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PC Game Review: Tropico

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This game from the creators of Railway Tycoon II, is probably the first true politics simulation ever made for the computer. It is most certainly the best. Tropico gives the player the option to be anyone from an extremely corrupt dictator to an honest, hard-working leader of your people. Being corrupt is fairly easy. Trying to play it on the level is extremely hard, even on the easiest of settings. Your populace is always whining about something or other. If you don’t get it right you get booted out of office by the ballot box or by the gun.

Tropico is ostensibly a tin-pot dictator sim that allows you to take a small Caribbean island and do with it what thou whilst. The game allows so many choices as to be astonishing. Setting your island up before you begin play is a task in itself and one which requires at least a once over of the manual. To begin with, you decide what your island is like (a kind of real estate hunt) and what sort of place you want it to be, then you must decide who you will be what you are good at, bad at, and lastly, how exactly you got into power. Did you get there by fair or foul means, aided by your father, the CIA, the KGB or was it the rebels? It is possible to make the game endless. You select no “difficulty setting” and no parameters for winning, bar your survival. Can you beat Queen Victoria for years in power? Go on, give it a try and watch you life go by.

Once into the game, the interface is fairly similar to most sims of this kind and very similar to the afore-mentioned RRII. This makes sense since this game shares the engine of the railroad sim. Pop-Top have made the scrolling on this game much smoother than it was in RRII. There are no sudden jerks that will give those prone to motion sickness the heaves. The game runs smoothly and calmly, unlike your populace who rush around like ants. Speaking of ants, you may view your populace from above-the-clouds to practically in-their-face(s). I am convinced I saw one of my disenchanted campesinos giving me the finger a few days back. Speaking of campesinos, the game features a latin sound-track and a voice over from a Hispanic sounding man. Rather than the normal cheesy voice, the voice-over sounds genuine and adds to the mood of the game. As someone who speaks fluent Spanish, I found myself swearing in Spanish when my people got cantankerous.

The game itself is despicably difficult, no matter how you set the game up. One mistake and you can ruin your chances of retaining power (see Hamilton, Gary “Monkey Business” Hart, Jonathan Aitken, Spiro Agnew et al). And in this sense, it is very realistic as a politics sim. It can be very tough to be working on career as El Presidente for 30 years and one moment of madness (see Ron Davies) and you have ruined your career and reputation. To make things really difficult, you may limit yourself to just the barely legal tactics for keeping in office like giving your people large tax cuts, emptying the jails or a Mardi Gras the month before the election. More effective, in the short run, but less pleasant in the long run (and oddly less satisfying) are the tactics of political assassination, jailings, bribery, strongman tactics and intimidation (see Mabuto).

It is unfortunate that the game has been aimed at the teen market. It would have been nice to have more adult themes in the game (there are some but they are well hidden). One wonders whether wags will produce new add-ons for the game including drug labs, crops such as cannabis, coca and poppies and brothels. One is not allowed to run drugs, arms or even refugees through the island. This is a great pity because it would have added realism of the game. However, political correctness affects games too. Rather ironic considering the content, especially since one of decrees available is the burning of books.

That said, Tropico is bloody good fun. One has to give it the time and a few practice runs. Rest assured like the Sims (allegedly) and Railroad Tycoon II, this game is a total time sink. Hours and hours just disappear with absolutely no effort. As you would expect with this sort of game, you need to give lots of time to the game in order to get anywhere near competent at running your own island. You will get used to losing nearly everything before you get to the point where you are able to stay in the game. Staying in power for over 30 years is a great achievement. Ironically (or not) the ’80s seem to be the most difficult decade to survive. Getting into the 90s is a major achievement. In the early years, there is so little going on that it?s possible to read something while developing your island.

In order to help you develop your governing skills, the docs contain many profiles of memorable and notorious dictators of old. Thankfully, the authors have been good at keeping a good balance between the left and right. Pop Top cannot be accused of prejudice in their selections of dictatorial rogues. It is amusing to see that the star of the in-game cut-scenes bears a striking resemblance to a Mr. F Castro from an island named Cuba. In your office, you will find a lit cigar. For those of us who smoke cigars, it is very tempting to have one in the mouth as you play the game. A glass of rum (a possible product of Tropico) would surely make the scene complete. But back to reality.

Requirements for the game are fairly basic: G3 processor, 32 MB RAM, MacOS 8.6 and 850 mb. For those running OSX, the game has been Carbonized. However, there is a warning included in the docs that installer times for OSX are very slow, up to 3 or 4 minutes! So far, I have been unable to use the game under OSX. However. the game runs very well under 9.1. The graphics are adequate and the game supports Open GL. The sounds are wonderfully accurate. If you move your cursor between buildings, reflective sounds emanate from your speakers, occasionally interrupted by planes (if you have an airport). The game contains the sounds of everyday life on a Caribbean island. The detail is astonishing at times. Building sounds come from new additions to the island. Tourists wander around gormlessly looking for entertainment. If you are really unlucky, you are privileged enough to hear the sound of gunfire as your palace is overrun by rebels who resent your benificent rule.

This is an excellent game from the very clever minds at Pop Top. It is by far the best sim game this reviewer has ever played and probably the only one that he will return to in the future. Tropico ranks as one of the best games ever created for any platform, ever. It is a high water mark for the simulation genre and one that will not be bettered for a long time to come. Tropico is an instant classic and a must-have for every gamer with a an interest in non-action games.

(***** out of *****)

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