When thinking about city-sim strategy games, one often thinks of 'playing god'; telling your mindless zombie populous “chop wood, process wood, make furniture” in order to make money to create more money. Choices, which make the back-bone of any management game, are often limited, impossible to find or unconnected to each other. However, Kalypso's Tropico series has always ranked highly amongst megalomaniacs and micro-managers due to its sprawling, inter-related and unpredictable, yet logical, choice tree all neatly laid out. This with the addition of a layer of politics creates a totally different dynamic from generic strategy games which really makes you feel like a political leader, not an untouchable god. The third instalment in the series, Tropico 3, plays to these strengths.
Balance is the name of the game. From day one you have to find the balance between food for the population and for export, housing quality and expenses, immigrants and nationals, all of which need to be carefully watched to ensure your survival as El Presidente. While you begin with some farms and housing, you'll need to add more as your population grows. You'll also need to connect everything by roads so your builders can get to building sites and your teamsters can transport goods to the docks to be exported.
After you've sorted the basic needs of food and shelter, you can start to chop wood or mine ore to compliment the meagre income your farms will be bringing in. Once you've got a healthy profit, you can start to think about keeping your people happy by building churches and clinics. Your nation isn't very well educated so you'll need to hire experts from abroad, which nationalists don't appreciate so you'll need to scrape together money to build a school to educate the natives. With the major needs and wants taken care of, you can start to think about entertainment to boost their happiness and, thus, respect towards you. It's impossible to keep everyone happy, so you may want to build an army base and some guard stations to keep the population under control. That won't stop mother nature throwing a hurricane your way and stripping you of half the housing on the island, so you might want to keep some cash in reserve. And no matter how beautiful the presidential palace is, it won't protect you from a US or USSR invasion, so best to watch your political relations.
As you can see, there is a lot to think about as El Presidente, and not much time to learn it in. Unfortunately the tutorial isn't much help, creating the main barrier between you and despotic fun. Kalypso seem to have taken previous Tropico experience as a given which, for new comers to the series, is a steep learning curve. It focuses more on camera control then the fine-tuned political world of Cold War Latin America. However, as long as you're willing to use trial and error and reset a couple of times, the 15 mission campaign will iron out the creases in your understanding enough to flex your megalomania in the sandbox mode and online challenges.
The graphics, while no Crysis, are realistic and stunning. The bright, lush forests next to the rolling waves combine to create a natural, realistic feel. It's worth, at least once in your time with Tropico 3, to set the camera atop a hill and watch the sun set into the ocean. Being able to zoom into your sprawling metropolis and watch the individual citizens go about their daily business is more hypnotic than it sounds, sort of like an ant farm. It's certainly fun to zoom in and watch your soldiers fight it out with a group of rebels.
The audio is just as fun as the game play and graphics. The ambient noises add a realistic atmosphere to the world while the jaunty, up-beat Caribbean soundtrack is great to listen to, though it may start to grate on anyone that isn't playing the game. The best part of the sound was the radio voice over. Juanito, the friendly Tropico disc jockey, is not only remarkably well acted, but also perfectly poignant. He comments accurately on what's happening on the island which makes him a valuable asset, as well as a lot of fun.
Tropico 3 layers a brilliant micromanagement strategy game with a thorough and thought out political backdrop. The freedom the sheer number of choices gives you, while overwhelming at first, means you'll rarely create the same city twice or use the same path to success. Plus, the unpredictable events, annoying as they are, create another level of realistic challenge that isn't often tackled in city-sims and the political system gives you an added desire to succeed in new and exciting ways. While the tutorial leaves much to be desired, after completing the campaign you'll be able to rule as you wish.