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Tropico 5 review

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The ‘5’ in the title might suggest that this Caribbean-set city-building series is getting long in the sun-bleached tooth. In practice it’s keeping itself fresh with a cheerful attitude, an indulgent and relaxed approach to a type of game that’s often rather particular about how to play, and a carefree amorality.

As with its mixed-bag predecessors, you play as the despotic (to varying degrees, depending on your playstyle) rule of the titular Caribbean island, striving to slowly upgrade a two-horse town into a thriving and extremely lucrative metropolis. Build houses of assorted quality, construct mines and factories, try to keep everyone healthy and educated enough to expand your population and bring in more profitable industries and a booming tourist trade: it’s a classical formula, and it’s certainly not worn out yet.

While Tropico 5 isn’t an enormous departure from Tropicos 4 and 3, it does do much more with the concept of foreign powers and their impact on your fragile economy.

Trade routes with the Allies during the 1940s will bring in a fat wad of vital cash, for instance, but you might well end up with an Axis invasion fleet on your beach as a result. Or, an optional mini-quest from the Russians during the Cold War, asking that you build more military bases, will consume a few more resources than you might be comfortable with in the short-term, but the long-term reward may be worth it.

These mini-decisions and short-term quests aren’t really game-changing stuff, as Tropico 5 isn’t especially keen to punish its players for cocking anything up (despite some earlier talk about this being that instalment to shake things up), but they do create many more things to do while you’re waiting for a particular construction to finish or a few more dollars to tumble into your Swiss bank account.

Picking and choosing between the various quests offered by factions and your advisors also helps to stop the game from playing quite the same way every time, although again this is cut from very similar cloth to the other Tropicos and so your empire is essentially headed in the same direction regardless.

Combat – which is for the most part rare and fleeting – is a real weakness, as you have no more control over your soldiers and tanks than you do the citizens who carry out their own errands across the city. So when an enemy army arrives at your doorstep, all you can really do is try to have enough watch towers in all the right places, and hope your repairmen can get any destroyed ones standing again quickly.

Fighting is an annoyance, not a crisis, but enough of one that you are at least well-invested in playing politics with external factions in the hope of avoiding it.

It’s an extremely pretty game, especially in the latter  ‘modern age’ stages  which see your former empire of sand now bristling with gleaming skyscrapers and impossibly luxurious hotels. Getting to that point for the first time is by and large a joy, with a steady stream of new toys to play with, but the trouble is that doing it again isn’t quite so appealing. Once you know how to play, and once you’ve learned what the majority of buildings are for, the game doesn’t have much left to throw you off-balance with. The great appeal of city-builder games is as an infinite toy, but as with other games in the series this seems more of a one-shot affair.

The exception to that is the new multiplayer mode, where the aggression and folly of human opponents certainly removes a degree of predictability. Only time will tell if that’s enough to give this Tropico more legs than the last couple – but then again, we’ll probably have Tropico 6 in 2015 anyway.


Tropico 5: Specs

  • OS: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7, Windows 8 Processor: 2 GHz Dual Core CPU Memory: 4 GB RAM Graphics: GeForce 400 or higher, AMD Radeon HD 4000 or higher, Intel HD 4000 or higher (DirectX 11 hardware support required) DirectX: Version 11 Hard Drive: 4 GB available space Sound Card: DirectX compatible

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