Tropico 6 Review - World Stage

  • First Released Mar 29, 2019
  • PC

Absolute power.

Tropico 6 is not a fair game. It positions you as not only the head of a small island nation, but also on a political stage with far greater powers than yours. Be those forces colonial, imperialist, or capitalist, your job is to keep your nation stable against both the tides of external forces and the demands of the citizens in your charge. That's a heavy premise that gets diluted a bit with tongue-in-cheek humor, but the parallels between your fictional country and many real-world iterations throughout history are extensive. Those frictions, in many ways, are what makes Tropico an interesting and vivacious playground for those who want some nation-building with their city simulators.

Your path through Tropico is a relatively simple one, given context and complexity by new systems that progressively stack on top of one another. In much the same way that our real-world economies are heavily influenced by trade, treaties, and demand, so too will your fledgling nation-state.

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At the outset, you'll have little more than a few shacks, shops, farms, and a lump sum to kickstart your nascent economy with infrastructure and business investment. Economic growth and innovation don't simply happen, though. There are a few necessary components you'll have to stitch together before you have even a rudimentary economy. Agriculture, roads, and teamsters are the absolute basics--grow the food and move it to the people. Creating and moving goods largely works the same regardless of what it is, but the complexity comes from layering the skeleton of metal or oil transport on top of the systems that keep people fed and healthy. Ports and supply depots, roads and laborers can only handle so much.

On their own, these mechanisms would work well enough. The basics of the genre have been honed for almost three decades now, and little has changed in the sense that most city builders use stocks and flows--moving some resource to its consumer in progressive stages. Tropico is distinct, though, in many respects beyond even its central premise because of its detail-oriented approach. It contrasts with its contemporaries by following not only each individual, but for simulating even small changes in living conditions.

Because this nation is dictatorial from the outset, you're also given control over just about everything. How well are the teamsters paid? The houses furnished? Are you letting your people live in shacks? This moves down another level, too, because as time goes on, the populace evolves quite organically. Different factions come together on their own. Most of the time, they'll support political moves that match their own self-interest, but not always. Propaganda, trade, international political movements, and even disasters will have marked effects on the social fabric, too.

Such detail isn't for its own sake; how you play is critically dependent on the political forces at work. Corruption is useful, as it can be a cheap, quick way to consolidate power. But that risks exacerbating the underlying social issues. Still, because there's an element of roleplaying--you create your own avatar, decorate your palace, and even have a private bank account to squirrel away cash--the mechanics are built out to support a variety of choices.

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You can, hypothetically, push people to their limit and bail on the country, but it's a lot more satisfying to tackle the challenge of managing dynamic international political relations--avoid invasion, keep your people healthy and happy and lead the world in research. That's not the only viable path, but the rewards are largely self-evident and act as a scalable difficulty curve that you are encouraged to approach. Many paths are intrinsically rewarding for those that like to see the productivity of their people or their nation climb, but transitioning into a vibrant, prismatic tourist hotspot can bear aesthetic marvels all its own. The island can feel a bit like caretaking dozens of Tamagotchi, and the satisfaction just as palpable.

While still couched in stylized humor endemic to the series, Tropico 6 is a bit less flippant with its political parallels. The vestiges of colonialism have always been present, but they weren't treated too seriously in past entries. An emissary for some far-flung king would occasionally demand something ridiculous to suit his whims, and the joke was always that he was detached from reality and had no idea how people--especially his colonial subjects--earnestly lived. Those threads are still here, but the colonialism hasn't been defanged quite as much. Instead, the Crown's messengers are direct, stating that their exploitation is unfair and pretty cruel. But what are you going to do, fight off a superpower? At the same time, the revolutionaries, once treated as simply different brand of silly, are more grounded--offering a sympathetic lens to the fictionalized rendition of groups that often have little voice of their own.

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Beyond the increased fidelity of simulation, Tropico 6's biggest change is the increased map complexity. You now essentially have access to whole archipelagos to settle. These are not only fascinating to explore in their own right often holding archaeological ruins or rare minerals, but offer brilliant mechanical challenges. Building out a whole new parallel infrastructure is no easy feat, and requires foresight, planning, and investment--but again, is rewarding to execute. Integration of the new systems, or even crafting self-sufficient settlements are challenges, made rewarding by the nuanced logistical challenges. While the underlying simulation is indeed, predictable, the island does evolve a bit on its own: economies and politics shift with time, providing a constant, low-level nudge to your work.

Even without that new addition--citizens are born, live, and eventually die and your islands' culture changes accordingly. How you have and continue to balance policy and labor, exports and research will leave indelible marks on the psyche of the populace. The complexity of those petri dish layers can max out the user interface at times, particularly if you have a rather large or dense city and doubly so if you're new to the series. As the city expands, and as public opinion and needs shift, tracking down influential individuals or logistical breaking points requires flipping through a dozen or so different pages of stats and maps.

Even so, you have more than enough tools to control just about everything that happens in Tropico. Failure and success, then, can feel quite a bit like a referendum not just on your policies, but on your rendition of El Presidente. The notion of dictatorship as a role that you play for yucks is still there, if that's a hat you want to wear--though it's harder to indulge your own selfish impulses when you can see how your actions are condemning Lydia the lumberjack to a lifetime of poverty.

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The Good

  • Larger maps offer much more complex play options and challenges as you expand
  • Humor, while still a major element, has been tuned down, allowing relevant commentary on the nature of colonialism to breathe
  • Detailed simulation of the day-to-day lives of your people gives you plenty of fodder for roleplaying and experimentation

The Bad

  • User interface is expansive and can be difficult to pick up for those that aren't already acclimated

About the Author

City-builders are among Starkey's favorite strategy subtypes. He carried his island through the colonial era and into modernity over the course of 15 hours, as well as tinkering with tourist traps, military dictatorships, and the like in Tropico's sandbox modes. Code was provided by the publisher.