Having absolute control over countless of little lives can be daunting and perhaps frightening to some. For those of you who are totally unphased by the concept of being responsible for some small electronic person dying (or being ruthlessly murdered for political gain) this game is for you. Tropico 3 is the newest installment in the Tropico series, a game designed to let you control your own small island in the Carribean. Your island is a third world country, aspiring to greatness under your inspired leadership. Or so your people believe.
As El Presidente, ruler of the masses, you control the development and growth that your country enjoys (or lacks). You have three different game modes in which to practice your diabolical laugh and 'trusting' smile; Campaign, Sandbox and Challenges. The Campaign mode requires you to play across multiple different islands that the developers have created, doing your best to achieve the stated goal in each of them. Only one campaign is open at first, but as you complete them more become available for you to try. Sandbox allows you to customize different aspects of your island before playing in a free game environment where you're left to control and develop your island completly without guidance or stated goals besides those you set for yourself. In Sandbox mode, your game does not 'end' until your time in office is up; before the game begins you decide how many decades you will be in office. After your reign is over you are presented with a screen telling you how well you did. You have the option to quit or continue with your empire anyway. Challenges are online maps that have been edited and uploaded by other players, each with their own individual goals for you to try to meet. Players have the ability to create and play their own challenges as well as upload them for other online users.
Players also have a small Tutorial in which they can learn some of the games controls. It takes you through several different prompts, teaching you some of the basic commands. While the tutorial is a little useful in teaching you how to get around some of the very basic menus, it does nothing to help explain basic gameplay mechanics, such as starting or growing your economy so that you have the cash flow to issue your commands and edicts. Players who have experienced the first two Tropico games will already have an idea as to what they need to do to make their island survive, but new players aren't given any sort of heads up with the tutorial set up in place. The tutorial island does start the player off with a very large bank balance, which starting players can take advantage of to get used to managing their citizens.
When the game starts you are allowed to pick an Avatar for El Presidente from multiple pre-made ones, including such figures as Evita Peron and Fidel Castro. You can also create your own custom avatar, picking between different options to create your own specialized dictator. Every El Presidente has different traits such as their rise to power and positve and negative personal quirks that affect gameplay; for example, if you start off as a Kleptomaniac, your souvenir shops cost more to upkeep. During gameplay, the Avatar can help fight rebels, visit construction sites to speed up build time and visit factories to increase production. While this feature is nice, after a while there are so many other things going on that the Avatar gets neglected. However, it does perform some of these tasks on its own which is a plus.
It is up to you, El Presidente, to decide what buildings are built and where, the wages paid to your workers and what various edicts to issue. Each of these affects gameplay and the relative happiness or displeasure of the populace. The happier they are, the less grief they give you. However, as they become more and more unhappy with your lack of care for their needs, they can do things like go on strike, turn into rebels or leave your island altogether. You need to satisfy a variety of different needs for each Tropican; including making sure they have enough food, adequate shelter, access to religion and healthcare, entertainment for their spare time and enough liberty so that they do not feel oppressed.
Other events take place in the game that can either just annoy you or really tick you off, depending on how well you're doing in the game at the time. Hurricanes can hit your island, export prices can go up or down, affecting the amount of profit you make from the crops that you send out on your ships to build your treasury (and Swiss Bank Account). Peaceful protests and rebel uprisings round out the random events that can affect gameplay. Granted, these events can be ignored, or you can someone who's protesting person killed off, declared a heretic, or thrown into jail.
Being in control of so many different factors can be a little daunting at times. Managing the balance between what you want to do and what your people want you to do is important to figure out during gameplay. If you're too busy dealing with upset citizens, it becomes practically impossible to help the island grow and earn more money. Likewise, if you are not able to start turning a profit, you can quickly go into the red. The International Community will cover island expenses up to 10,000, but once you're in debt any more than that, they force a spending block on the island, requiring you to wait around until your island makes money so that you can pull yourself enough out of debt to keep spending. This can be incredibly annoying and prohibitive to gameplay at times. You may desperately want to increase production at one of your mills to make more money, but to do that you need more properly educated workers. Without enough of them on the island, you would be forced to pay to lure a foreign born immigrant to fill the spot. If you're on a spending limit, however, you cannot hire any foreign born workers until you have gotten some more money in your budget. In early stages of the game, get used to being told repeatedly that you have spent over -10,000 and that foreign relations have deteriorated because of your national debt.
Edicts and building specific functions add to the gameplay, making it more variable. For example, you can choose to issue the Prohibition Edict, preventing citizens from drinking and effectively shutting down all entertainment buildings that serve liquor (while increasing the Religious Factions respect) or you can use your Immigration Office to refuse to let anyone leave the island, regardless of how unhappy they are. Some of the edicts are practically necessary to gameplay, such as the Social Security Edict which pays retirees a salary. Of course, if you don't mind seeing them live in shacks across the island, maybe it's not quite so necessary.
Some gameplay features have also been improved upon from earlier versions of the game. For example, roads now appear and no longer need to be dug out and built by construction crews and simply appear when laid down. There are also garages that can be built that increase your populations ability to move around the island, making things go a little faster at times. Other features have been truncated. For example, while Tourist Attractions such as the Zoo have been added, others like Tennis Courts have been taken away.
There are several cheats available for the game, including a built in God Mode, which turns off some of the more destructive random events and starts you off with a large Treasury. This can help make the game more bearable and more about managing and growing and less about banging your head against the keyboard as people die (because you can't afford to build a health clinic).
The 3-D visuals make for an nice change from the earlier games, and it is possible to zoom in and out to look at your citizens and watch them going about their daily activities. There are very nice details on the buildings when you're in close and the zoomed out vistas can be quite lovely. In some ways though, graphics are still somewhat basic, with single avatars for citizens. All of the workers from a particular building look the same. The musical soundtrack is enjoyable, with a nice Latin flavor that will leave you dancing in your seat as you first listen to it. It is a litle repetitious and you'll tune it out after a while. The DJ over the in game radio station pipes in with entertaining updates, however, keeping you listening for him to cut into the music.
Overall, Tropico 3 is enjoyable for those that thrive on simulator city management games. For those who have played any of the Sim City games, this should be a fun addition to their game library. Some of the limitations (such as going into debt) and the difficulties of managing jobs and housing can be a huge turnoff if you're not used to these kind of games, but manageable for those who have the patience to wait it out and fun to replay and see how a change in game style affects the game.