Tropico, by MacSoft/Infogrames
Posted: 12-May-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: MacSoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: GAMES

Tropico is a real-time strategy simulation game where the player takes on the role of a newly installed dictator of a remote Caribbean island and is challenged to build a path of progress for a nation in poverty, civil unrest and infighting.

System Requirements

  • Any Macintosh computer with G3 or better (recommended 400Mhz)
  • 32MB RAM (recommended 256MB)
  • MacOS 8.6 or higher (recommended OS 9.1)
  • 850MB hard drive space

The first thing that really stands out in this game, and the element of the game which, for me, sets it apart from all the rest, is the outstanding soundtrack. There is a variety of music tracks which play in the background while you are building your society, and each piece is a lively Carribean-style jam that heightens the atmosphere of the game (and the atmosphere of the room the game is being played in for that matter). During one test, I had an 8-year old child sit down and give the game a try, and the upbeat music was so catchy that all of the adults within ear-shot of the music began dancing around the room while the kid played the game. It's the kind of music that makes all your troubles seem to disappear, and makes you dream about laying in a hammock on some island paradise retreat.

Music aside, Tropico is a complex simulation of a tropical island civilization. The game starts off with some cool interactive animated menus. You zoom through the office of El Presidente as you select what you want to do. When you start a new game, you get to pick who you want to be, including negative character attributes (such as "ugly", or "a drunk", etc.) as well as positive character attributes. You then select the varying options for the game, such as size and height of island, amount of vegetation, political difficulty, and more. After playing on several different levels, I recommend starting off with something very easy so that you can warm up to the game first.

Once the game begins, you are in a real-time simulation of your island, and you start off with a palace (where you live), a construction building (that hires builders), and a few other buildings (mostly huts for people to live in). Your view of the island can be rotated, and the structures on the island are in 3D, so rotating the island often helps gain a better perspective. In the tools palette underneath the map view are an assortment of buttons and tabs, all for controlling the island. You can choose to build just about any structure, farm areas, build roads, and tear down buildings (using a bulldozer). You can issue a variety of different edicts, such as giving away free food or throwing a Mardi-gras style party. You can also establish diplomacy with the US and/or Russia. There are even edicts that you can issue which may challenge your sense of morality, such as swindling money into a Swiss bank account, or throwing people in jail who you don't like. There is a price to pay for all of your choices, either in dollars, or in reaction from your people. With enough civil unrest, some of the people will even start rebellions.

Another unique aspect of this game which differs from other simulation games is the detail and animation of each of the citizens on your island. There are no generalizations made about the population; every citizen is real, is counted towards your popularity, and each has ratings based upon hunger, living conditions, entertainment, and other factors affecting their happiness. You can follow an individual by clicking on him or her, and a big arrow helps you track their every move; from going to their place of employment, to returning home for rest, to going out for the evening. This aspect of the game is extremely fascinating. You can find out where someone works, and click on that building (whether a construction office or a restaurant), and give them a raise. You can find out where they live, and if they live in a hut, you can bulldoze the hut and build a nice house or apartment building.

When deciding what to build, you need to keep in mind what buildings are required first. You need to have a power plant before you can have an airport. You need to have a Diplomatic building before you can establish diplomacy. You need to have a jail house before you can put people in jail. There are high schools, colleges, churches, house, TV stations, newspapers, banks, and so much more, each affecting both your economy and the people who live on your island. Needless to say, this is quite a management task, from any perspective!

