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Return to Tropico
The original Tropico was an inventive management and building sim with a satirical bite, a warm and inviting art style and addictive gameplay. While the sequel veered off into pirate territory, Tropico 3 has returned to the series dictatorial, banana republic roots. The developer has preserved the heart of the original game and constructed an updated visual around it, minimally tweaked a couple of mechanics and made some subtle improvements. Get ready for an absorbing blend of politics, economics and city building wrapped in a colourful, witty veneer.
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Tropico 3 plays very much like the original game and while there are times I might berate a new title for lacking anything unique or being overly derivative, in this case the return to familiar territory provokes a warm nostalgic glow. The campaign side of the game takes place on a series of island maps. Each one holds a different challenge from developing tourism to mining iron and as you progress you’ll be expected to develop your own blend of developments for the good of your people and the financial success of your state.
You take on the role of a leader and you can choose from a list of real life possibilities which includes people as fundamentally opposed as Che Guevara and Augosto Pinochet. You can also create your own leader by constructing an avatar using the simple editor and then choosing your background and path to power. The system also retains one of the greatest features of the original: you can choose a couple of character strengths but if you do then you must also select flaws. It is worth checking out each mission and selecting a leader with skills that will help you reach your aims, though they can also be used just for fun in making a more colourful character.
The world of Tropico is set during the Cold War and as a small tropical island state your affections are coveted by the two great superpowers. Depending on your political leanings and policy in government you can cozy up to the USA or the USSR. Both will bring their own unique benefits and the support of either comes at a price. While they will provide you with aid cash each year, the closer you get to one, the more distant you’ll be from the other.
The bulk of the gameplay is about building up your island and developing an economy which allows you to cater for the desires of the people. You can develop farms, industry and tourism and you’ll need to explore each new island to see what your most exploitable resources are. Your citizens are divided into groups with various political beliefs and you can see what they think of life under your rule by clicking on them directly. You can also use overlays to examine the state of various elements of your society from crime rates to religious satisfaction.
You can give speeches from your palace and issue edicts. The laws you pass have an associated cost and benefit and they tend to determine your relationship with the superpowers. You will inevitably have opposition on your island and you will have to hold elections periodically. How honourable you choose to be in your dealings with rebels is up to you, but you need to maintain a military force because there will be the odd uprising.
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The game has undergone a complete visual redesign. The charm and authentic tropical feel of the original is still there but the new engine creates a terrific 3D world which can be zoomed in and out and viewed from any angle. The buildings are well designed, the people are nicely animated and the overall ambience is excellent. The environments themselves look great and the lighting and weather effects add a touch of class.
The menus are clear and concise and allow you to access whatever you need quickly and efficiently. The notepad style has been revived but the presentation here is even more straightforward than the original game. The “create your own leader” editor is a welcome addition, particularly since you can now see yourself wandering the streets in the game. Overall Tropico 3 looks lush and inviting.
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The voiceover work and music fit the scenario perfectly. The environmental sound effects are also pretty good and help to create an atmosphere. The radio announcer who commentates on your progress is excellent. The sound manages to complement everything else as it should.
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Tropico 3 is the latest installment in a unique series and it is a worthy tribute to and improvement on the original game. The core addictive hook of managing internal and external demands on your country while developing your buildings and trying to maintain a popular government is as appealing as ever. That foundation has been built upon with an events system which creates an even greater pressure on your leadership skills.
There are some flaws with the game, such as the slow build pace. However even there the developers have sought to improve on the original with a garage building which provides vehicles for your citizens thereby helping them get around a bit faster. The frustration of an unemployed immigrant building a shack on the beach in front of your tourist resort or an armed uprising of rebels attacking your banana farm are all in a days work for a tropical dictator.
When you consider that the sandbox mode and online challenges can be added to 15 campaign islands you’ll see there is plenty of good quality content here to keep you busy. Tropico 3 is an excellent game so dust off that hat, pop a cigar in your mouth and take on the role of El Presidente once more.