Cult Classics – Tropico 4

by Adam Biessener on May 27, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Sometimes low-profile Bulgarian developers turn out better games than big-name American studios. Find out why I’ve got over 200 hours invested in Tropico and its expansion, Modern Times.

Big ol’ cities. The building blocks for most islands I develop in Tropico 4 are diverse. A tourist center on beautiful beaches hosts hotels and simple diversions, and is eventually connected to the high-tech entertainment district with its stadiums, shopping malls, and gourmet restaurants. Outlying mining and farming camps with simple amenities are staffed by hard-working laborers. Factory districts are tied to the resource-extraction sites and have a fat transit pipe to the docks where their goods are exported for the cash that pays for new construction. The city center hosts a wide array of services from cathedrals to government offices, plus high-rise apartment buildings and advanced educational facilities. Throughout it all, a smartly designed traffic grid keeps teamsters, tourists, workers, and shoppers moving smoothly.

Uninterrupted play. When my wife is watching Netflix in the other room and starts downloading something on her tablet while my PC decides that it needs to update critical programs right now, Tropico 4 chugs along unhindered. While an unforeseen power outage or the rare game crash can send me back to my last autosave 5-10 minutes of progress ago, I can always play Tropico 4 free of worry that my city will disappear because Comcast sucks.

New experiences/goals. Every scenario and every island in Tropico 4 provides dramatically different gameplay. Maybe China is dumping masses of uneducated immigrants on our shores that we need to find jobs and housing for. Perhaps a nefarious U.N. commissioner is imposing sanctions that we need to work around. Could be that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are trying to draw our island into their secret war and we have to play the two sides for the money and influence we need to develop our tiny island nation. Worst of all, a combination of llama flu, hurricanes, droughts, and rebels could test our society’s stability and resilience to the extreme.

Import/export dynamics. I appreciate the way I can export goods and receive money in return, or import anything from food to raw resources or even immigrants and see them move throughout my island’s society and economy. Every interaction makes logical sense, which makes it easy to plan my strategy around them.

Persistent citizens. When a tornado kills one of the two doctors on my island, it’s a serious problem. If a highly trained factory worker starts organizing the opposition in an election year, the cost to creatively remove her from the political process is a lot more than the few thousand in expenses my secret agents demand. It’s not like I follow the stories of every one of my hundreds of citizens in each game, but jobs are more than blind sockets, and people are more than featureless plugs in Tropico 4, and that adds a lot to the experience.

For a somewhat more serious look at Tropico 4, check out my formal reviews of the game and its excellent Modern Times expansion.