Monday, October 11, 2010

Tropico 3: Gold Edition Review

Tropico 3: Gold Edition, developed by Haemimont Games and published by Kalypso Media.
The Good: Detailed citizen simulation, two campaigns with varied objectives, custom character creation, user-created challenges, numerous buildings to construct, random and pre-made maps, fantastic music
The Not So Good: Too easy to reap huge profits, slow pace necessitates copious time acceleration, no core gameplay changes from the original
What say you? A faithful but unnecessary sequel to 2001's classic dictatorship city builder: 6/8

A dictatorship is so much easier: no pesky elections to worry about, ultimate authority over your people, and lots of cigars. Of course, it might not be so great for the people, but who cares as long as you a sitting pretty in your ornate palace? Tropico 3, the sequel to 2001's Tropico (because nobody really counts Pirate Cove), simulates the trials and tribulations of maintaining your tropical empire. The series has been directed this time around by Haemimont Games, responsible for personal-favorite Grand Ages Rome. I never got a chance to review the original game, so here were are looking at the recently-released Gold Edition that includes the expansion released in May (apparently, gold takes a while to mint). City builders are always looking for that unique hook to set them apart from the competition (setting, realism, attention to detail), and Tropico succeeded because of its exclusive premise. How has the series been updated almost ten years later?

Tropico 3: Gold Edition features decent graphics. The game is in 3-D, unlike its predecessors, and it does well to exhibit a tropical paradise, complete with rainfall, sunset and sunrise, and shadows as the sun moves across the sky. The building designs are repetitive but detailed, and you can usually pick out specific structures based on visuals alone. The people are animated well when they are busy at work, but you need to zoom in a considerable amount to see them. I would like to have more camera freedom to view the island as I see fit, especially tilting when not at ground level. The interface relies heavily on the almanac, a list of important information that pauses the game and takes up a good portion of the screen. The game lacks visual overlays (except when looking for good crop locations and mining resources) for things like happiness or the range of building effects, so feedback could be considerably better. Tropico 3: Gold Edition does provide some handy options for setting wages or rent for all building or citizens of the same type, though. One of the strengths of the title is the sound design, and it starts with a great music selection that fits the game perfectly; I never turned it off, despite not being a fan of the musical style. It’s also neat how the radio DJ’s provide useful information (like the need for more housing) over the music. The effects are repetitive and basic, and you never feel like Tropico is a bustling community, but the strong music helps put you in the mood for tropical domination.

In Tropico 3: Gold Edition, you are put in charge of a tropical Caribbean island, responsible to running an efficient empire. You are given two campaigns of twenty-five missions total that feature varied objectives from the standard (stay in power) to the weird (a time-shifting paradox). The assorted starting conditions are nice, but in general Tropico 3: Gold Edition is way too easy (more on that later) and the game lacks difficulty settings to increase the level of challenge. The game also features a nice sandbox mode, complete with a random map generator where you can customize the size, elevation, vegetation, and mineral concentration of your personal paradise. Additionally, you can specify the political stability, export prices, tourism frequency, game length, initial population level, random events regularity, rebel severity, and even enable god mode. Tropico 3: Gold Edition also offers the ability to post challenges for others to download online: you can design them using an in-game editor, specifying events, starting conditions, and victory requirements, and allow anyone to try them out. Tropico 3: Gold Edition certainly has a strong list of features.

You are you, but you could be somebody else thanks to the avatar customization options present in Tropico 3: Gold Edition. The game features a number of famous and infamous historical leaders you can play as, from Castro to Eva PerĂ³n. Each personality has strengths and weaknesses that give a wide range of small bonuses and penalties, from education to pollution to construction. If choosing a pre-made avatar isn’t flexible enough, you can customize the gender, complexion, and attire of a custom character from a list of limited options. Your avatar appears inside the game, moving around your island to rush construction, quell protests, and boost production in areas of interest. While Tropico 3: Gold Edition doesn’t approach the customization of a role-playing game, the level of features here is pleasing.

