Nothing beats the life of a dictator. Besides the occasional assassination attempt, you get supreme power and a hearty Swiss bank account. Keep your citizens and the foreign powers happy and watch your success skyrocket. Throw in a couple of bad puns and you have the basic premise of Tropico 5, though the path to complete power isn’t as easy as you would think.
Real-time strategy games can fall into a pattern of learning everything about one faction and then finding the cheapest way to win, so it’s nice to see a game play with the formula a bit. As a first-timer into this series, the tutorial felt like it perfectly prepared me for a life of under-the-table bribes and ruthless corruption. It isn’t all about channeling your inner power maniac though, as you have to keep good relations with bigger foreign powers and make sure your populace is productive. Players start in the colonial area and must answer to The Crown, an anachronism of Great Britain. They assign short term goals to have you complete as you secretly devise a way to declare your independence. Eventually you can become your own superpower but even then you have to answer to a mysterious organization known only as The Order. It seems no matter how high you aim, you always have to answer to someone.
Time is the strangest master, or at least the one with the most unique relationship.There’s a fast forward function and an option to pay more to hasten construction, but even with that there’s a lot of waiting in this game. Whether it’s waiting for ships to pick up your exports, waiting for your next task, or waiting for crops to grow. So like a full day at an amusement park, there are moments of tremendous excitement followed by long stretches of nothing. Eventually this time becomes useful as you spend it preparing for invading armies but until then it can feel like a slog. This would be tolerable if the campaign didn’t force you to start from scratch at certain checkpoints. It comes off as feeling more like an elongated tutorial than a fleshed out experience that pales in comparison to the sandbox mode. Here you can truly build and empire from start to finish making it easily the most satisfying part of the game.
Tropics suffers from what hurts most console RTS games the controls. While the camera is surprisingly easy to use, it’s just as easy to get lost in all the shortcuts required to get the job done. The most important ones are pretty easy to find, but the more you play the game the more you notice what could’ve been a one button keyboard shortcut. New tasks are shown as exclamation points on the map, which can require some fancy footwork with the camera to select. The pause function alleviates this problem somewhat, but just because it doesn’t punish you for the bad controls doesn’t make them any less annoying particularly in longer play sessions.
Tropico 5 has realistic technological progression that makes you feel like a dictator though the ages, or a family if you choose to recognize a illegitimate heir or two. Since the various technologies develop simultaneously its easy to play the game in a myriad of ways. You could easily choose between a peaceful agricultural country or a savage militaristic one even in the same playthrough. There are plenty of maps to chose from too, so the difficulty is completely up to the player.
I’m not a giant fan of RTS ports on console. It always feels like something gets lost in translation that makes it harder to play. It was to my surprise that Tropico pulled me in like it did, proving just how good the game is despite the controls. The campaign mode could use an overhaul to establish at least some permanence, it’s engaging enough to teach the gist of the game without being boring. While it definitely takes some patience to reap the rewards from playing, it’s definitely worth it for the combination of management sim and wartime strategy.
Tropico 5 Gameplay