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Monday Fun #42: Review (Tropico 3)

Since I've been remiss on this for a few weeks, I figured I'll go ahead and *try* to do two of 'em in a day. So here's the first. Otherwise, I'll do Miles (hehheh) next week.

This one's for the X-Box 360 version of Tropico 3, which just came out. There's also a PC version that's been out for a bit, if y'all are interested in that instead.

Tropico 3

Game type: "City" Simulation

Time demand: However long you want at a time, since you can save as you like. Each island challenge probably takes a couple hours average, depending on speed setting.

Platform: X-Box 360 / PC

X-Box 360: 02/16/10 US, Q2 2010 JP, 11/13/09 EU
PC: 10/20/09 US, 11/13/09 EU

What it is:

For those of you who have played the original Tropico, the answer is fairly simple: "It's a new version of this game, with updates, improvements, general tweaking, and new challenges and such."

For those of you who haven't played the original Tropico, I guess I've gotta get a bit more verbose, damnit.

Alright, here's the deal. You are El Presidente, new supreme ruler (we don't like the messy term "dictator") of a small island nation in the Caribbean that's totally not Cuba, really! (Actually it's apparently not, since some of the news that pops up in the game mentions Castro and Cuba, but still.) How you came into power may vary by campaign and Avatar background, but the deal is that you now have the reins (and the reign!), and it's up to you how you want to rule and develop your small republic.

The actual Presidente him(or her)self can be one of a number of real-life dictatrulers, or a custom Avatar that you create yourself. And unlike in the first game in the series, your Avatar actually does hang out on the island, and is one of the tweaks to this one - You can send your little Presidente out to make speeches at the palace to gain respect, to visit construction sites to speed up the building, to visit buildings to improve production, and other small boosts like that.

In general though, this is a typical city type Sim. You construct buildings by spending money and choosing a location (which can be a pain on islands with odd elevation changes, since terrain does matter), and then waiting for your construction workers on the island to build them. You then have to wait for workers to fill the building - if you have a lot of unemployed workers, they'll naturally fill the slots quickly, otherwise you might need to tweak wages to try to lure workers away from the less important buildings and toward the ones you really want filled out.

Some buildings may use only one gender of worker (sometimes really arbitrarily, it seems, but I guess they want to try to balance it out a bit), and many of them (especially higher-end buildings) require workers with a high school or even college education, which requires either those buildings on the island, an immigration building and policy that slowly lures in educated workers over time, or hiring workers one at a time for a sometimes really high sum, relatively.

The buildings themselves have a fairly wide variety of uses. Some are infrastructure, which will take money from your budget in the form of wages and building maintenance, but are required to do things like build new buildings, move your products to the dock for export, help people move quickly and easily around the island (to actually complete their tasks without taking forever), and so on. Then there are various item-producing buildings, which can feed your populace, or provide raw materials to export, or even turn certain raw materials into higher-selling products. There's housing and other buildings that are meant to keep your populace happy (or at least at non-killing-the-Presidente levels of stress), government buildings to let you use certain edicts, and so on.

Edicts are also useful - they're declarations you can put into effect to change your island in some way. Some raise certain areas of happiness for your people, others might help you get rid of certain pesky individuals, still others might help with your relations with the U.S. or U.S.S.R. Edicts usually cost a certain small sum to enact and then an annual sum as long as they remain, but it varies for each.

The fun (and challenging) thing about the game is that there are a ton of things to balance here. It's not just a matter of paying part of an unlimited pool of money to build things and enact edicts. The money itself is a challenge, since you start out with a relatively small amount, only enough for a couple of the smaller buildings, and usually only a small handful of buildings to get you started (such as your palace, a construction office - required for building anything else - and a teamsters union used to haul goods around, plus a couple farms and maybe a few housing buildings if you're lucky.) So you need to figure out your best resources, build things to exploit them, and wait for them to start being exported and hope the money comes in soon, because meanwhile you'll constantly be spending money for wages and maintenance, and if you start going into debt, your relations with the two superpowers start to suffer.

