30th May2019

‘Tropico 6′ Review (PC)

by Matthew Smail

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No-one (and I mean no-one) is as big a fan of the Tropico series as I am. From the delightfully infectious salsa music that perfectly captures both the Latin setting and the mischievously tongue-in-cheek nature of Kalypso’s twenty year old series to the lighthearted gameplay, I love almost everything about it. Despite this lifelong affection for Tropico games, I can’t help but feel that the series is getting a bit long in the tooth.

After all, Tropico 6, for all its charm, feels as if it has barely moved on since Tropico 3 reinvented the series back in 2009. Aside from the inevitable graphical enhancements, this sixth edition of the game features the same look, the same feel, almost the same user interface and many of the same successes and failures that each of the previous three entries in the series did. At times, it even reuses the same missions and sequences of events as though it were almost a remaster.

With that said, the latest Tropico follows a similar path to the one that Tropico 4 and 5 took, in that it simply adds more. More buildings, more resources to produce and refine, more ridiculous characters to deal with and more factions to appease. The player will coerce their own private banana republic through some twenty or so missions, as well as a freeform sandbox mode, with each mission easily lasting upwards of an hour if you allow yourself to be sucked into the kind of inefficient time management that the Tropicans so love to indulge themselves in.

Each mission has its own timeline (with Colonial, World Wars, Cold War and Modern Times as the backdrop) and set of objectives, and as always the design team behind Tropico 6 has been as imaginative as possible. From tutorial missions in which the player must smuggle gold inside hollowed out coconuts to missions that involve playing superpowers off against each other, the variety of different approaches is expansive. Whilst most of the missions focus on (or at least require) a degree of focus on production and processing efficiency, some throw their own unique spanners into the mix.

This, I think, is where Tropico 6 really starts to show what I love about the series. Whether you came here to focus purely on how to extract minerals, resources and other raw materials from the game world for maximum profit, or whether you came because of the very fine control you’ll have over your Tropican citizens, it is in the way that Tropico 6 allows players such a wealth of options that meant I still enjoyed my time with it. In some missions, the threat of rebellion is amplified, whilst in others, superpowers look to use Tropico as a pivotal element in their war. How the player resolves each of these situations is usually limited only by the imagination.

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The Tropico series is a real masterclass in allowing players the freedom to choose from perhaps ten to twenty wildly different strategies in each level, without really ramming any of them down your throat. Tropico 6 takes this to a new level (albeit an iterative one) by introducing the concept of archipelago’s. Rather than having a single island to manage, Tropican leaders now have two, three or maybe even more island per mission, usually within close proximity to one another. Whilst one island might be a tourist paradise, the next might hold oil, iron and other resources.

Finding the balance between doing whatever you fancy and doing what it takes to succeed is key in Tropico 6, much as it has been in the past few iterations. These objectives can often be either somewhat or entirely at odds with one another. Again, this is often the result of some crazy idea hatched by one of El Presidente’s ridiculous followers. It might be necessary to preach religious sermons via a network of taverns, for example, or to create some kind of completely untenable economy based on produce that simply isn’t available without expensive imports.

Later missions are worse for this kind of thing, but clearly it’s all done in jest and in general, it’s good clean fun. Fans of the series will know what they can expect from a Tropico game (which is both good and bad, since there’s little that is truly new here) whilst newcomers will build up their understanding of the quite complex ecosystems that run in Tropico before any of the truly punitive missions roll around. A less welcome feature (that has also always been present) is that of repetitive side missions, usually raised by one faction or another.

These missions tend to occur randomly and will involve constructing a particular building to appease a local leader, with the reward being paid in cash or political support and any penalty being incurred in a loss of voters. The problem tends to be that these missions rarely take into account the current state of play. A faction might ask for a new golf course even though you just built one, or another church even though you have set the country’s religious stance to absolutely atheist. Thankfully, these missions can often be ignored or fulfilled with a perk that can be purchased via The Broker, a new character who offers a few shady opportunities to invest either to or from El Presidente’s Swiss bank account.

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As I mentioned briefly earlier, Tropico 6 does feature visuals that you would expect from a modern strategy game and I am pleased to say that it runs very well on a modern gaming PC, but it is by no means a game that sets new standards for graphical fidelity. instead, it uses the detailed palm forests, mangroves, beaches and volcanoes of the Tropican Islands to showcase a warm, relaxing vibe that makes up for a bigger special effects budget. This, along with the music (which has never been beaten since Tropico 3) still manages to give Tropico 6 a certain sense of drama.

Overall, fans of the Tropico series won’t be disappointed by this sixth installation, but it’s debatable as to whether it offers enough new or exciting content to warrant investing in at full price. There are certainly many, many changes but the majority of them take place at an almost opaque level that is really only going to be noticeable to fans who’ve wrung every drop of pineapple juice out of the previous games. The archipelago feature results in some interesting maps and the new advisors and political options are interesting but unremarkable.

In short, Tropico 6 is more of the same, but is that really a bad thing? For a newcomer, this is most certainly the most complete and well polished game in the series. The difficulty curve is smoothed and the tutorial is great, contrast to the later missions that can be brutally hard and surprisingly long. If you’re a fan of focusing on the in game economy and especially on the people that power it, then Tropico 6 might well be worth a look. For those looking for more revolution than evolution, you might want to consider the likes of Surviving Mars instead.

***½  3.5/5

Tropico 6 is out now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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