You feed your people by establishing farms, and you can determine the best place for farms by looking at the vegetation mode in your map view. You can farm corn, bananas, papayas, tobacco, and a few others items. Later you can build refineries for your products to improve them as well as establishing exports. You build lumber yards in heavily forested areas, and over time, the forests are cut down. You can improve many of your facilities by purchasing improvements (such as improved saw equipment for your lumber yard, etc.). You build roads between your businesses and houses to allow workers to get to work easily, as well as allowing customers to reach public businesses easily (such as restaurants and pubs). You build docks and airports to allow people to come and go from the island. In fact, in the beginning, you'll want to "import" educated workers for many of your businesses (such as hospitals) from other countries. A building like a hospital provides no value unless it has qualified employees. Once you build schools, eventually you'll have educated and qualified islanders that you can hire without having to import workers. When you do hire from outside the island, a boat icon appears on the building until an immigrant arrives at the dock. Once the immigrant arrives, you can track their movement, as they find housing and then begin their new job.

On the super easy settings, you get a good feel for how different buildings affect the people, but you're given unlimited funds to work with, so you don't quite see the effect on the economy. Increasing the difficulty to the default settings will provide the full impact of managing the island. Be prepared to fall on your face in the beginning, as the job is overwhelming. You must balance everything, between the military and the environmentalists, the wages, rents, and projects, and all the while trying to make everyone happy. True to reality, it is impossible to make everyone happy. I found that keeping 50% of the people happy was an achievement. I also found that the most difficult aspect of the game was managing the economy. I read the documentation several times, but I never was able to get enough information from it to provide answers to why some things worked the way they did. For real-life economists, perhaps they could make sense of some of the fluctuations in money. Sometimes the island has a big deficit, and sometimes I was far into the black, and I often never understood why. There were times that I felt like a madman randomly (and desparately) increasing rents and lowering wages to increase the surplus, but you have to be careful about people quitting jobs and leaving the island (not to mention joining some rebellion). Even on the easy setting where I always had some money, I found that building everything that theoretically would make people happy was just not making people happy.

In one successful game under the default settings, I was pleased to see my island prosper, but at some point, everyone started getting hungry. I immediately built about a dozen new farms, and even though the population did not increase, after the farms begin producing crops, I found that the hunger problems persisted. I never could figure out what to do, and the documentation did not help.

Using edicts to build a good diplomatic stance with the US helped my surplus because the US contributed money (what nice people!). I was able to try out most of the edicts, but some I never could use. All edicts show up as a button, but if they are not activated, you cannot select them, and while most were obvious what you needed to do to activate them, some where not.

The mulitple speed settings was a nice touch, including a pause speed where time stands still, allowing you to inspect everything and plan your next move. When your economy is going strong, and you want to build up the surplus, I found that speeding up the game was helpful for building the surplus faster. Of course, you have to be careful, because if something bad happens, then a high speed games means that your economy crashes fast as well.

Summary
There is so much to this game, that a review is just not going to be able to cover it all; in fact, not even a majority of it. The amount of structures, and the different effects of each structure on the economy and the people is mind blowing. The fact that each person on the island is an asset that needs to be managed adds to the complexity, as well as diplomatic stances with different island parties as well as with other nations. This game is a study, and requires intense strategic planning to be successful under the standard gamea settings. If you find that the amount of work overwhelms you to the point of not having fun, you can always try adjusting the difficulty levels until you find the right level for you. Admittedly, even that was a difficult task, requiring trial and error attempts to achieve the right balance (bouncing back and forth between too hard and too easy). This games deserves a lot of credit for the graphical interface, including the zooming details, and the tracking of individual citizens. The game also deserves kudos for the intense complexity of the simulation. Most of all, the game gets my highest appreciation for its music. When all is said and done, and I just want to enjoy building my little island, I tone down the difficulty settings, and sit back and relax with the tropical upbeat music while I go on a building frenzy. Say, would someone please pass me one of those drinks with the umbrella in it?

Pros:

  • Refined and detailed simulation of people and economy
  • Awesome upbeat background music
  • Superb graphics with zooming and rotation
  • Detailed tracking and managing of individual citizens

Cons:

  • Very high learning curve at standard settings
  • Difficult to understand economic reactions to seemingly good politics
  • Documentation does not provide enough for understanding all aspects of game


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice