutionary-minded citizens by building your city up and keeping the general populace happy enough to support your revolution. To do this you'll have to complete several missions given by your Imperial overlords to store up cash and extend your governance, before eventually turning around to gleefully stab them in the back.
Once you've broken free from the yoke of Imperial control, you'll get to draft and sign your own constitution. This will decide three main issues for each era - starting off with voting rights, religious stance and military status in the Colonial age and adding other political hot topics with each advance. Each option tailors your nation in subtle ways, allowing you some control over the way you maintain your hold on power – restricting the votes to wealthy citizens allows you to cut the number of voters you have to worry about appeasing, for example. Edicts, meanwhile are policies that you can spend money to activate giving you further options, tax cuts, national festivals and the like.
Despite its deceptively free-form approach, you don't have quite the amount of freedom in Tropico 5 that you might initially think. Most of what you're doing happens because someone else is prodding you into it, from your various advisers and foreign diplomats to the pesky people themselves. The missions they wend are generally worth too much to ignore, and not doing some of them can dramatically set you back by withholding precious resources. There's actually relatively few situations where you get to really stick it to the man and go your own way. Do so and just wait until the sanctions hit and the armies start queuing up at your door. Thematically appropriate, sure, but it might frustrate those who don't want to be constantly completing missions set by someone else.
It's very satisfying to see your ramshackle colony grow into a thriving republic
Thankfully the basic plonking down of buildings and the game's other supporting mechanics are all both neat, attractive and enjoyable to use. It's much less fiddly than most city-builders, and the smaller scale and easy to use road creation tool makes networking all your key structures simple but still satisfying. I particularly like the way the game ramps up the difficulty by adding more and more structures and introducing more specialist buildings as time goes on – farms are enough to make a decent profit and keep the peasants happy early on, but ultimately you'll have to start adding in luxury hotels, scientific research stations and so on. Which provide necessary complexity, but also make your city ever more sprawling and impressively busy.
After five games Kalypso have polished the interface and graphics impressively, and along with the latin-influenced music and occasional contributions from the lively radio host that soundtrack your rise to power, it all comes together in a vibrant package. You'd think taking the economic route would be a boring option, but creating your ideal tourist resort with swaying palm trees and carefree holidaymakers dancing about on the sandy beaches of the island is incredibly rewarding, visually and mechanically.
Combat is in Tropico 5 , but to be honest it probably shouldn't be, at least not in this form. While almost everything else in the game feels smooth and refined, the battles are fiddly and tedious. When you're attacked, whether by a traitorous squad of rebels or by foreign powers, you'll see tiny squads pop up on the map. They'll head off to destroy your key structures, and whatever defences you possess, militia squads or your personal guard, will automatically rush over to ineffectually swat at them, often before waiting for backup. Pretty much all you can do at that point is sit back and wait to mop up the pieces.
It's not too much of a problem honestly, because larger combats generally only happen when you've lost control of the situation completely anyway. The smaller skirmishes, like the occasional uprising that happens if you irritate one of the game's factions too much, thankfully don't last too long. Combat is the game's most obvious weakness, but it doesn't soil the rest of Tropico 5 .
Building more docks will allow you to trade your resources with other countries
Multiplayer makes its first appearance in the series here, and it slots in very neatly, allowing up to four players to battle alongside or against each other. The beginning of any match is an entertainingly madcap dash for resources, as each team sends their troops out to secure profitable resources across the island, and from there it settles down into either an uneasy and surprisingly tense scramble for power, or a nice chance to drink in the sunny, cheery atmosphere of Tropico 5 with a friend.
TROPICO 5 VERDICT
Fives games in and the Tropico series has really found its feet, creating a cheery and relaxing ambience that sets it quite apart from other city-builders out there. From the music to the bright and colourful graphics and the irreverent wit of your various staff, it’s got a very unique character that makes the simple gameplay very addictive. Okay, so it holds your hand a little too much, and combat is a bit dull, but it’s certainly the high point of the series so far. A very good city management and political strategy game that’s got a relaxed attitude quite unlike anything else out there.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finally getting your luxury resort completed, then sitting back and drinking in the holiday atmosphere, along with a marguerita and some Latin jazz.