For "god games" like Sim City and its ilk, the focus is almost always the same: create the best world you can. You're sometimes encouraged to do so through cruel means, but the overall goal is to make life better for your people. Tropico 3 takes a slightly different approach to the idea. It's best described as a "Castro simulator" because you're placed in control of an island nation. It is certainly possible to play the game as a benevolent dictator who uses his power and influence to make the world a better place. On the flip side, it's entirely possible for you to abuse your power to turn the country into your own personal kingdom that's made entirely to serve you. Tropico 3 is a game all about choices, and not all of them are nice.
Before you can even begin the game, however, you'll have to select your ruler. You start with a possible selection of infamous personalities, ranging from Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to Eva Peron. Alternately, you could create your own custom ruler using the game's built-in character creator. Choosing (or creating) your dictator isn't just a cosmetic choice, either. Each dictator has a set of traits that have a fairly major influence on your gameplay: background, rise to power, qualities and flaws. Background establishes where your character came from, so you can be anything from a mundane miner or farmer to a Harvard-educated scholar or even a pop star. Depending on your choices, you'll find yourself receiving different benefits and bonuses. A farmer gets improved production from his farms and an increase in respect from communist countries. On the other hand, the intellectuals of his country hold him in contempt.
Rise to power is exactly why you were elected. It could have been the result of an election, a rebellion, a CIA coup or even bribery. Like your background, your rise to power can grant you a wide variety of bonuses and penalties, but these can come at a cost; it's a lot harder to rule with an iron fist if you were swept in during a Velvet Revolution as opposed to a bloody military coup. After you've picked your background and rise to power, you'll have to pick two qualities and two flaws. Qualities are positive traits, such as being empathetic or charismatic; flaws are negative and can be anything from a gambling habit to chronic flatulence. These traits give your character different benefits and penalties, which can drastically alter your playing style. A coward is going to have a much harder time controlling his army than a regular dictator, while someone who is charismatic will have a much easier time convincing people to listen to him or her.
Tropico 3 plays a bit like Sim City with a Caribbean island flair and a whole lot of corruption. You play the game from an overhead perspective, and you can see your entire island at any time. You usually begin with a modest island turning a small profit, and it is up to you to figure out the best way to go about turning this island into a success. You can try to improve the happiness of the people by building better infrastructure. You can build schools, churches, housing, markets, power plants and various other buildings that improve the overall quality of your island. These buildings are costly, so you have to balance turning your island into a paradise with the money you take in.
Earning money can be done in a number of ways. You can create a tourist trade by building pubs and various tourist attractions to bring in the American or Russian dollars. You can start a farming trade, where you can grow anything from papayas to tobacco and sell it on the open market. You can start an oil drilling business to take advantage of your island's natural resources. Regardless of how you go about earning money, you'll likewise have to balance your profit with the happiness of the island. If you leave your people underfed and overworked, they're going to be quite unhappy with you, and this may lead to open rebellion. You can take steps to prevent this by starting a secret police, bribing the people, or using the good old "bread and circuses" approach to distract your populace from their terrible lives.
We got to play the Xbox 360 version of Tropico 3, which gave us a chance to see how such a complex game controls with a controller instead of a keyboard and mouse. The end result was surprisingly good, although it had a steep learning curve. Most of the important options in the game are bound to some kind of hotkey on the Xbox 360's controller. Depending on the button combination that you press, you can instantly hop to any of the game's locations or menus. You're going to be using every button on the controller to play the game, though, so it's important to grasp that this has a bit more of a learning curve than most 360 games. Scrolling through the game various menus and options will even require use of the d-pad, which can feel a bit awkward at times. Fortunately, once you get the hang of the controls, Tropico 3 plays surprisingly well. You can move around the island and select various options incredibly quickly, and there are plenty of shortcuts to make your life easier.
While a good portion of your game is going to be spent on developing the infrastructure and capabilities of your island nation, there are times when you'll have to use a more personal touch. One way to do this is by issuing edicts and speeches. Edicts are basically commands from up on high, and they can be almost anything. You can praise certain groups, invite religious leaders to visit, or lower taxes in order to improve your standing. On the other hand, you can issue crooked deals to shady business companies, declare martial law, or even create a secret police to "handle" your enemies. Different edicts have different benefits. Some may harm your standing in the international community while improving your island's prosperity, while others may simply be for your own benefit. Regardless, it is your job to make sure that you issue the proper edicts to meet your goals.
Every so often, you also get the chance to issue a speech, and you can customize the tone. You can praise certain groups, discuss problems that are plaguing your nation or even make promises to a local group. The content of your speech will influence who is affected by it. If you have an island with a lot of intellectuals, you may want to praise scientific achievement. If you know your island is very religious, you may want to appeal to that and promise to build more churches. While the content of your speech can change the outcome of an election, it can also be used against you. Make a promise that you can't keep, and you'll find yourself with a lot of unhappy citizens.
In addition to your words, you can also choose to handle matters personally. New to Tropico 3 is the ability to send your personal avatar out to handle matters for you. The avatar can be sent to walk around the island, and where you take him can change the island productivity. Having an avatar visit a building under construction may mean that it'll be completed faster. Alternately, you can climb up onto the balcony of your presidential manor and give a speech to those nearby. In bad situations, your avatar can even serve as a negotiator to help quell problems. You can also choose to do some underhanded things, so an avatar may go gambling to earn some extra moolah. In times of war, you can go to the front lines to raise the morale of the troops or personally execute captured prisoners. Doing this puts you at risk for assassination, though, so learning when you need to handle matters yourself is an important part of being a successful ruler.
"Winning" in Tropico 3 is a sort of nebulous concept. Regardless of your ability as ruler, you're eventually going to leave office. Depending on the way you do things, this could be good or bad. If you're a genius politician who turns your third-world country into an economic and social superpower, then you can leave the country with a high happiness rating, unsurpassed tourist dollars or even as a lead exporter of certain products. On the other hand, you can be a petty tyrant who "rules" your country inefficiently while skimming money off the top and transferring it to your Swiss bank account. You may leave the country a smoldering hellhole, but at least you'll be able to live the rest of your life rolling in dough. This is a careful balancing act because if you rule too cruelly, you may find yourself the victim of rebellions and assassination attempts. Try too hard to earn a profit, and you'll have to flee the country before you can cash in. On top of your basic goals, each of the various missions will challenge you to meet a certain goal, such as earning a lot of tourist dollars or leaving the island with happy citizens. In order to successfully finish any of the game's challenge missions, you'll have to figure out the ideal way to meet these goals, and sometimes that means compromising your morals or cleaning up your act.Tropico 3 requires a very different mindset from the other similar titles that I've played. The fact that you can become so corrupt and evil lends a surprising amount of depth and temptation and gives the game a very unique flair. Even if you go in expecting to turn your island into Utopia, you may find yourself having to make compromises. Sometimes it may be better to invest in secret police rather than let your lovely production go down the tubes. Sometimes it may be better to let education suffer instead of having a well-read populace who is going to demand sweeping social reforms. Sometimes it is better to take the money and run. If you think you can resist the siren song of temptation or if you're eager to oppress some peasants, you'll want to check out Tropico 3 when it hits stores next month.
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