Then there are the people themselves, one of your other most important resources. Because just as the buildings themselves in this game don't magically appear fully formed, they also don't magically do their business unstaffed. Each building requires a certain number of workers on staff, and with less than a full compliment, they don't work nearly as well. And with many physical jobs such as farming, building and hauling, the workers themselves actually have to move around the island and do the tasks in between satisfying their own needs, which requires you to put some thought into your island layout and infrastructure. Then too things like educating new workers for better jobs requires teachers, plus time for the students to actually spend in the schools. So in short, you need a large enough population through natural population growth (slow, and possibly non-existent if people grow old and retire/die from bad health faster than they reproduce), and/or through immigration - and too much immigration may tick off your Nationalist faction on the island. And at the same time, if you have too many unemployed people in your population, people start to get unhappy. So it's a delicate balancing act.

Then there are needs, happiness, and Factions, all tied in together. Your population is happy when its needs are met, and to some extent when the citizens' political wants are fulfilled in some way. Needs are things like hunger, entertainment, rest, work satisfaction, housing, religion, and health are - many of which can be satisfied on their own, but only badly, and require buildings for better need fulfillment. As the needs are met, and with better quality services, population happiness increases. And each citizen also belongs to one or more Factions, such as the Militarists, Nationalists, or Religious Factions, each of which can be impacted positively and negatively depending on how you run your island. For instance having churches or (even better) cathedrals pleases the Religious Faction, but a lack of these buildings at certain population levels makes you take a hit on your rating. Having, say, a Compulsive Gambler background also gives you a permanent negative with the Faction, and certain Edicts such as Prohibition or Book BBQ might increase or decrease it further.

Your population and factions aren't the only things you need to worry about - there are also two superpowers around, the U.S. and U.S.S.R, which are important because a) they give you financial aid at the end of each year depending on your relations with them, and b) if they get too annoyed with you, they will send their military in and squash you. Luckily keeping them at last at non-invasion levels of happiness isn't *too* difficult - mostly you just need to stay out of debt, or at least pay back any debts to the world bank fairly quickly ,and try to at least pay some respect to the Communists (by keeping your workers housed and fed and so on) and Capitalists (by fostering tourism or eventually developing your industries beyond the "raw materials" level).

Oh, and then there are elections - although you can refuse to hold elections, it will tick your populace off more, which is its own danger. If you do hold them, you can hold a Presidential speech (another new aspect of the game) covering a few key points about the island as it stands, and your future plans, to possibly sway some of the voters over onto your side. If that fails, you can do some slight underhanded dealings to tweak election results, but this has a limit. If all goes too badly, you're not re-elected, and end up out on your ear. Or other body parts.

Which leads us into the various ways to Fail Miserably at your goal. As mentioned just above, you can fail to be re-elected, which is one of the less messy ways to get a Game Over. As mentioned a little farther above, you can also piss off a superpower enough to have them invade, which would also be Bad, Ray. Then there are rebels - as individuals get too unhappy, they have a chance to turn into rebels, and these may occasionally band together and attack buildings. If they manage to overpower your standing army, they succeed and destroy the building. This is usually just annoying, but if they get strong and bold enough to attack your Palace... ouch. Then there are military coups, where you don't keep your military happy enough, and some (or all) of them might turn against your rule. If they're strong enough to overpower any loyal troops you have, you're out. THEN there are uprisings, although I haven't had any of those happen yet, so I'm not sure of the specifics. And I don't know if there's a limit to the amount of debt you can spiral into before they world bank finally just says "okay, you're done." So yes, while it might be fun to be a petty little tyrant, it's a hard thing to pull off successfully.

Depending on the game, there are different goals for you to pursue. I've been playing just the Campaigns so far, each with a separate goal - such as gaining a certain amount of money in your Swiss Bank (which requires a certain edict or a bank to basically funnel the island's money into your account... it's good to be El Presidente!), or having a certain amount of happiness, or just remaining in power under certain special and grueling conditions for a given amount of time. There's also a sandbox mode, and other challenges, which I haven't played around with yet. So in general, there's a bunch of stuff to do here, which should keep you occupied for a while and give you quite a bit of variety in your playing.

This game is a lot of fun - more fun than it has any right to be, much like its predecessors - but there are some gripes I might as well lay out now.

-There's apparently a game-save glitch, where if you get above 500 population or so, saved games won't load. (Just the ones that are over that population, you can still start and save new islands.) This... is what some would consider a game-breaking bug, although for me it's not quite as bad, because really it takes a while and some effort to get a population that big. It'll probably be much more of a problem in sandbox games than in the campaigns, so it's definitely something you should know before you buy. The PC version has apparently had this patched, but no word yet for a 360 patch.

