It seems hard to believe that the Tropico franchise is still going strong. After all, how many uninhabited islands are there in the Caribbean just waiting for a maniacal dictator to take them over? Brief pause for Google search....ok, there are thousands. Which means thousands of little El Presidente's can start moving in and harassing their subjects, forcing them to toil for the benefit of their Swiss bank account. And in Tropico 4, you are once again given the opportunity to do so, with more sophisticated and comprehensive methods than before.
For starters, the starter to the game is wonderful, with the tutorial going above and beyond itself in explaining the various aspects of game play. For instance, I'm not entirely sure I've ever seen anywhere that tells you that one farm will feed about 50 Tropicans, but the tutorial points it out. The tutorial expands on explaining the factions; it expands on explaining the economics of the island and does an incredible job in doing so. It expands on explaining everything about the game. Novice and experienced players alike can learn a lot from going through the multiple tutorial missions. That's right; it's not just a little starter island. There are mini tutorial missions to guide you through all the basics.
And with all the original gameplay aspects of Tropico, there are a few new additions that add quite a bit to gameplay. The most incredible new system that Tropico 4 has in place is the import and export system. Imports and exports are exactly that; they allow El Presidente to control what comes in and out of the island down to minute detail. The docks even allow you to set limits on how much money your island will spend on imports for every ship that docks. Don't want any imports because you're saving money? Then don't allow them. If you want to import thousands of pesos worth of logs, go ahead and do it! The import system allows you to gain valuable needed resources without having to rely on your own island to do so.
For example, let's say that our random island happens to not have any meaningful metal deposits, but you're dead set on creating a weapons empire. Import the needed metals in and watch your pistolas roll off the assembly lines. Want to avoid pissing off the environmental faction, but you really want to be the leader in Caribbean fine furniture? Import logs so that you don't have to deplete the natural beauty of Tropico to get the materials needed for your labors. And by doing so simultaneously make sure the island stays beautiful for all those wonderful tourist dollars. Combined with the export system that allows you to dictate how many of your goods leave the island, your potential for profit is tremendously increased. The system takes a little bit of getting used to, but that wonderful tutorial steps in once again to explain the changes to the player.
Also, the game has another new mechanic in game challenges. These challenges allow players to get rewards and benefits for completing certain tasks. For instance, a player may get a challenge that asks them to increase religious satisfaction on the island to 70. If they are able to do so, then they get a boost to the respect of the Religious Faction. Another challenge may ask you to export 500 units of spiced rum to Russia. By doing so, you gain $10,000 to your island bank account to help you out initially and $5000 to your Swiss bank account when done. These challenges can interject another interesting element to gameplay, allowing you some variety in your goals and objectives and giving the player more to work for. However, once a challenge has been accepted it cannot be resolved except to complete it. At least, if there's an easy way to do so it wasn't apparent. And the player has a cap of how many challenges they can accept at once, meaning that if another shows up that you'd like to accept and you have too many, one had better be resolved pronto. Players are able to review the challenges first and let them sit while they decide whether to accept or reject them, but occasionally you may find yourself accepting a challenge and then deciding you no longer wish to complete it. If that happens, you're stuck with it until the end of the game no matter what.
The foreign powers have become more prevalent, with the players now getting requests, demands and offers from the Middle East, China and the EU. While not able to invade your country, these additional foreign powers do have the ability to assist and help your little island grow and develop, or to restrict trade with you if you anger them too much. I found the addition of the extra world powers to be mostly amusing and interesting. However, they are one of the major reasons that new challenges pop up and some of them can be incredibly annoying. I had to field multiple requests to give the Middle Eastern leadership money for camels for all of their wives, which could get a little tedious. And some of the requests they gave me were just completely unfeasible at the point they were given which was frustrating. It seems as if the requests were very randomized; while it worked, a more intuitive selection would have been appreciated. For example, don't offer me money for building a luxury hotel on my island, which requires multiple prerequisites, when I've just started out. However, allowing for the difficulties in creating an intuitive system like that with a game so varied, perhaps it would be more appropriate to have the ability to stockpile requests in a menu and act on them as they become more feasible, instead of losing them after a certain amount of time.
The natural disasters in the game are just as annoying (or not) as they are in any Tropico game; in this one, however, players have the ability to build a weather station that can help mitigate some of the damage. Other mini disasters like fires in buildings can be handled by building one of the new fire stations on the island or dispatching planes to dump water on the flames, and oil spills can be handily dealt with. For a price. Luckily, some of the disasters will get you international disaster assistance. And when buildings are destroyed, players get a handy dandy caution sign over the destroyed buildings. When interacted with, it gives the ability to repair the building, eliminating the need to hunt down destroyed buildings. When there are droughts, players get a water pail symbol over the fields that need to be watered, or they can just wait it out until the rainy season. Other disasters, like the tornado, are a little agitating to deal with. The tornados I experienced, for example, seemed to last for several months' worth of gameplay.
Other new buildings add and occasionally distract from gameplay. The new Ministry allows you to appoint Tropicans to important positions on the island, such as the Minister of Education and the Minister of Economics. Unfortunately, this means that certain edicts aren't available until you appoint people into these positions. And because they require certain trained individuals, such as a shopkeeper or teacher, it can make filling them difficult without hiring foreign experts. And of course, once you've taken someone out of their prior position, it needs to be filled. In the case of educated or skilled Tropicans this can be an issue. On the other hand, things like the Horticulture Station allow for more rapid regrowth on trees and helps boosts the export price of certain crops. And the Academy of Science...well it'll build a clone of El Presidente to replace you if you die in a coupe or rebel attack. Not that your subjects would ever dare, of course.
The music in the game sounds incredibly familiar to the last Tropico, and while I won't say it's the exact same soundtrack (I'm pretty sure it mostly is), I will say that while nice it was lacking in some variety. The graphics in the game, however, are absolutely stunning. Trees blowing in the wind, the beautiful island greenery, the chickens clucking in the dirt around Tropican home. It really is an island paradise. The graphics help with the feeling that you're immersed in a pretty little island on its own and it's very nice to see the detail and attention that was given to it. I could still do with seeing some diversity in the way the Tropicans look within the same professions. For instance, not all male Teamsters have to be the same avatar. Maybe having two or three different ones would be nice. Overall though, Tropico 4 was a delightful experience. It made some incredibly useful changes and additions to gameplay while maintaining the heart of the Tropico series. And the annoyances were few and far between enough that this title is worth turning on again and again. Viva la Tropico!