Tropico 3 Review

Lee Abrahams

Have you ever dreamed of being whisked away to rule your own tropical paradise? Anyone that answered yes may well expect a visit from 007 should their dream come true and anyone that answered no is just an outright liar. So now we have separated the dictators from the chaff we can begin and you can seize the reins of power over the lush islands of Tropico. Not everyone is up to the task of being El Presidente but the real question will be is this game able to deliver the variety and challenge to keep you hooked? Let us grab our finest cigars, iron up our military uniform and step out onto the balcony to bask in the adulation of our populace – Oh, and maybe play the game a bit

A bustling metropolis awaits your next intervention.

The previous Tropico games have always had a sense of humour about them and were happy to take a satirical swipe at how politics could be run. This game harks back to the original and focuses on an island (not dissimilar to Cuba) that attempts to grow to its own potential while fending off, or encouraging, the interests of the world superpowers. Can a Cold War inspired game still hold true in the current climate? Thankfully it seems that the answer may well be yes.

Right from the off you can create your ideal presidential avatar and choose how they came to power, but think carefully as these initial attributes can be a great help or an even greater hindrance to the unwary. In game you can use your avatar to inspire people, speed up construction or improve the production from buildings, so you will be seeing a lot of them as they dash around. The campaign mode requires you to complete set mandates within a fixed time limit, so you may be called upon to ship so many crates of bananas or attract a set amount of tourists. The missions are well structure and fun, but sometimes a touch too restrictive. You can also just leap into a "sandbox" game with your own set parameters or tackle an online challenge created by other players.

The real concern is that the game may well have shot itself in the foot before it ever truly gets going, as the tutorial is woefully inadequate to truly prepare you for the real challenges of managing your own island. Considering you have a plethora of building options, numerous production opportunities for some of them and a wealth of interaction with your citizens, it seems strange that all you are really shown is how to issue the most basic instructions. Thankfully the controls are fairly intuitive and you will soon pick up the more complex micro management aspects – but it does not help that you are effectively thrown in the deep end with very little help. Even the in game hints and production suggestions for what buildings you might need are not entirely helpful or accurate. The campaign mode can help out somewhat as it offers fifteen tailored missions that require you to think in a specific way, and they truly help to grasp the nuances on offer.

Carefully managing resources is the key to success.

Once you do get a handle on things it soon becomes apparent that you need to establish a careful balancing act between your economy and your citizen's needs. Obviously you will need a steady income in order to build structures, pay wages and maybe pad out your retirement fund. So a careful balance of farms, industry and tourism can all help to keep you afloat, plus the odd donation from friendly foreign powers. However, all the money in the world will not help you against angry citizens so you must look after their needs too with churches, schools and police stations becoming a priority. If you fail to keep a stable economy along with a happy populace then you can expect things to take a turn for the worse.

The political machinations are an ever present issue in the background of every map. If you do not meet the needs of your citizens then they can turn on you and become rebels, or even formulate a mass uprising. Annoy the military and you could face a coup, and the superpowers are always on hand for a swift invasion if you do not appease them. It sounds like a lot to handle but the helpful almanac gives you a great breakdown of what everyone is craving and it makes sense to keep an eye on it. You can also spy on people individually and see what they want, but considering you can have hundreds of citizens, this can soon become a burden and is not really that helpful. You can also choose to ‘remove’ key troublemakers in a variety of ways if you have the means. A stern army presence or secret police HQ can be the answer to any number of issues. Every so often you will have the joy of elections too, where a carefully planned speech can sway things your way, failing that, some well timed edicts are a close second – as everyone loves a tax cut.

While the campaign can provide a good amount of fun as you seek to accomplish the specific mandates, it soon becomes apparent that once you have a good strategy, you can pretty much apply it to every single situation. Once that happens the game becomes a bit too easy and loses some of its appeal, though by that point it is safe to say that you will have already sunk plenty of hours into it. On that note comes the game's greatest failing: the save system. You can save at any point but if you save a game over a previous save or even try to save a large built up island, then the odds are that you will never be able to access it again. The game often crashes at any attempt to reload certain files and this can lead to countless hours being lost. The game is addictive enough to draw you back for more, but it really is quite unforgivable.

A blank canvas ripe for exploitation.

Visually speaking the game is decent and nothing more. It can look superb at times, but zoom in for a better look at your citizens and things take a drastic turn for the worse. There is also quite a bit of tearing at times when you revolve the camera and the game has a habit of freezing up when there is a lot going on or you try to switch menus a bit too suddenly. The audio also starts out in a good way, until you realise that the radio presenter only has a very limited repertoire and he soon starts to get on your nerves. There are only so many times you can hear about the destruction of El Presidente’s favourite porcelain cat before you want to beat him with it yourself.

While you are busy ruling as tyrannically or democratically as you see fit, you may also want to snag some achievements along the way. Thankfully the list on offer is pretty much perfect and has any number of simple tasks mixed in with a few more tactical offerings. It will not take much effort to build a power plant or airport, but trying to finish a game with everyone at a happiness of 70% is more of an ask. You will also need to make your way through the increasingly tricky campaign mode but once you have a strategy down this should become more of a formality. Overall, a well balanced list that should satisfy anyone with an instant need for points but will also need a good investment of campaign time to net them all.

Tropico 3 is a game that just draws you in and refuses to let go, and playing through all of the campaign modes is a real treat as the obstacles you have to overcome are nicely varied. The real problem with the game is with its careless broken save system, which is frankly unforgivable in a strategy title considering each map will have had countless hours of your time invested in it. It could also be said that once you have a successful strategy down, you can pretty much apply it to every map and situation with guaranteed success – and this seems to diminish the challenge somewhat. All that aside though, this game offers plenty of fun and replay value, and you will certainly find yourself having just one more go.

Cue the tropical music and, what can only be described as, the most irritating radio DJ ever conceived. Play a few maps and his novelty soon wears thin.

Breathtaking at times when you can see your island as an epic vista at sunset, but zoom in a bit closer and the cracks begin to show. Not to mention the occasional bit of screen tearing and freezing.

You can easily lose hours of your time in this game once it has your attention and, although the learning curve is steep at first, it soon becomes a fun challenge. If only the tutorial had been a tad more comprehensive.

A superb sandbox strategy game, but one that is let down by too much repetition and strategies that never fail to succeed. The save game issues are unforgivable too.

A superb list that encourages you to play through the campaign and pick off what you can, before then having the confidence to tackle the Challenge and Sandbox mode. Plenty of fun tasks and some that are a bit more taxing. Lovely.

This game could have easily pushed into the eighties had it not been for the awful and extremely frustrating save game issues that dog it right from the start to end. Nothing is more upsetting than losing hours upon hours of work to a simple design flaw and it almost puts you off starting again. Where the game really succeeds though is that, despite all that, you cannot help but want one more go.

Game navigation