The French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. This is true for Tropico 5. For as feature-rich, improved, beautiful it is, the new additions that make it different from it’s predecessors, still ends up feeling awfully similar when you actually sit down to play it.
Tropico 5‘s list of changes are many. The first thing you’ll notice upon starting a new game is there aren’t any prefabricated personas to take on. No longer are you able to play as Fidel Castro, Eva Peron, Che Guevara, etc. You may think this takes away from the personality or charm of the series, but it’s those who surround you during your rule that fill in that gap. You now create your own character, with many zany clothing and hair options. This creates the beginnings of your dynasty. As you progress, you can purchase levels using your Swiss bank account to enhance them, let them retire, have children to be heirs who can be added to your dynasty that maxes out for a total of seven slots.
Introduced to the series for the first time are eras. Eras allow you to take your own “El Presidente” across four different times over the past century. Tropico 4 had a post-release DLC titled “Modern Times”, which touched on bringing the game to the modern world with updated buildings and technologies. The developers took that idea and expanded it making the eras work in tandem with the dynasty to elongate the gameplay into interesting ways allowing for a better feeling of progression and less anachronistic. Although, it does seem possible still, as there’s an achievement for reaching the modern era before 1960.
The Campaign, or story to Tropico 5 is delivered well, featuring a full cast of characters from prior games in the series as well as caricatures of real-world people of the time. Over the course of the 15 story missions, you’ll be tasked with various objectives that do sometimes repeat, such as asking for x-amount in exports, attracting a certain number of tourists, or making friends with the President of the United States. Later missions will ask and expect more from you. The missions themselves can be a bit hand-holdy as they tell you exactly what you need to do, but it gives the campaign its structure as as to not get too far off-track or otherwise distracted.
Once the campaign is complete, there is a mission mode to go back and replay a specific missions from the campaign, separately. Sandbox allows you to start a game without story, allowing you the freedom to build the best Tropico you can, and can set up any number of variables to assist or hinder you from reaching that goal. Lastly, there’s Multiplayer for you to play cooperatively or against one another.
Editor’s Note: Multiplayer goes unplayed and untested as of this review, due to being unable to find players during pre-release.
During each era, you’ll want to complete Research that advance the technology for the time period. It’ll take several months of in-game time to accomplish, but the rewards can be highly lucrative. For instance, early-game goals will have you researching ranches to make them more efficient while later research plans have you learning how to make a Constitution. You’ll have to plan accordingly though, as certain tasks will have time limits. Investing in the wrong technology that maybe you don’t have, can cost you your bonus.
Issuing Edicts to your tropical paradise is a double-edged sword, as you could get what you want in order to progress, but could give a rise to civil unrest. Early game ones have you making it so there are no free lunches, reducing your expenditures but making it so residents spend more of their own money. There’s a clear risk/reward when issuing edicts, and enforcing policies you may or may not agree with. But some are absolutely essential to net you more profits, so that you can have a specific building you couldn’t otherwise purchase.
Exploration is new to the game, and required. If you don’t, building and expansion is limited without uncovering the fog that envelops the island. Something as simple as building roads is not possible until you’ve spent a thousand dollars of in-game money to send an expedition out. They can reveal oil protruding from the ground, resources to mine such as gold or bauxite, and ancient ruins to exploit for tourism money.
Missing from the HUD is the lack of a faster fast forward. Where there was once three speed options: 1x, 2x, and 3x, are now just 1x and 2x. Not entirely sure what the reasoning is behind this change, but it certainly slows the game down just a bit.
Less visible changes are within the building information sheet. Buildings have greater depth now. Educated residents can be promoted to becoming a manager. Managers can increase efficiency, money towards the workers, and more. Building themselves can be upgraded, at a cost. Most have positive impacts such as reducing pollution, but some have the possibility of reducing the job quality while giving more output. It’s now much easier to demolish a building, as it’s a selectable option while looking at the building details.
You can modify political and economic difficulty at the start of each mission to be as easy or as hard as you want it to be, and can alter how often disasters happen. On one such mission, I had done pretty poorly, and a rebel uprising had begun just as a volcano became active and started spewing hot magma all over my town that was built up against it. Reverting to a previous save didn’t help, as both of these were inevitable and there were catastrophic losses. This type of tension makes Tropico 5 really fun, and has you reacting to unexpected situations. Other disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and tornadoes all threaten your paradisal rule. Investing in a natural disaster edict can help ease the pain.
Being tossed out of power can happen quite easily, only if you’re not paying attention to your job. Considerations should be given to your people to make your little-country-that-could happy so that you can make it to see another era. People pleasing goes a long way in Tropico. Upsetting them can cause you to lose in many ways, such as your palace being destroyed by invading forces, or more simply, if you get voted out of office.
The islands of Tropico are designed in such a way to create a challenge for building placement and overall expansion. Most of the campaign has you bouncing between the different islands. There many more to choose from and play on. Each are visually similar, but distinct surfaces shapes and features allow you to create the island of your dreams
With loading screens featuring canvas paintings, shows a real care and attention to the atmosphere. No longer do you have just text informing you on what’s happening off-screen, small sections of the upper-left hand corner now show you a video as the notification. Tropico 5 is a real pretty game, now running on DirectX 11 over DirectX 9. The skyboxes are lacking and features pixelation, but the accelerated time of day highlights wonderful colors in conjunction with the use of light and shadow that’s just pleasurable to look at, all the time.
The considerations to player feedback over the years, and the resulting trial and error of past entries shows great improvement in Tropico 5. There’s enough freshness combined with familiarity that makes this game worth recommending for newcomers, as well returning players. The campaign is progressively exciting and challenging, all while keeping the information you need up-front and easily available. Tropico 5 is the best game the series has to offer.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes