It's hard to not imagine your Tropico island as anything more than a banana republic complete with cigar-chomping presidentes and a landscape draped in Cuban-styled '60s architecture. Thus, it can be a tad strange to see modern factories and sleek skyscrapers covering what was once a few farmers messing about in the mud. The Modern Times expansion certainly does nothing to sterilize the fun nature of the base game, but it spruces up things both visually as well as from a gameplay perspective. It also adds a new series of campaign missions, which sets you on an absurd and enjoyable path filled with clones and weaponized hiccups.
One of the more important additions to the game is the inclusion of a timeline that provides a loose narrative of world events. This timeline remains the same for every map you play and includes a series of key events, many of which are based on real-world occurrences. For instance, the Cuban Missile Crisis makes you temporarily unable to attract any new citizens to your island, and once a study proves the harmful effects of salt, its commodity prices go down. These effects are always a temporary nuisance but can also be exploited for maximum profit.
This timeline also dictates when the buildings that are new to the Modern Times expansion become available for use. These unlocks span decades of game time, from earlier unlocks, such as fish farms and modern apartment buildings, up to later buildings, such as ziggurats and a space program. These new buildings often replace a previous building and usually take up the same footprint. For the most part, the buildings are clear upgrades with no real drawbacks, though many have a base power need whereas the original building might not have needed any.
The new buildings not only provide a modern look for your city, but they also have multiple benefits. The modern apartment building houses the same amount of people as the old apartment building, but it is of a slightly higher quality, and upgrades can make it so that the building produces no crime. Fish farms produce no pollution and take less time to make food, while metro stations allow Tropicans to enter one and exit at any other through an implied network of subways. These buildings truly make your cities feel like they are slowly entering a modern era, and they provide great benefits — albeit with some acceptable additional requirements.
On the other hand, there are other buildings that are slightly confusing in their implementation. Bio farms are much larger than regular farms and produce a ton of food, but they can only be set to grow corn, food crops, or cash crops. Why corn is singled out is unclear, but with all of the remaining crops lumped into two categories, it makes agriculture overly simplified and removes control over the production of a specific crop. For example, your only recourse in making more sugar to support your rum distilleries is to make more cash crop bio farms and hope for the best. Solar power plants replace wind turbines, which is an overall improvement, as they still require no workers but can be upgraded to provide 400 MW of power. However, previously wind turbines were great for powering a remote area, such as mines, so that they can make use of upgrades. Once you've hit the part in the timeline where solar power plants become available, you can no longer build any wind turbines.
Other buildings don't replace existing ones but branch off on their own. Business Centers can be built to staff cubicle workers in mortgage companies. which make money off anyone nearby paying rent; insurance companies, which make good money but have to pay out if disasters occur; and adverting agencies, which piggyback on any local radio or TV stations to sell ad space. This building, along with the new National Bank and the Babel Tower, add a new sector to the economy, generating revenue without making use of imports or exports. They are also a great way to employ the uneducated, and that is also an easy means of controlling high unemployment levels. Buildings like the new Sanatorium allow you to charge for health care, assuming you don't turn it into a tourist-only rehab center.
The expansion also adds a new edict category, which contains a mix of special edicts. For example, the Healthcare Reform edict makes it so that healthcare facilities can service more patients, Army Drills makes your military and police forces gain experience faster (though with the occasional casualty from friendly fire), and you can ask for China Development Aid and get 100 Chinese immigrants bound to you on the next freighter. You can also implement an Internet Police to get warning of rebel activity at the expense of liberty, and you can Ban Social Networks to bump the island's productivity by 5 percent. Nearly all edicts have trade-offs, and while they don't feel as integrated into the game as the others, they can be useful.
The new 12-scenario campaign takes place after the events of the vanilla campaign, with you returning to power only to find that Penultimo has made an absolute mess of things. These scenarios start about midway on the difficulty curve of the game, so you shouldn't fret if it has been a while since you played, but they quickly become more challenging. For example, one scenario has you building on an island that has nearly all usable land covered by the damage zones of its three active volcanoes. Another tasks you with fighting off a highly infectious disease that inflicts people and infests buildings; you can only place a radar dish nearby to zap it with microwave radiation or demolish the building altogether. They all provide clear goals while maintaining the game's level of goofiness.
The expansion has a few other minor additions here and there, such as tweaks to the almanac so you could glean additional information about your island's housing. There are some new characters that you will work with as well as continued work with the old ones, so expect a lot of new voice work during the scenarios. However, there isn't much in terms of new radio banter or any new songs, so it's not as if the entire audio spectrum has seen some additions.
It isn't all a day in paradise, however, as there are a few rough edges. Though the game speed remains the same, it feels like timeline events come at such a rapid-fire pace that most come and go without you even knowing. Unless you pay attention to the readout on the left of the screen, you can unwittingly unlock new buildings, and though it shows the summary of active events, you may not find out about potentially important events until you are already partially through them. It's not about world peace (most of the time, at least), but it makes one of the bigger, new aspects of the game feel rushed with little fanfare.
Barring that, the Modern Times is a mostly seamless expansion of the base game. The expansion doesn't really change the game fundamentally, but it adds more to the endgame of a city. With the exception of the new edicts, the expansion feels like it has always been a part of the game, adding clear, logical upgrades for many buildings as well as some that address deficiencies of the original game. Though you can't use the new content in the vanilla campaign, the new campaign provides for plenty of new ground, and overall, the expansion is a new breath of life as well as a means of strengthening the base game.
More articles about Tropico 4