Let me start off by saying that when I reviewed Tropico I had also installed the Paradise Island expansion. Although I briefly considered writing two reviews, one for the game and one for the expansion (thus getting two reviews for only playing one game), I realized I would also have to write both reviews myself, and this would be twice the work. Therefore, if you are basing you decision to buy Tropcio on my review alone (as you should be doing for all your gaming purchases), you might as well buy the expansion too, ya cheapskate.
Fun in the sun...without the sun
Now that we have those unpleasantries out of the way, let us turn out attention to the world of Tropico. Brought to power by an election/appointment/military coup, as the newly appointed leader of this small country you must provide the people with the basics of living while trying to stay in power in the process. Since your island is so small, all you really have room for is one big town, making gameplay look a lot like Sim City. However unlike Sim City, you can execute, intimidate, or imprison your citizens for any reason you choose. The...uh..."ethical flexibility" the game gives you is one of the highlights of Tropico, and the main thing that separates it from similar games on the market.
Men working in a power plant? You must be loco!
However, even your loyal subjects will frustrate your every attempt to help them. Although the expansion pack promises buildings will be constructed faster, it lies. Buildings still take far too long to construct, and while your workers dither about the map (sometimes setting off in random directions for no discernable reason) they complain that their needs arent being met. Well, maybe if they'd get off their lazy butts and build the damn clinic, their loved ones wouldnt be dropping like flies because they dont have health care! Further causing delays is the fact that no building can be built on a slope, so the workers must flatten the terrain. Airports, due to their size, are the worst offenders in this category (and unfortunately very important in the game as well). Another reason buildings take so long is that the time you experience in Tropico (measured in increments of months) is almost comically different from the time that your citizens live in. Therefore, workers will spend several months in the bar, and then spend half a year sleeping it off in their houses. Also strange is that several jobs are gender specific in the game that in real life are done by anyone. For example, construction work can be done by anyone, but only guys can be bankers. Only women can be diplomats and power plant workers. This could be overlooked if not for the fact that for most of the game, youre lucky to only have a few educated workers. So, if you want power, youd better hope you have a spare college educated woman around somewhere, or you'll be in trouble.
Better dead than Red
One of the great things about the game how open ended it is when it comes to running your island. You can make it a workers paradise of Communism, a Capitalist industrial powerhouse, or a sleazy tourist trap. It's up to you to grant your subjects as little or as much freedom as you wish, and you can even commit election fraud if it looks like a close race. Do you grant the people fair elections, or squish them under your mighty boot of oppression? It's your choice. There are several factions in Tropico that give you a domestic political angle to deal with as well. You can jail every Communist on the island, or suck up to the Intellectuals. Every faction has its own wants and needs, and you will be hard pressed to satisfy them all. Unlike some games that would make you follow the squeaky clean path, in Tropico you can jail your opposition, or even have them shot. Just make sure and keep your soldiers happy, or you will have a coup or even an open revolt on your hands. Tropico deals with foreign policy as both the U.S. and Russia meddle in your affairs. They try and influence you with foreign aid, offering to put a military base on your soil, or even invade your island if they hate you too much. Trying to maintain this balancing act and exploring different strategies is what will make you want to play Tropico again and again.
You must be this tall to get into prison
I suppose to avoid the dreaded "M" rating there are some restrictions on what you can and cannot do to your populace. For example, in one game my people demanded free elections. I caved in and Javier, the opposition candidate, was chosen to run against me. So, being the good sport that I am, I had him and his entire family killed (your precious votes will not save you now, Javier!). But wait, little six year old Maria somehow escaped the carnage. All attempts to imprison her failed as well. Thats right, the game will not let you do anything to children. Also, children will never die of natural disasters or from any other cause. Fortunately for you, the children of Tropico are too unorganized to try and overthrow your government. I am positive that if they tried they would succeed, since there would be no way to stop their deadly rampage once they went on the warpath. Also, tourists are strangely exempt from punishment as well. That is a real shame since they could have nicely integrated that with the games foreign relations model. Dont like the U.S. any more? Jail that slob from St. Louis who just sits around in the gift shop for three months. But alas, they did not do this, so foreigners remain free from your iron grasp.
All in all, Tropico offers good, solid gameplay with little to complain about. A small developer community has sprung up to provide more scenarios for you to play (although I never figured out how to make my own) should you ever tire of the main game. With vivid graphics and a snazzy Cuban soundtrack, Tropico is a good game for those of you who believe the term Banana Republic refers to more than a clothing store.