You have been elected to rule a tiny fragment of a tiny Caribbean nation. The happiness of your people is in danger ... but so is your Swiss bank account. Clearly, one is a higher priority, right? Either way, you've got nation-building to do. Pit the U.S. and Russia against each other, build up your secret police, and, most importantly, exploit everything in the name of your quest for happiness. If the formula sounds familiar, you've probably played Tropico 3 for the PC or Xbox 360, which also cast you as the new El Presidente of a tiny Caribbean nation who is tasked with building a nation and making someone happy.
The opening menus are the same, except for the increased array of quotes from dictatorial alumni like Muammar al-Gaddafi. The options array is much the same, including online map-sharing features. Even most of the cheat codes are identical. Quite simply, there isn't too much new with Tropico 4 to justify its expense for most players — to the point where I can link my review of the game from last year and say that most of it still fits perfectly.
Your custom avatar menu has a few new appearance options, including the entertaining Luchadore outfit if you purchased the game on Steam, plus a few new traits and the ability to level up traits as you clear campaign missions. The traits include options such as Multiple Personality Disorder and Tourette's syndrome, which adds color to every speech, alongside more sensible options, like Gambler or Silver Spoon. Certain traits are extremely powerful, but may have some really nasty associated costs. In game, aside from the passive benefits, your avatar has no new functionality; it still visits buildings to make them work better, and it must look good amidst the squalor of the lands.
The buildings are still sorted in the same set of groupings, though several groupings have expanded a little to fit some new buildings, such as the shopping mall; the weather station, which may predict disasters; or the fire department, which may help you survive disasters. These new buildings still fit the game's tropical theme and continue to evolve the feel of a nation that's in the middle of being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century as it drops money from its pockets for you to wire to Switzerland at your convenience. Ultimately, the new buildings give you more to organize and micromanage — and that may not be a bad thing.
The political game represents one of the larger leaps in Tropico 4, particularly because the title now has a much fuller import-export system and more foreign factions to juggle. While the European Union, Middle East and China won't cause you active trouble if they don't like you, they are prone to offering you help if they do like you. Your ability to maintain trade with them can make your exports much more valuable. Factions are also more nuanced than before; they may have reasons to be happy in spite of disagreeing with your policies. It can make juggling factions much easier this time around, though it can be much harder to get the full benefit from factions.
The other major leap comes from how the game handles objectives within missions. You now have clearly designated tasks, and as you play, you can build up a log of optional tasks, which provide significant dividends if completed. These can range from things as simple as "be egotistical and build yourself a monument" to export goals that earn you money or earning quick credibility with the Nationalists. There are some surprising bursts of difficulty here, but if you rise to the occasion, there can be some immense payoffs. It can't exactly promise that you'll never play the same mission twice, but the options are nothing to sneeze at, especially given the benefits to your all-important Swiss bank account, which, as always, is a critical component of your score.
Most of the rest, play-wise, is about the same. The micromanagement is still strong, becoming more intense over time as your buildings' array grows. You only have as much labor as you do citizenry, and everything ultimately adds up to one big critical number: your money, and how much of it you have available to use. The occasional twist — often a parody of recent real-world news — does occur, and there are some new things to manage, such as the aforementioned natural disasters. However, some of the new ideas are insufficiently explored to derive much value from their addition. For example, the ministries building is nothing more than a roadblock in the way of passing edicts and an occasional source of national embarrassments; this turns a potential source of intrigue into an annoyance.
The presentation, notably, has not been exceptionally refreshed, but oddly, this is one case where that's OK. Menu art is similar, but wider, providing more information to work with, along with amusing caricatures to represent NPCs. In game, most of the graphics are the same, with the only major update being in effect details, and everything has been optimized. The same computer that did a reasonable 30 frames per second on Tropico 3 blazes through Tropico 4 at 60 fps with only rare dips, even as things grow increasingly complex on-screen. The music keeps the old, humorous tone, with two DJs interplaying to react to various news items during gameplay. The accents seem thinner this time, with less Spanish. Make of this what you will.
It can be argued that Tropico 4 is more of a mission pack than a full game. Priced at $40 while the DLC-loaded edition of Tropico 3 goes for $15, the expense may be hard to rationalize for largely similar gameplay. The new options are quite nice, but may not be enough to justify the game for casual fans of the series. Genre aficionados will lap up the new missions and new tweaks, and casual fans who are looking for a fun twist on the SimCity tradition will find Tropico 4 to be a solid, worthy experience that will last a while.
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