Tropico 4 Review
I love Tropico 4, and I wish I could recommend this console port with fewer caveats. There’s a great game here, but it’s so much better on the PC, where it started, that the 360 version suffers from the comparison. If you’re willing to put up with a few technical missteps on top of the generally mediocre interface and presentation in return for a fascinating, deep simulation, you might be surprised at how much you like this city-builder.
Tropico 4 throws a constant stream of goals at you, the ruler of an economically developing island paradise, over the course of its 20-mission campaign. Balancing the demands of the many factions within your people against the populace’s basic food/housing/healthcare/etc. needs, pushy foreign powers, and more is a tense and multi-tiered activity that I never get tired of. Random disasters and scripted scenario events – and believe me, having 50 stupid, lazy immigrants dumped on your shore can be a much bigger problem than a tornado ripping through your city center – force you to constantly re-evaluate and adapt your plans.
The reworked goal system is the big change from Tropico 3. You always have something manageable to work toward, and the game does a great job of weaving randomized optional secondary goals into the scripted scenario progressions. This is a wonderful improvement from the vague system in the last game that often left me feeling like I had been thrown to the wolves with little direction or purpose.
This may sound like a tall order, but your toolbox is broad and deep thanks to how the game models everything down to individual citizens, tourists, their houses and factional preferences, and their innate qualities, education, and skills. At the top level, you lay down the roads and place the foundations of everything from factories and farms to hotels and airports for your builders to construct. Once you have ministers in your cabinet, dozens of edicts that let you pander to various factions and powers and otherwise modify your citizens’ behaviors become available. To improve your island’s efficiency further, you’ll want to dig down and manage job salaries, change work modes, allow or forbid imports of various resources, fire workers, and much more. The simulation in Tropico is fantastically deep, and nudging your island in one direction or another can have profound effects.
Playing around with the smaller details of Tropico’s people and economy is where the 360 port stumbles. Flipping through the Almanac’s many pages and sub-reports, which contain reams of critical information about every aspect of your society, is a simple task with a mouse and a profoundly obnoxious chore with the Xbox’s cumbersome d-pad. Likewise, managing building modes and citizen actions is a pain with a gamepad where it’s smooth and easy on PC. You can pause the game while you plod through the menus, but it doesn’t make the process any more fun.
Unlike Tropico 3, this Xbox version capably handles the largest, most developed island I threw at it. The game cheats a little bit with skipping animation frames and the like on individual objects, but the framerate stayed quite playable after four hours spent developing a single island.
The review code Kalypso supplied, which is as close as pre-release code can get to a retail disc, suffers from a terrible sound bug. Every 10-20 minutes, the sound stutters and stops entirely for a minute or two, then resumes as normal. Every time the console streams a voiceover more extensive than a bare few words, your controller gets frozen out for between half a second and 3-4 seconds. Both of these problems are extremely annoying, though not game-breaking. I dearly hope that Kalypso fixes them in the final version, because frankly this is the kind of thing that should never see the light of day on a retail release. In the event that Tropico 4 ships in this embarrassing state, installing it to your console’s hard drive seems to eliminate the issues.
Tropico 4 is a great game that suffers from a few regrettable issues on console. Assuming the sound problems get fixed (or you install it to your Xbox’s hard drive), I heartily recommend it as the simulation/city-builder of choice on 360 despite the less-than-ideal gamepad interface.