‘Tropico 4’: In Politics (and Video Games), the Game Never Changes

[25 September 2011]

By G. Christopher Williams

PopMatters Multimedia Editor

The last time that I reviewed this game I gave it an 8.  Also, this game was called Tropico 3

Frankly, I think that I already prefer that last review more than what I am about to write, since it discussed the manner in which Tropico 3 simulates the tension of dealing with political interest groups, which is in fact what is so interesting about this economics sim.  In fact, if you are new to the Tropico series, go read that review now (it’s pretty good, I swear) and go out and buy Tropico 3 or Tropico 4 (which is ever so slightly slightly prettier) if it intrigues you at all.  They are very good games individually and well worth the money.  You can come back here later if you want to answer the question of whether you should pick up whichever title you haven’t yet played. 

So, here’s the convoluted answer for whoever is left reading this review.

Again, Tropico 3 is a rather cool little political interest group simulation coupled with an economics sim.  In it (and in the newest game) you take on the role of El Presidente, the ruler of a banana republic whose history resembles more or less something like the Cold War.  However, what Tropico 4 does, besides doing what Tropico 3 did in almost every way, is mostly expose the quandry that some sequels place the games reviewer in.  Simply put, I really, really love Tropico, but since the newest Tropico is more or less the last Tropico, how do I score it?

It is just as good.  But if you have played Tropico 3, you have played Tropico 4, so if I score it equally, am I implying that a fan of the third game is going to enjoy it as much as they did the last one?  Of course, they might.  However, they might also feel like the addition of a few new buildings, a slightly more complicated way of passing policies, and some new disaster animations doesn’t really justify the price of a whole new game.  So, maybe I should score it considerably lower, since it is largely Tropico 3 with a fresh coat of paint?

However, if I score it a 5, say, then I am implying that the game is average, which it really isn’t.  It’s a really, really damned good game (just like it was the last time that I played it), which is probably what I really want to tell a new player.  If they haven’t played Tropico and are fans of the genre, then they should check it out, which makes it, again, an 8, like I scored it before.

But, of course, it isn’t.  I think.

You may see my problem here.  And maybe see the problem with dropping a score at the bottom of a page and hoping that a single number describes the value of a game.  Not only is that score contingent on how I see the game and my sympathy or antipathy for the genre, but it also depends a lot on you and your own experience with the series, genre, and, hell, how much your views seem to coincide with my own. 

Ironically, such aggravations are the core of the game that I am trying to review, as it is an economics sim that doesn’t let you make a decision without thinking about how that decision might not be seen as favorable or appropriate to one group or another.  It is a sim that restrains the typical seemingly absolutist dictatorship of a god game, which normally allows you to more or less build an economy the way that you think is right.  Tropico‘s varied interest groups restrain you by making your continued rulership contingent upon not pissing off the people or, for that matter, some very much more powerful superpowers.  In a sense, it is a study in democratic authority, not dictatorship.  But I already said this before…

This is a much more fun tension to play out in the game than it is to play out on the page.

So, if you haven’t played it, read the previous review and play it.  If you have played it, just know that the addition of many more environmentalist concerns mildly complicates the game and that there is an effort here to create more sense of an overarching narrative through cutscenes.  These cutscenes add next to nothing to the game.  The environmentalist concerns only change how you manage your island nation very, very mildly.  Aside from the other aforementioned additions, there isn’t much more to the new numeral at the end of the title than that.

Tropico is still compelling.  I still have a hard time dragging myself away from a completed scenario, as I always want to continue the campaign (oh, the addition of being able to “level up” some of your dictator’s basic stats also drives you towards completing multiple scenarios).  However, the game maybe only goes to show that politics never change much.  A new ideology or two maybe creeps into the system, but the game remains the same.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/148807-in-politics-and-video-games-the-game-never-changes-tropico-4/