This year marks the 10th anniversary of Tropico‘s revival under Kalypso Media. We’ve seen four main entries in the series, each focusing on building up a tropical dictator’s paradise. You can grow crops, export weapons, and court whatever world powers that happen to be warring this month. It’s all in service of keeping your population happy and passive as you reap the benefits. If you think about it, the Tropico games seem to be pulling a similar trick as the years go on. While there are plenty of tweaks here and there, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you shack up with El Presidente in TROPICO 6.
The biggest addition in Tropico 6 is the new style of island you’ll be playing on. As you might expect from a tropical paradise, you’ll need to contend with waterways. Maps often have split landmasses, requiring bridges and water transport between your main hub and the outlying resource farms. You also may need to add tunnels to link roadways blocked by steep terrain. These are great changes that make each map a bit more natural. Sure, building up one huge plot of land is satisfying, especially in sandbox mode. However, linking together desperate settlements for one cohesive whole is just as gratifying, if not more.
Tropico 6 Review | Micros and macros
The other big change is only visible when you zoom in. Tropico 6 renders out each and every one of your citizens. They live out their days in real time, and you can follow anyone along if you so choose. This is certainly a great technical feat, especially considering how many citizens can inhabit a city in Tropico if you’re playing at max settings. However, there isn’t a lot of gameplay benefit to this decision. You can see individual stats on people, their recent thoughts, and anything you could want. However, it may just be the dictator in me, but Tropico doesn’t give me any reason to care. You’re building in the macro, so these micromanagement tools are a needless distraction.
Instead of learning that José Cortez stubbed his toe last week, I’d much rather Tropico give me some basic information about any given scenario. The main single-player mode consists of a set of challenges to overcome, each themed after a different aspect of management. You might have a mission about issuing propaganda or one specifically about exporting fruit. The problem lies in the fact that you are dropped into an already running game of Tropico. This is traditionally how challenges work in any city building. It’s just that Tropico 6 doesn’t give you any of the tools to succeed right out of the gate.
Tropico 6 Review | Quality of island life
You’d hope that there’d be some sort of chart or screen that lays out the finances of any town you start managing. What are the current big imports and exports? What buildings are already built? Where are they located? You could pause the game, dig through menus, and gather most of this information, but that’s a huge ask considering how long a single mission can be from start to finish. After so many titles, you’d think that quality of life improvements would all be dialed in, but Tropico 6 doesn’t seem to have any of that nailed down.
Another thing that needs work is Tropico 6‘s gamepad support even on the PC version I was playing on. The controller UI just feels sluggish due to its smattering of radial menus and its slow-moving joystick cursor. Translating a game like this to buttons and sticks is a tall order, but this is a game that’s coming to Xbox and PlayStation. Players there will most likely have a much worse time just due to the speed you lose in the transition from a mouse and keyboard. This isn’t the franchise’s first rodeo in that market, so it’s surprising to see it lack polished in this area.
Tropico 6 Review | Procedural city building
For another example, let’s look at the constant flow of requests from political rivals and faction leaders. The Tropico simulation can be overwhelming enough when it asks you to focus in on one specific aspect while also staying alive. You lose sight of warring factions just so you can accomplish your main task. So, whenever one of the many factions pops in with a random task, it’s more bothersome than anything. Building whatever they want is easy enough, but it makes you lose focus. Worse, in certain scenarios, the requests just have you building things you already own and cluttering up your map.
It would have been great to see more interesting mechanics at play that take advantage of the whole situation. There are tools that are just being underused here. I almost never had to arrest citizens nor did I ever feel the need to have El Presidente visit a building. Raising the budget on certain buildings barely came up, as it only felt doable when your city was booming. In a game like this, random events work well when they force you out of your comfort zone. Instead of the strange stories of FTL or the off the wall occurrences of Reigns, Tropico‘s events are annoyances to be dealt with.
Tropico 6 Review | Sandcastles in paradise
Funny enough, Tropico 6 has an answer for most of these critiques, and that’s to just play Sandbox mode. Whether alone or online in multiplayer, this is where everything falls back into place. Instead of pestering you, the political requests make more sense, pointing you towards improvements to your civilization. Because your focus is on city creation, gameplay plays out naturally. You focus on keeping allies happy and enacting policies because you don’t have to worry about maintaining eight chocolate factories. You’ll know exactly how each building fits into the grander scale because you built them all.
The Sandbox mode also lets you more greatly appreciate the bigger picture. While the gameplay hasn’t changed all that much, Tropico 6 does offer some spectacular sights like zooming in to the funfair on the docks, navigating through a field of oil wells, or just watching a blimp bring in the Taj Mahal. Everything is over the top in a great way. This music is probably a little repetitive during a marathon session, but it’s hard to not hum the tropical tunes. It must be doing something right.
Tropico 6 Review | El Presidente never sleeps
The true test of any city builder is how much it grabs you. Strategy games and their ilk thrive on the “one more turn” mentality, letting players gleefully watch their moves play out over the hours. Despite its flaws, Tropico 6 will definitely cause you to stay up later than you should. If you’re willing to forgive the lack of structure, you can spend hours and hours building on each of the included maps. There’s even a randomized map generator once you squeeze all the fun from the included content. In this way, Tropico 6 feels like an old school PC release, but it should still appeal to a wide variety of players looking to rule the tropics with a tanned iron fist.
GameRevolution reviewed Tropico 6 on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.