Compared to other city simulators, Tropico 3 lacks the size and scale the genre is usually renowned for. Instead, it opts for a quirkiness and charm that many of the ultra-complicated sims lack, giving it a sense of personality that is often non-existent in such games. It’s an interesting experience, and serves as a perfect way to break into the genre for gamers who have been baffled by the hardcore releases. Making its way to the console world for the very first time- how does Tropico 3’s formula translate?
Predictably, it’s a mixed bag. You’re still tasked with taking control of a banana island, and are thrown into the role of an up and coming dictator. You have a choice to pit yourself as a Che Guevara type hero or opt for one of the odder characters. If you’re feeling particularly creative there’s a simple customisation system that allows you to create your own leader. Humour is encouraged, especially when you can add traits such as ‘flatulence’ and ‘alcoholic’ to your description- a pairing that can often have embarrassingly catastrophic results. Whether you choose to tackle the campaign or one of the many challenges on offer, your journey is narrated by an annoying repetitive man of the people that goes by the name of Juanito. At first his happy tone and welcoming nature is nice to hear, but after an hour’s play you’ll be wishing you could have him taken out back and shot by your newly employed Secret Police.
Your island will have some interesting natural features that can be ignored or utilised.
The dictator's palace; the grandest, shiniest, and certainly most out of place building in Tropico.
In campaign mode Tropico 3 becomes about running an entire nation successfully. You’re given a modest plot of land that plays home to a town of run-down shacks and creaking apartments. Farms are littered across Tropico, highlighting that the most important task is to provide essential goods for your population’s well being. There’s a lot of room to manoeuvre, as your budget provides more than enough income to cover the entire island with useful buildings- or hundreds of cinemas if you prefer. Once the basics are laid down (marketplaces, roads, better accommodation etc), then you can begin to exert some personality on your up and coming country.
It’s your choices after settling in to life at Tropico that sparks a number of reactions. It won’t be uncommon to fall victim to passive resistance early on in your dictatorship, as peaceful protests often take place in any villages that are predominately full of shacks. You can either ignore the pleas for a better lifestyle or issue a quick speech from the balcony of your magnificent palace. Better yet, you can demolish the shacks straight away in favour of building a standard house, bungalow, or even a fully-fledged mansion if you’re feeling gutsy enough. To be successful the people need to be listened to- a feature that is highlighted numerous times during the easy to understand tutorial. Each civilian has feelings and an idea as to how the country should be run; so zooming in to get a closer look at their thoughts is a sneaky way of staying one step ahead.
Construction takes a fair amount of time, especially if you don't have enough builders to go round.
Exporting goods is the key to both finanicial success and forming alliances with US or Russia.
Pleasing each faction throughout Tropico is often a tricky task. Show too much support for the right wing and the Communists will get angry, and often get in touch with Russian authorities to complain about standards on the island. Fail to build enough churches and the religious types begin to complain, whilst having a poor education system deters the intellectuals from supporting you. It’s nearly impossible to please everyone at once, but Tropico 3 doesn’t force you to take sides. If you feel like alienating the 1950’s Communists, then form an alliance with the US. It’s all about how you want to run your country, and persuading your people that your way is correct will eventually open up exciting possibilities.
On the quickest speed, it doesn’t take long to make your island successful. Once our luxurious hotels and apartments blocks had been set up an airport was fitted into place. Although it takes up a large area, being able to get tourists into Tropico provides a superb opportunity for robbing them blind of their money. By the time we finished, we clearly had an industrial area by the sea (which sadly meant we had to sacrifice the beach), and an entertainment district in the hills. With cinemas, nightclubs, a superb gym complex, authentic English pubs and even a zoo that were all surrounded by fabulous mansions, our Tropico was transformed from a lowly wasteland in to a Hollywood style getaway.
One thing that does stand out during the campaign mode is the lack of options you have to influence your world. After a hundred in-game years we’d exhausted everything and had no room to improve. There was little conflict, the population was largely employed, and the US was granting us with money for any additional buildings. To make things interesting we agreed to let the island’s surrounding area be used as a nuclear testing point. Even that didn’t make our civilians unhappy, meaning the game pretty much lingered on without anything of interest happening. This is why the challenge mode has been incorporated, as its short, sharp objectives provide more immediate excitement than the main game.
You can govern exactly how you feel. Want to erect hundreds of statues in your honour? Go for it!
Building your military is key for fending off any potential invasion threats.
Each challenge gives you a limited period of time to meet a goal. You may have to make a certain amount of money from exporting your goods across a decade, or produce enough crops to push your inhabitants away from poverty. The interesting part comes from the island itself. You may stumble across a country that is largely religious, meaning you must quickly earn the support of such a strong faction. Your land may be inhospitable or you may lack enough builders to immediately make a difference, so clever planning is needed to meet a quick objective. Although they can become tiresome after a while, challenges are the best form of getting a quick fix of Tropico 3’s most exciting sections, as you can determine how often a random event occurs. If you’ve ever wanted to experience a hurricane and have your island surround by Russian gun ships in the space of two years, this is the mode for you.
TROPICO 3 VERDICT
Despite it’s solid foundations, there is something remarkably underwhelming about Tropico 3. Visually it’s rough round the edges but detailed enough to keep your world feeling alive, and its soundtrack is extremely limited. Although the option to form alliances and instate military conscriptions into your society is fun, it takes a hell of a lot to actually get something significant to happen in campaign mode (if you’re looking to run your nation successfully). Don’t get us wrong, it’s a decent first showing on the console market, but there’s a wealth of potential yet to be tapped into. It’s a real shame that the campaign plays second fiddle to challenges for drama and certainly entertainment, as Tropico 3 still has a fair way to go before it makes a significant impact outside of the PC world.