Easy enough PC fun on a console.
The video game experience, especially on consoles, has come a long way. Nowadays, gamers aren’t content with merely good gameplay or even great graphics. New franchises must break new ground in the realm of interactive fiction or be as good as any real-life competitive sport in the online multiplayer-verse. The charm (and frustration) of a game like Tropico 5 is that it acts like the last decade of gaming never happened. Like we’re all still looking at cartoony board games on our screens in an attempt to replay Parker Brothers' Risk over and over.
Of course, fans of the Civilization games (and they are legion) will tell you that these types of turn-based strategy games are all about the fun that comes from using tactics and, most of all, maintaining your resources. I wonder what they’ll think of Tropico 5… as played on the PS4. The game was released on PCs over a year ago with solid reviews, but the big question is whether or not such a PC-minded title can even work well with the DualShock 4. The answer for players new to this type of game is… maybe? It’s definitely a plus that Tropico 5 simplifies the gameplay, making the experience work pretty well on consoles, but I’m not sure that’s enough.
Aesthetically, it’s still fairly unremarkable, a too on-the-nose, tone-deaf affair. The voice acting is really bland, the attempt at political satire is obvious, and the visuals are okay at best, if this was 2005. If you want to enjoy this game, you’ll need to look past all that. You have to want to give yourself over to a game that, frankly, isn’t very immersive by today’s standards. The good news is that if you love strategy-based titles, and you’re wondering if Tropico 5 is still worth playing, the answer is yes. The fact is that there are many console players out there who loved Civ IV on Xbox 360, and for them the island venue of Tropico 5 will be a trip worth taking.
Developer Kalypso knows that for most newbies, however, T5 will be a learning experience. Definitely spend a few hours in Tutorial Mode if you can. (It helps a lot.) Once you’re past that, you can dive into the real fun of the game. As mentioned earlier, this is all about resource management which here comes in the form of economics, politics, money, and the number of citizens on your island. Another factor is how you tend to your land. I went with the pre-made islands option, but there is also a map generator that has islands of different sizes and several other resources available at the beginning.
Continuing with my Risk analogy, there are different factions all vying for domination and you’ll need to find a way to balance between what you want for the island versus what your people want or need. Actually, the citizens and how you take care of them is reminiscent of SimCity, but I think overall the board game comparison is more accurate.
Back to being a ruler: I did like how I could place certain types of people in key strategic positions, like having a person that can work wonders for my oil and mining ventures. The bigger picture is that throughout the game you are building a nation, so you’ll need to deal with other countries, like trying to keep the Russians happy but not make waves with the Americans. (For more specifics on the gameplay, check out Kevin’s review of the Xbox 360 version of Tropico 5.)
Are there problems? Well, eventually no matter how good I was at keeping my citizens happy and keeping my industrial complex running, problems seem to arise almost predictably after a certain range of time. The closest comparison I can make is Mario Kart; no matter how far ahead I am as Princess Peach, eventually Yoshi always catches up somehow with the rubber-banding AI. Here, it’s that my citizens inevitably get unhappy, even when it feels like I’m doing everything I can to keep things running smoothly for them.
The biggest plus is that the controller works really well. I’m sure there are shortcuts and other features that a full keyboard can do better, but using the stick to zoom, rotate and then hitting X to select, etc. was pretty easy to get used to.
The bottom line is Tropico 5 is a good entry-level sim and strategy game. If you love SimCity and Civilization, this should be up your alley. Of course, you could just keep playing a board game, but I digress…