El Presidente returns to rule his loyal subjects, but there is plenty of new stuff to take in with the latest entry in the Tropico franchise.
Do my eyes deceive me, or have I already lost? Two hours into my very first island, just as I was about to free myself from the shackles of oppression - boom!. A " You Lose", followed by an express ticket back to the main menu. This was something completely new - failure had never entered my mind as even a remote possibility in Tropico.
Yet there I was ashamed and confused, but most of all, impressed. My failure, however painful it may have been, illustrated after all Haemimont Games new design philosophy. More gameplay, less fluff, and greater challenge. While the previous games in the series - especially Tropico 4 - always came across as an all-inclusive carefree vacation rather than the an expression of the perils of a banana republic stuck between significantly more powerful nations - Tropico 5 is something else entirely.
At first glance, it's very familiar to the experienced Tropico player. An island, a Presidente, a population to exploit or spoil, factions that demand attention and influence, and a couple of schizophrenic super powers. Everything needed for an enjoyable life as a dictator in the Caribbean. But as is so often the case in reality (you know - that thing without screen tearing and anti-aliasing) it does not always end well for the poor dictators. Throughout in the different eras (the most notable addition to the game) there are several challenges for El Presidente and his or her offspring.
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The first, and the one who disgraced a former so proud reviewer, concerns the founding of the island nation. The country of Tropico does not see the light of day until the colony Tropico has broken free from the chains of British rule. The initial hour is a precarious balancing act between pleasing the monarch to extend your mandate, and simultaneously gathering support among revolutionaries. The founding of the country Tropico marks the end of the colonial era, and the beginning of the World War era.
Not only will this make the game more eventful in general as it also provides the player with a clear goal to work towards in all eras, something previous games in the series have been in desperate need of, it also provides Haemimont Games with a reason to redesign the avatar system. Instead of a single dictator the player now has a dynasty to manage. Dynasty members can be designed and tailored in the same way as before, albeit with a fewer choices overall. They can be assigned one specialty each, and then given various assignments to suit their respective abilities - a smaller change than it might seem, but nonetheless a welcome addition.
To further expand your options to customise your dynasty your secret Swiss bank account, found in the series since Tropico 3, finally has a purpose. While in the past it only contributed to a completely irrelevant point system it now allows you to "buy" upgrades to your dynasty members in order to further their skills and increase their effects on your society.
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The actual city building is largely unchanged from before, with only a few additions and optimisations, and the economy is handled basically the same as before; as is the happiness level of your subjects. Various minor missions pop up every now and then, and the usual income options remain in terms of agriculture, industry, tourism and trade. Very basic for a city building game, but perfectly adequate and well suited for the game's easygoing approach.
But even if the philosophy of "less fluff , more gameplay" led to a significantly more stable and interesting game, it has resulted in some loss of character in a series that is otherwise known to be rich on personality. The reduced number of alternatives in the creation of dynasty members and choice to replace the entertaining selection of their background, road to power and personality with a generic trait greatly reduces my interest in family members.
Not even the islanders escape this treatment, and they now serve more as symbols of an underlying infrastructure rather than the endless source of entertainment they previously were. Forget Finance Minister Conception Colon, she who built herself a shed by the garbage dump and spends more time at the casino than at meetings. Forget the tourist family Jamal who left their five-year old (with a voice like a French man in his thirties) to walk back to the hotel from their visit to the island's most decrepit pub. Sparsely detailed, inhumanly fast infrastructure droids is all Tropico 5 has to offer in terms of population, and it's a real setback in terms of personality and character.
Yet I find that at the end of the day I barely have time to think about the criminal in the shed behind the police station who married into the island's richest family. All the new challenges and variations in game mechanics that Tropico 5 offers is more than enough to keep me enthralled for hours at a time. With a hugely anticipated multiplayer mode (which we unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try) as the icing on the cake, it would hardly surprise me if I within a couple of days have forgotten that I ever missed my residents antics.
Tropico 5 is the game Tropico 4 should've been - a considerable step forward for the series. With a safe and sound core surrounded by entertaining and interesting additions that guarantees amateur dictators worldwide countless hours with much needed practice before they head out into the harsh realities of real-world dictatorship.
8 / 10
Wonderful humour, Eras that create variation and add objectives, Greater challenge, Dynasty cuts down on micromanagement and increases interactivity, Well balanced economy, Enjoyable music, Multiplayer mode.
Less personality as far as inhabitants and dynasty members go, Built with future DLC in mind.