Growing up in the '90s, I played a lot of SimCity, the Maxis-developed city-building game that's being rebooted later this year for PC. A video game about running, controlling and maintaining your own city, complete with all the management headaches involved, managed to be fun, and it caught on and saw a slew of sequels and spin-offs, making it one of the most successful PC franchises of all time.
Fast forward to present day, and you still have a large number of city- and world-building games at your fingertips, but only one has managed to stand out over the past few years: a city-building, Cuban dictator simulator by the name of Tropico. The fourth version of the game was released in 2011 and brought a handful of revisions that built upon the excellent third entry from 2009. With one expansion pack under its belt, dubbed Modern Times, Kalypso Media released Tropico 4: Gold Edition, which is being reviewed here.
Before I get into the actual quality of the game, I wanted to mention that this release felt unnecessary. My best guess is that with 2012 not seeing a numbered release for the series, a decision was made to keep the Tropico name fresh in the minds of fans. The $40 Gold Edition package barely constitutes a value, and with a little price searching on the Internet, you can easily pick up the base game and the expansion for less than that.
Thankfully, Tropico 4 and its Modern Times expansion pack are really great experiences. The core concept is that you take on the role of various real-world and historical personalities, such as Che Guevara, Manuel Noriega, Evita "Eva" Peron and others. If you don't care for those choices, you can create your own El Presidente using a number of customization options, including various traits that'll add bonuses to each mission throughout the campaign.
Once you've set your avatar, you're ready to start building and subjugating your citizens, or you can play the nice guy and keep everyone happy, well fed, and employed. Maybe you'd like to focus on the tourism industry by keeping your industrious, minimum wage workers tucked behind a volcano while your beachfront properties gleam for the wealthy foreigners who flock to your island's pristine shore. There are a lot of ways to be successful in Tropico 4, and not a single one feels like the wrong way to play the game.
Tropico 4 gets some flak for not doing enough to distinguish itself from Tropico 3. On the surface, both games look and perform in a similar fashion, but there are some neat, and important, changes to the gameplay of Tropico 4. One of those changes is being able to call on imports to boost your economy and feed your people. Previous Tropico games have certainly featured exports as a way to sell your goods to other countries, but imports change things significantly. Combine that functionality with created factories that allow the manufacturing of cigars, weapons, and a variety of other items, and you can start generating a sizeable amount of dough without creating a single farm or mine.
Another big addition is the option to hire a council of ministers through the new Ministry building. Hiring ministers for defense, education, foreign relations, and so on allow you to use corresponding edicts, special demands or rules that'll grant various bonuses, either with factions or by providing discounts for particular buildings, among other things. The Ministry isn't always necessary but generally proves useful, if for no other reason than the Literacy Program edict that boosts learning speed for your citizens, giving you skilled workers in a shorter amount of time, and the ever-useful USSR building edict that'll cheapen the cost of apartment construction. These two edicts alone became some of the most useful gameplay enhancers throughout Tropico 4's 20-mission campaign, and it makes it that much harder to return to Tropico 3.
There's a lot of content packed into the core campaign. You have 20 missions spread across 10 different maps, and each mission can easily take upwards of an hour to complete. With the core Tropico 4 experience, you'll get an easy 20 hours of gameplay. Tack on the additional Modern Times campaign, which introduces new building types and 12 new missions, and you'll spend quite a bit of time with your own banana republic. There's also a sandbox mode that allows for random map construction to provide a familiar SimCity feel, and you can lose countless hours in this mode. If you find yourself in love with the game at all — and you should — you won't be at a loss for content.
Finally, while the other additions aren't quite as major as those mentioned above, they're nice updates to the series. Updated building designs add pizzazz to your city streets, and those further updated by the Modern Times campaign are welcome additions. A slightly improved user interface over Tropico 3 is also a plus, and while an Xbox 360 controller isn't a real replacement for a standard mouse and keyboard on the PC side, you're able to adequately maneuver through the menu screens with a controller. This is definitely one of the best PC-to-Xbox 360 ports out there, with little lost in the transition.
Other things, like new environmental hazards that can randomly occur depending on the current map, provide some nice variety in comparison to the day-to-day world-building activities, and it once again feels like a nod to the granddaddy of city-building simulators. Add a pleasant, color-filled display that allows for a surprising level of zoom so you can see the detailed action, and you've got one of the best city-building simulators on the market today.
However, I still can't argue enough that this "Gold" compilation feels unnecessary. It also doesn't come bundled with the additional DLC packs, which cost another 400 Microsoft points. Why create what is clearly meant to be a compilation disc if you're not going to include all of the available DLC? It seems like a misstep and feels a little misleading to an uninformed consumer who would (rightly) assume that this is the complete Tropico 4 experience.
Despite my misgivings about the retail product and on-disc content, I can't overstate how enjoyable Tropico 4 and the Modern Times expansion pack are. This isn't the best way to purchase both, though, as you'd be better off picking up both piecemeal, digitally or through retail.
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