It would be very easy to offer up an “it’s not me, it’s you” sort of review for Tropico 6, the most recent entry in the banning republic simulation franchise. After all, once I finished the tutorial and the first mission, every single other mission (and there are 15 of these in total plus a sandbox mode), even on the easy setting, led to me bankrupting my country and having to throw in the towel. As for that tutorial, I completed it in its entirety, never once having a problem and beat the opening missing my first time through it as well.
In short, the argument could be that there is a disconnect between what the tutorial offers up as the important lessons for the game and what Tropico 6 actually requires. Yet, despite my losing over and over and over again, I’m still desperately in love with the game and, consequently, feel that it is who have failed it rather than vice versa.
Having played in the world of Tropico before but not being a true devotee across multiple entries, I can’t speak brilliantly to the differences between this version and earlier iterations. Beyond that, this is the first time I’ve played any of the games on a console. What I do know having played various other simulation titles on console is that this one has figured out what others have not – how to make the myriad of options simulation games offer available with a few clicks of the controller rather than via an incredibly cumbersome series of menus. On a computer, this is an easy task, simply moving the mouse cursor allows for access to many parts of the screen. On a console, trying to move a cursor is inane, and happily Tropico 6 doesn’t go that route. Instead, there is a wheel that is brought up with a shoulder button and from there the options abound (within an outer wheel and then an inner one).
As for what the game is, Tropico 6 is a wonderfully in-depth country simulator. The player takes on the role of “El Prez,” and decides what gets built where and when, controls industry, controls trade, and occasionally takes order (or requests) from people both within and without his nation. The bit that I fail at is organizing my desires alongside those of other people/groups and turning them into some sort of thriving economy. My economy does not thrive. Ever. It crashes and burns and a nice message pops up telling me that while I can continue if I want, I’m never going to make the situation better and it might be smarter to just start over.
I guess that’s better than seeing El Prez marched through the streets and guillotined. Plus, each mission has new variables every time one plays through it so that I’m continually going broke in new and different ways. I think they’re new and different anyway, I could be misunderstanding the same exceptionally basic element every single time.
So, after hours and hours of failure and restarting and dropping the difficulty level and still failing repeatedly, I finally felt the time was right to fire up the game’s first bit of DLC, called “The Llama of Wall Street.” This addition offers a new campaign as well as a Toy Workshop and Smart Furniture Studio. Goods will now fluctuate in price, there are economic events that take place across the world that change things up, and via a Trade Institute, El Prez can muck about with prices as well.
And now here’s where I have to say that I’ve played the mission several times and can’t tell you whether or not it offers up a satisfying conclusion. Why? Because as with all the other missions I’ve run in Tropico 6, I’ve destroyed the island economy in this mission just like all the others. I have loved every single minute of this failure, but not once has one of my minions popped up on the screen and said to me something like, “El Prez, you sir, have succeeded in turning our little Banana Republic into something wonderful. Not only that, but you’ve added enough money to your Swiss bank account that you and your descendants can happily live on some other tropical island in the Caribbean and never worry about how to pay for it. You won’t get to run that island, but there will be waiters there to bring you umbrella drinks whenever you want.” Again, I have no knowledge that such a thing is ever said, but in my mind, that’s roughly how the mission ought to end.
Even if, as I fervently believe, running an economy in Tropico 6 is simply something that I can’t do but is in general possible, the game does exhibit a few issues on PS4. There are moments when it seems to freeze, especially when one tries to move the camera and zoom in/out. This can lead to grossly over shifting where the camera is and requiring the player to correct it. Additionally, it is sometimes impossible to highlight choices and close out of popup menus. Disconnecting and reconnecting the controller often corrects this problem. The problems are minor, especially when compared with the problems with which I leave any country I run, but exist.
The thing is though, despite any visual glitches, despite the tutorial never really explaining to me how to run an economy, I find myself (as this piece has indicated), utterly enthralled with Tropico 6. It is in-depth without being overwhelming, requiring a lot of those who play; it is very pretty, especially for a simulator; the menus are well organized (but a more simple way to view the economy as a whole would be welcome); and it remains engrossing even when, like me, you drive the country into the ground repeatedly.
Looking at the world today, who doesn’t want a country they can tear to pieces themselves rather than watching others do it for them?