Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition Review

Rum Runners

As the head of Tropico, you're the brilliant mastermind guiding a mass of bumbling idiots, and it is through your power and will alone that any of them manage to accomplish anything in Tropico 5. You set the budgets for every building and figure out where everything needs to go, like whether you'll keep food on the island for your people to eat, or if you direct it to a cannery and sell it to the highest bidder. Each of these choices come with consequences, though. Eventually, you have enough factions on your island that they'll start having their own ideas of how to run Tropico best. Their opinions are wrong, of course. Only you know best, but their concerns still have to be addressed lest you find yourself in the middle of an uprising. And those are troublesome things.

All of these different factions, their leaders, and the choices you make that mold their opinion of you are vital pieces that reflect the game's central focus: keeping you in power. Whether you're kind of cruel doesn't matter, so long as you can maintain your position. And that fits with the game's cheeky sense of humor. Your advisor, Penultimo, is so foolish that he'll spout Batman jokes while you hunt down crime lords, or get distracted by jewelry when you first learn how to refine gold. It's a tone that seeps into the game at nearly every level from missions and diplomatic errands to curt quips when rebels get testy.

Granted, all of these things come at a cost. If your people are starving it's hard to maintain a strong, healthy work force. Without that, you won't be making much money at all--either for Tropico or your offshore accounts. Corruption too, while advantageous for your dynasty, drives up the cost of buildings, making critical resources tougher to provide for your populace.

It pays, then, to keep your people happy and healthy. It's easier to just give them decent housing than it is to suppress protestors, but sometimes things don't always go your way.

Tropico 5 is about managing in and outflows of resources. And that's not always consistent or stable. Your sole connection to the world outside, at least at first, is your port. You have to trade for anything you can't make directly, and trade is the key to keeping your coffers filled. Food is your first priority. But once you've got your citizens fed, you can start cutting down your forests and refining the lumber into planks to sell. Or you can bypass that--try to find a gold mine and make jewelry instead, or grow sugar and distill it for rum. How you build out your economy is up to you.

The opening is simple because you'll only have one supply chain to worry about at first. As your nation grows, new resources will become available, others will deplete, and trade routes will shift. Each of these forces acts like a test, of sorts. They check to see if your island's fledgling economy is strong enough to weather shocks.

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In time, Tropico will throw in even more complex forces. Different factions like the United States and USSR will pressure you to trade with them. They'll ask you to supply them with materials, and, in true, tongue-in-cheek Tropico fashion, you'll have to wrangle your incompetent staff from making a fool of you on the world's stage. It's telling that one of the most advanced technologies you can research is just "Table Manners." It's an effective chain of events that, while repetitive, keeps you on your toes. You can't settle into a set economic strategy because some external force or an idiot islander will always come up and nudge you off that course.

In action, it all just works, and while Tropico tries to offload some of the micromanagement involved with transportation, for example, there's still plenty of layers of depth here for those that want to dig into the game. In a welcome surprise the console versions translate almost all of that depth. That's rare for a console port of a PC strategy game, a genre notorious for its dependence on a mouse and keyboard, but the transition isn't perfect.

The biggest problem I had was when I was trying to track down a few crime bosses to have them assassinated. They were stirring up some trouble and while police force knew who they were, my coppers weren't doing much to put them behind bars. Since Tropico renders every one of your citizens so that you can follow them around, bribe them, or gather useful info about how your people live, I was able to track down one crime lord. I zoomed all the way in to highlight him and then I had him killed.

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As I soon found out, though, I nabbed the wrong person. I not only had a political incident on my hands, but I'd wasted some money and lost a valuable worker. I tried again and missed a second time. Finally, I got him on the third attempt, but the sequence was frustrating and showed that while Tropico's console port is pretty spot-on as strategy games on consoles go, it still has some minor problems. Though, viewed from another, more satirical lens, it's possible my fumbles were representative of the collateral damage powerful figures incur when they use dirty tactics to silence their opponents. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

Tropico 5 on consoles is a great port. It's a faithful recreation of the PC classic and a welcome addition to the scant city builders console players can enjoy.

The Good

  • Freedom to build your island nation how you want
  • Great structure and pacing
  • Smooth learning curve
  • Sardonic humor that jabs at real-world dictatorships

The Bad

  • Console controls can cause minor problems with precision

About the Author

Daniel Starkey loves city building games. As tests of organization and logistical management, they're among his favorite time sinks. He spent 23 hours building up his dynasty in Tropico 5 with a copy provided by the developer.