Tapping into your inner despot
Monday, November 9, 2009 12:51 PM
[youtube]sFmu-fXCg70[/youtube]Just so we’re all on the same page here, I'm a Tropico n00b. When Haemimont Games’ Tropico 3 (Windows PC) arrived on my desk last week I had to research its two predecessors just so that I'd have a bit of context before deciding whether I wanted to jump into the franchise so late in the game.
Turns out they were a couple of light-hearted Caribbean dictatorship simulators released over half a decade ago that received fairly warm, if not glowing, reviews from the media (the first fared a bit better than the latter, which apparentlty strayed from the original's formula and introduced a pirate theme).
By all accounts the third edition in the series has more in common with the first game than the second. And, perhaps because of this, it's been earning quite favourable press. That, plus the notion of becoming a virtual despot, was enough to make me install the game over the weekend and give it a whirl.
I’m glad I did.
The goal of Tropico 3 is quaint compared to those many other simulation/city building games. You’re not out for world domination, trying to create a utopian city, or even working toward some vague higher ideal. Rather, your goal is simply to keep the people happy enough that they don’t overthrow you while accomplishing basic goals such as population growth or exporting goods. Meanwhile, you'll also slowly pad your private Swiss bank account so that you can retire comfortably should you ever be chased from office. It’s all quite believable, just a bit dirty, and surprisingly pleasant.
After stepping into the shoes of your choice of either an authentic dictator—Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are among our options—or one of your own making, players embark on a series of more than a dozen missions, each set on a different Caribbean island (all of which, it’s worth adding, are quite easy on the eyes; Tropico 3 is nothing if not pretty, especially for an independently developed game).
The first mission had me trying to grow the economy of my tiny island by building farms and shipping out products like fruit, tobacco, and sugar while cutting deals with a couple of different American importers and pocketing a few dollars for myelf.
However, within moments of starting up I realized that there was a lot more to it than simply constructing farmhouses and signing a few fishy documents.
I had to improve wages to draw workers and build infrastructure—including garages and roads—to make sure farmhands could get to work and do their jobs. I also needed to tend to the people, issuing edicts on hot-button topics like same sex marriage and the economy, building apartments to get them out of shanty towns, and addressing their quality of life concerns by developing schools and medical clinics.
However, despite everything I did there were still plenty of rebels. Some protested peacefully while others took up arms, which meant I had to spend money on the island’s military, consequently keeping me from putting cash toward civilians’ real needs and forcing me to waste time giving speeches filled with hollow promises about things like the environment and healthcare to put them at ease. Oddly, the rebels almost make one start to sympathize with despots.
Luckily, exports aren’t your island’s only means of income. You can build a diplomatic office and suck up to either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. to earn handouts in the form of aid packages.
You have to be cautious in how you deal with the superpowers, though, because either of them can invade your little island nation on a whim if you irk them too much (my first presidency came to an abrupt end after I balked on a business agreement with a fruit company, causing it to lobby the American government to put the U.S. warships that had been circling the island to use).
I haven’t had enough time to really dive into the game (I’ve tried only a few of the game's 15 missions, dipped my toe into sandbox mode, and have yet to download any of the missions being created by other players), but I like what I’ve seen. It’s deep, engaging, and—save a few spelling and grammatical mistakes in the text menus and event alerts—surprisingly polished. I've no qualms recommending Tropico 3 to fans of both city builders and political and nation sims.
Laguna: "Chill man, it's cool." -- Youtube
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