Tropico 6
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7.29
9.3

Okay, so now this is starting to get a little silly.

You know, I do love Tropico. I like the quirky sense of humour; I find the sunny Caribbean island vibe to be relaxing and inviting despite the graphical limitations and occasional totalitarian architecture. I like the way that you get money in fat lump sums, like a drip-feed of Christmas mornings, every few minutes.

I love the voice acting. Really love it. They have a fine stable of actors and they're not afraid to make the most of them. I like the way that sometimes the missions will require you to do the complete opposite of what you normally have to do - increase the crime rate, for example, or lower housing happiness. All for ridiculous, kids' cartoon-style reasons.

What is beginning to wear a bit thin for me is that this is just the same game, over and over again. The exact same game. OK, if you're going to be literal, there are a couple of new features, like spy agencies and pirate coves (the latter a nod to the series outlier Tropico 2, presumably), but for the most part, this is just Tropico 4 again. Heck, it's Tropico 3 again, really.

For me personally, though, something important happened in between Tropicos 5 and 6 that's shifted my feeling on it all. That thing was Cities Skylines.

Well, OK, so I know Tropico 5 came out more recently than Cities Skylines, but I've spent many, many hours with Cities Skylines in the meantime, and got to grips with all of the things that make it great. (And it continues to be great). See, until then, I was pretty much fine with Tropico's weird, idiosyncratic road building tool. But now? well, now I'm not.

It's a pain. Trying to get your roads into exactly the right layout. Everything's snapped to a grid, so if you get it slightly wrong you might not be able to place the buildings you want, and you'll have to tear it all up (using the demolition tool that tends to remove arbitrary sections that don't always make the best sense). Sometimes, buildings that are clearly roadside moan about not having roads nearby, and you have to tear up perfectly good roads and lay them again in the exact same place.

So that's the roads. I suppose I've probably always disliked the road layout system in Tropico, it's just that I only realised I didn't like it after seeing it done right. And there's a ton more to Tropico than just roads. There are also buildings!

And there's where the faintest glimmer of something new shines through the granite bedrock of the aeons-old Tropico foundation. As mentioned, there are spy agencies and pirate coves, along with covert ops centers and commando barracks. These new buildings allow you to send your special teams out on sneaky missions, maybe to uncover rebels among your people or to undermine the international organisations who meddle in your affairs - or maybe just to grab some sweet booty. The stacking of orders and the sharing (or otherwise) of the raid points that fuel these escapades are not always laid out as clearly as they could be, but it's all worth it for the heist missions. These mini mission chains see you trying to steal the world's wonders through your usual Tropico hijinks, pausing briefly to stockpile cheese or cigars to bribe the French into letting you nick the Eiffel Tower, or some other such wonderful nonsense. When the missions are finally complete, the monuments are flown in by helicopter and dumped on your map for you, to the delight of tourists and Tropicans alike. The covert ops and the choice of monuments to steal is a pretty fun addition to the vanilla Tropico experience.

I suffered a pretty significant number of crashes to desktop while I was playing Tropico 6. Some of them cost me a fair bit of time as autosave game files were corrupted. This'll all probably shake out in a couple of patches, but right now it's a little annoying. Sometimes an important building will just stop doing anything. It'll be halfway through a production run, stuffed with resources, and nobody will go and work there, and no teamsters will visit to make deliveries or pickups. In the case of mines, you can't even knock them down and rebuild them. Completely mystifying.

And the missions are all new, of course. Some of the faction leaders are familiar to long-time players, others are brand new, but they're all strongly themed and engaging in their own silly way. They're the core of the game, really - the bit that sets Tropico apart from the rest of the city-building world. For the most part, the actual gameplay is fairly serious in terms of what you're doing, which is mostly concentrating on supply chain logistics and some simple civic architecture. But when you chuck a barrel-load of exploding llamas on top of it, even sourcing 1100 tons of planks can be fun and weird in its own way.

 

In the past, surviving elections has been pretty straightforward, but now it's far tougher, and sometimes for reasons that aren't always apparent. It's possible to have above 40% happiness in all of the different categories yet an overall approval of below 10%. I've succeeded in faction missions and chosen an approval bonus with the faction as my reward, and as a result, seen my overall approval plummet. I've no idea if this is a bug, or a feature that's never really explained, or what. It's hard to fix problems like that when you have no idea what's causing them.

Despite all of this griping, and all of these complaints, Tropico 6 is still sort of fun. Partly it's just watching the numbers going up. When the freighter arrives in port and your first shipment of electronics goes to market, netting you enough money to build a new stadium, it's like a little pat on the head that can be weirdly addictive. There are certainly some bugs that probably shouldn't exist on the fourth (fifth? sixth?) iteration of essentially the same game, but the special sauce that has allowed them to actually get away with making six Tropico games is still there.