Presidente is back in the fourth iteration of the long running city builder Tropico, and the result is the most approachable game to date. Rather than reinvent the wheel, developer Haenimont Games has built upon Tropico 3, adding new buildings, gameplay concepts and quest structures to the exiting game engine.
For the most part this works – Tropico 4 is a much more rounded game than its predecessor. Thanks to ongoing challenges that pop up there are more ways to keep the public happy, and opportunities to build your economy. This is layered on top of a campaign that involves a series of 20 quests over 10 islands – the premise being that you have to rebuild El Presidente’s shattered reputation with the world community.
In each mission you need to build up your island and its economy, ensuring the population stays happy and your military is strong enough to fight off any rebel threat. On top of this you are presented with ongoing challenges and quests depending on the scenario. These are often complementary to one’s island building strategy but can also act to make things a lot tougher than they should be by deliberately destroying certain export markets or forcing you to build structures with heavy upkeep requirements.
Generally speaking though, you have a fair degree of control over your destiny. You can focus down on farming and its by-products, build a tourism industry or balance out a variety of other ways of getting money flowing into your economy. Those who have played Tropico 3 will be familiar with the delicate scramble to garner sufficient income to keep the Tropican population fed, healthy and happy.
This is more complex than before, thanks to the inclusion of 20 new buildings. These range from obvious additions like Salt Mines, which are used for mining Salt deposits, to inclusions with more subtle effects like the new Fire Station,. This not only helps keep fires under control, but also can be used to raise the housing quality and in turn happiness of citizens in the vicinity.
Haenimont has changed some fundamental concepts – in order to issue edicts for example one now needs to build a ministry and hire ministers. But anyone familiar with Tropico 3 will find this an easy game to get into. Thankfully the revamped tutorial and quest system also makes it a more approachable game than before, and this provides a much smoother introduction to the at times complex city building in the game.
We particularly like the inclusion of the new quick build system, which allows you to pay double the cost of a building to get it built instantly. This is particularly handy because Tropico 4’s transport system is at times quite annoying. Tropicans need access to garages in order to move between work and home – if there is no garage they’ll walk. This is fine if we are talking a block or two, but one of the historical problems with Tropico has been that this means lost production when setting up new areas of the island. With quick build you can get the important garage and other infrastructure in place without this major time suck.
That’s just one of the ways in which the game has improved over its predecessor. There are still a lot of rough edges though, trying to manage traffic can be frustrating, and it isn’t really clear what some of the newer buildings actually do. Then there’s the music – the same handful of songs have remained from Tropico 3, yet again providing a strangely mesmerizingly festive background to the dictatorial shenanigans.
Tropico 4 is a worthy successor to the series, not reinventing the wheel, but enhancing the experience in many ways. It still has some rough edges and obscure concepts, and only 10 new maps is a major disappointment. There are plenty of options once you finish the main campaign though, with both sandbox and ‘challenge’ modes available. It falls a little short of greatness but still delivers for fans of Tropico and the city building genre generally.