Tropico 3: Gold Edition features a through simulation of the people that inhabit your island. Each of your several hundred residents has individual ratings for happiness, political leanings, family, skills, and needs from food to fun to rest. If their political views vary from yours or their needs are not met, they can become hostile, and can be dealt with through arrest, bribery, or “elimination.” While you will usually pay attention to general trends in happiness (or the lack thereof), the amount of detail your citizens exhibit is quite nice. It’s not as detailed as, say, Victoria 2, but remains a great feature.

One way to keep your population happy is to issue laws to appease them (just like real life!). Tropico 3: Gold Edition features a number of edicts you can choose from, covering social, foreign, economic, and domestic policy. Most of the choices have prerequisites that must be fulfilled first, either specific buildings to relationship levels that must be present. The game occasionally suggests which ones to choose, but a lot of the guesswork is left up to you; there are a lot of options to choose from so it can be a daunting decision. Your citizens are divided up into nine political factions (capitalists, communists, intellectuals, religious, militarists, environmentalists, nationalists, and loyalists), each having different priorities that are listed in the almanac. Dealing with the is pretty easy: just pick the issue that’s most important to your most hated faction and build a couple of buildings. You’ll rarely have to deal with rebellions because of the economic profits you’ll be earning, and winning an election is usually a given affair.

Being primarily a city builder, Tropico 3: Gold Edition has lots of buildings to choose from: housing, military bases, prison, farms, mines, factories, power plants, churches, schools, and hospitals. You can also accommodate tourists by adding attractions and entertainment, and connect up your town with roads. For faster transport, you can place garages at key locations about town, and your citizens will drive to another garage; it’s seems out-of-place to see a modern garage right next to a farm on a dirt road, but if it gets my bananas get delivered faster, then so be it. Most buildings can be given a work mode (relaxed or a standard 14-hour day), rent or salary rates, and occasional upgrades in production. Slow construction time means lots of time acceleration will need to used, lest you fall asleep running your island empire.

Tropico 3: Gold Edition is a very easy game, and here’s why: making money is trivial. The combination of goods exports and foreign aids keeps the money rolling in, so you are never at a lost for funds unless you completely overbuild structures in the wrong places. Even placing a couple of farms in their clearly-indicated “green” locations will give you plenty of cash to build pretty much anything you need. You can manually increase the difficulty by tweaking some sandbox options, but this does not extend to the campaign, which generally only becomes difficult during occasional time constraints. Since simply building things will appease most political factions, Tropico 3: Gold Edition becomes an effortless exercise in building what the people want. You never have to worry about choosing between factions, since you will likely be able to afford all of the buildings they want.

Tropico 3: Gold Edition is a proper but ultimately pointless sequel to Tropico 1 because of how little it changes. The game plays out the same, except it’s much easier thanks to increased profits from exporting goods and increased foreign aid, which makes building all of the structures demanded by your population that much easier. Tropico 3: Gold Edition lacks those key decisions that are present in good city builders: you never need to choose between a church and a clinic because you can usually afford both and make everyone happy. You also rarely need to issue any of the game’s many edicts to pacify rebel factions. The lack of challenge is disappointing because Tropico 3: Gold Edition has plenty of nice features: two campaigns with varied objectives, random maps with custom game options, an editor to create challenges for other players, and robust character customization. On a more positive front, the detailed individual citizen tracking remains intact, providing an interesting simulation of your island. Tropico 3: Gold Edition also features a lot of buildings to place to satisfy a range of needs, although their range of effectiveness is hidden. The game also relies heavily on the almanac to get basic information (and still not that much detail: why is the housing rating so low?), and the game must be kept accelerated because of the laborious pace of construction and resource gathering. I know it’s a sequel, but Tropico 3: Gold Edition is still too similar to its predecessors at thrice the price and offers no drastic improvements or changes to the basic gameplay.