A solid contender in the city building genre for well over 15 years now, Tropico has just reached its sixth installment. It’s out now for PC, but we’ll see console releases (for PS4 and Xbox One) at some point during the summer.
Perhaps the console releases of Tropico 5 are the reason it didn’t feel like too much time passed in between this new release and the last one, but it’s actually been almost five years since we got to play a new Tropico. The basic promise is still the same – manage an island nation as El Presidente, the slightly mad ruler of a little part of paradise. The franchise’s lighthearted take on dictatorship has entertained me for well over a decade now, even though the core concepts never radically changed – developer Limbic is all about incremental changes.
Tropico 6 plays out on a slightly grander scale – mostly because it literally expands the scale from managing one island to a series of land masses that together form an archipelago. The main challenge here is of a logistical nature, as supply lines and transportation routes now have to run across several islands. This means utilizing different modes of transportation (including tunnels and cable cars), as well as the necessity of building bridges to connect individual islands to ensure you end up with something that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s a fun new take, and something that Cities Skylines hasn’t offered me despite its many expansions to date.
There is also plenty of ‘mad dictator stuff’ to keep you entertained. In true Austin Powers style, you can set out to steal important landmarks from other nations and add them to your island nation for more tourist appeal. Fancy that Eiffel Tower? It could be yours now. You can also make outrageous promises during election years to sway the people your way – and then of course neglect them post-election. It’s not new to the franchise, but its re-introduction in fitting in a day and age where plenty of people feel that “anyone can become president”. The satirical nature of Tropico is still very much alive in Tropico 6.
Tropico 6 gives you the option to evolve through the decades as well, starting out amidst cold war tensions and proving that you can keep your little nation alive and kicking well into the current century. What starts out as a series of seedy deals and questionable decisions where you exploit your citizens turns into a game where PR and rhetoric suddenly become a major part of your job description – to some an eerie reminder of the times we live in, but a fun take on the development for sure.
While the game offers a sandbox mode as well, I had a lot more fun with Tropico 6’s campaign mode. There’s still plenty of freedom to do as you please, but having a bit of direction certainly helps and also adds to the narrative element of the game. Not being in a scenario where foreign superpowers start making demands can feel like freedom, but it also robs Tropico of some of its personality – an essential component to the series’ success.
The Tropico franchise, since number 4, has consistently gotten a console release after the PC version came out – and it feels to me like that decision has helped the game’s user interface become a tad more friendly to use. I’m still sticking to my mouse and keyboard interface, but the menu structures aren’t nearly as convoluted as I remember them from earlier iterations, making for a more streamlined experience and a no doubt seamless transition to consoles this summer.
As with the gameplay, Tropico 6’s audiovisual presentation also does not revolutionize on itself. The game looks good with all the details cranked up, but it’s nothing that’ll impress players of Cities Skylines (or even Tropico 5). Having said that – visuals were never the main appeal of Tropico. Number six retains all of the character that made the other games fun to play, and does just enough to make sure the experience feels fresh again.