The Cold War wasn’t much fun really. The world was nearly led to mutually assured destruction, a hell of a lot of money was spent on useless things and tensions were extremely high. Tropico 3, however, takes The Cold War and somehow makes it a lot of fun. This banana republic based city simulator puts you in the shoes of a ruthless (or not so ruthless, you can decide) dictator who is pretty much the underdog on the world stage. Problems have set you back such as your evil twin brother banishing you from his island or your pirate instincts taking over and you have to pick up the pieces, building an industrious society from a few uneducated workers and a lot of faith in the US and USSR to help out.
The problem with Tropico 3 is seen right off the bat. City sims are notorious for having in-depth menus, complicated statistics and a wondrous array of things to do. Tropico 3 is no different except here the learning curve is very very very steep. It feels like taking that old banger your Dad gave you on your 18th birthday and attempting to drive it up Ben Nevis. The tutorial provided is quite misleading because it tells you the trivial stuff like how to move the camera around and how to move your avatar around your city. Building production, edicts and economic management are all skimmed over, leaving you to ultimately fend for yourself. The in-game hints do give you some idea of what to do but it feels like an uphill struggle to figure out what it is you’re meant to do.
Once you do get the hang of what’s going on, it becomes a lot more fun. It has potential to be better than the majority of City sim games simply for the political aspect of things. Being a sole dictator, you decide everything. You can decide who can tighten immigration, make deals with corporations to improve export prices, and attempt to increase tourism. This political side also brings in rebellions, coups and even invasions. It’s your job to please the people to make them work efficiently and not feel the need to attempt to kill you. You need to pick good times to hold elections (while the people still like you) and keep relations with the US and USSR equal so neither feels the need to invade your little piece of fascist fun in the sun. Random events, some historical and some made up, can really mix things up. I had a foreign industrial expert visit the island to construct a distillery. After paying this guy, it turned out he was a spy for the CIA and a few months later both him and a member of my secret police staff were found dead. It’s things like this that really force you to think on your feet. Do you publicise this event or do you keep it a secret?
There really are times when you begin to think like a dictator and you can understand why people like Castro got pissed off so easily. After attempts on your life, bombs in your most productive factories and rebel attacks every few years you just feel like closing your borders and putting the country under marshal law to keep everyone in check.
Something that might disappoint many city sim veterans is the lack of micromanaging. You can improve your factories to make them produce goods with less pollution or produce goods faster but that’s about it. Most places seem to just run pretty well by themselves but also limits what you can do with them. However, in Tropico 3, it’s hard to miss the micromanagement because you already have so much stuff going on at once with all the politics side to deal with as well.
Placing buildings can get rather annoying at times though. Sometimes you try to place a building on a seemingly normal patch of land but, for some reason, it doesn’t want to build it right there. It becomes fiddly trying to place a building where it’s acceptable. Farms can become annoying at times because it takes a few years before they actually start to produce things. Many a time I’ve spent money developing some farms, to then be put into debt but having nothing to export because the farms aren’t ready yet. I suppose it adds to the realistic system of farming but, when I want to improve my tourism or set up adequate housing for the immigrants streaming in, it can become extremely frustrating watching my citizens happiness go down because I can’t afford to build houses.
There is a campaign mode providing 15 different scenarios. You’d probably be able to set these scenarios up yourself in the Sandbox mode, which is rich with things to tweak to make a thrilling game, but the campaign has some really interesting scenarios to play out with certain goals. My favourite involves you liberating the island from the British and having to set up a stable industry to avoid the heavy tax the British are putting on your exports. Before each level, you can pick your dictator from a wide variety of historical figures such as Eva Peron and Fidel Castro, but it’s much more fun to tweak your own. You can select traits, weaknesses and backgrounds which influence how people react to you. It’s a shame that these traits are only numbers based meaning that your avatar won’t end up stumbling drunkenly around the city if you’re an alcoholic.
Tropico 3 isn’t the prettiest of games but city sims seem to always hit that middle ground where, despite it looking a bit crap, it’s passable because you spend most of your time in menus. It’s detailed enough for you to zoom right into your city streets to see your little subjects scuttling around doing their jobs (or not in some cases). One thing I really love is the soundtrack, but there really needs to be more tracks on it. I spent a few times just watching buildings being built whilst dancing along to the soundtrack. It has a very Latin feel which always has that effect on me.
It’s just a shame I feel like shooting the DJ…a lot. I wish there was an option for you to deport him.
There aren’t enough city sims on consoles, and probably for good reason. It’s complicated enough playing on PC with so many menus to navigate and things to keep check on. However, Tropico 3 does a good job of having things accessible despite having a terrible tutorial. Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be building up a luscious, industrious city whilst keeping those pesky rebels in check.