Back in the day, there were lots of sequels. It was usually pretty straightforward – you just followed up Hypersports with Hypersports 2, and everyone know what was going on. Occasionally a game might have an extra little strap line (Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe), or if you were feeling really cavalier, a name linked to the original only through the name of the hero (Hungry Horace became Horace Goes Skiing. Just accept it. It was a different age).
Now, it’s not so simple. Is it really a sequel if it’s a DLC add-on pack, or a fan-made mod, or a total conversion mod? Even patches can add new maps, weapons, balance, bug fixes and performance tweaks, sometimes installing automatically so you hardly even know it’s happened. Yes, friends, identifying a sequel can get pretty complex.
Well, don’t bet your last peso on it.
See, while the graphics have had a pretty basic lick of paint in places, it’s recognisably the same game as Tropico 3. In some cases, the exact in-game wording is the same – descriptive text when you click on a building, for example. Now, I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, fans who want something fresh are going to look at the new ministers, the new trade partner, a couple of new buildings here and there, and scream “but this is just Tropico 3!”.
Kalypso will then no doubt be vigorously nodding, saying “More or less, yes. Isn’t it great?”
They’ve got a game that they are rightfully very proud of. You play the part of the cheerfully amoral ‘El Presidente’, ruler of the Caribbean island-nation of Tropico. From the 1950s onwards it’s up to you to juggle the various levels of capitalism and communism, liberty and security and profit and loss that come with running your own developing-world dictatorship. Export coffee and landmines on the same freighter, build huge golden statues of yourself while your citizens live in cramped tenements and the streets are patrolled by armed guards, or try to build an island paradise for rich foreign tourists. Each level is a new island and brings new challenges. And it is here specifically that Tropico 4 feels like a new game.
Guided by a wide cast of memorable and entertaining characters, each map has its own goals which define the nature of your approach. Essentially, Tropico is a game about constructing new buildings and roads, like a more easy-going Cities XL. The cut-and-thrust of politics is portrayed through the opinions of the various factions on the island and those of the nations of the outside world – who are also your trade partners. If we return to my freighter example, that coffee would go to the US, while the landmines would end up in the hands of the Middle East, and prices are intertwined with the opinions those powers might hold about you.
If you’ve never played a Tropico game before, you’ll not notice the similarity to previous games in the series. I fall into this category, and I’ve scored this review accordingly, because it’s immensely absorbing. I had to wrench myself away from the computer every night after playing, and would happily forego food and water to explore the maps and stories that Tropico has to offer.
The maps themselves are beautifully and imaginatively created, featuring beautiful waterfalls and exotic-looking ruins. The quests on each map are unusual and madcap – at one point, the entire military-industrial force of Tropico is geared toward getting the world record for the… Actually, no, I won’t spoil it. But trust me, it’s pretty weird.
These days, it’s all about retweeting your Facebook updates to Reddit, or whatever it is the kids are doing. Tropico 4 can connect directly to Twitter and Facebook, and live-post your achievements and even screenshots, no doubt confusing your nan when your status update says you’ve sold 100,000 tons of pineapples. Still, it’s a sign of where gaming is going, no doubt. There are also a whole array of new natural disasters, which will destroy your carefully-crafted nation while you sit helpless, vaguely recollecting that you can build fire stations, and wouldn’t it have been such a good idea to have built one.
Aside from a little flickering on some of the new shadow effects, Tropico 4 ran pretty well on my machine, and I was able to chuck the camera around with aplomb without too much hassle.
I want to make it abundantly clear that Tropico 4 doesn’t reinvent the franchise, nor does it really seem to want to. For those who played and enjoyed the previous games, it simply offers more new missions to play and a handful of new buildings and concepts. Frankly, if they do exactly the same thing with Tropico 5, I’ll be well pleased.