-Some controls could stand to be tweaked, such as laying roads, which can be really annoying, especially since some terrain can't be built on/flattened, but it's really hard to tell sometimes which terrain it is. It just seemingly arbitrarily sometimes tells you "nope, sorry, can't go there!"

-Gender is weird with this game. You can have a male or female Presidente, and their Presidential speech will be in the proper voice, but at the same time a lot of the references to the Presidente will be male by default. Plus there are Avatar faults like "Womanizer" which can be weird with no gender balance. I guess this is slightly understandable given the large number of male rulers compared to female (especially in this particular type of nation), but annoying when you're playing a female Avatar!

I'm sure there are other things here and there that annoy me, but in general it's a fun and well-balanced game. And to balance out the negatives, some of the improvements over the original Tropico:

-The aforementioned Presidential Speeches, which are actually voiced by a male or female Presidente, incorporating 3 different elements that you choose, which is neat, and which can really have a noticeable effect on your votes. (This may actually make it TOO easy - I don't think I've had to rig a single election yet!)

-Semi-random events. Well, I'm not sure how random they are in the campaigns, but you can have things like earthquakes and hurricanes that destroy buildings, the Llama Flu which keeps you from getting immigrants for a while, and then more Weird Stuff that's more obviously scripted into certain campaigns to give you choices, some of which have odd unintended consequences. (This occurred to some extent in the original, but they seem to have more/deeper events this time around.)

-TNT, the Tropican radio station, which pops up from time to time and can help you pinpoint trouble spots on your island, or just keep you entertained.

-The road system, which despite the slight annoyance sometimes of placing them, is a lot better in general than in the first game. For one, once the roads are placed, they're automatically built rather than having to wait for construction workers to get around to digging the segments out, and for another, there are actually *cars* this time, so long as buildings are connected to the road network (or there's a nearby garage), which lets your workers and goods get around the island sooo much faster.

I'm sure I could go on for even longer, but this is already more than long enough. So I think I'll cut it short (hah!), and just give my recommendation:

Recommendation: If you like city sims or sims in general, this is definitely fun and worth a try. The only *big* problem with it is the game save bug, and if you have fun like I do with the different campaigns and challenges, even that shouldn't bug (heh) you for a while, and *hopefully* it'll end up patched. This review is for the 360 version, so I can't weigh in on the PC version, although I know at least one person on my friends list owns it, and may pipe up. :p

Whew, that should do it for that. If you have any further, specific questions feel free to ask in the comments. And I'll hopefully get around later today to reviewing Miles darling, or if not, wait for it next week! But I figured I'd do this one first, since it makes sense that the people already into the Ace Attorney games probably already know whether they're getting the Miles Edgeworth installment or not, and possibly are already playing the hell out of it, and those not into the series likely just won't be interested. But I could be wrong!


( 6 Notes — Write a Footnote )
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)

I always wanted to play the first two but never got a chance. Hardware was always too far behind, too far ahead, or, now, not even remotely the right OS. I think I'll have to watch for this to get patched and give it a whirl.

(WTB Xbox or Mac/PC reboot of 'Pharaoh/Cleopatra')
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
Ooo, Pharoah was fun, I'd like to see an update of it for the 360!

Yeah, I'm *hoping* there'll be a patch for the 360 soonish, but it sounds like the PC one took a while, plus they've been slow about even getting the game distributed in the first place, so... I dunno. I'm hoping, though!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
Bah, I was gonna go back and try to remind myself what your problems were, and see if I could help at all... but then I ended up not finding the entry, and instead possibly screwing up your tags. So yeah...
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
Whee, found it! (After thinking "oh hey, I could just like check when it was released for PC,and check around then!")

Hrm, just getting started? Well, if you just want some suggestions... I'd say make sure you build a couple things for getting Moar Money into your grubby paws. Like mines, if your island has any resources that you can exploit, or oil wells. Or, if all else fails, farms and/or logging camps.

I also usually build a fisherman's wharf for a bit of extra food for my peons, and possibly a bit of export, and often an immigration office so that I can either get more people onto my island to populate my early buildings, or get some skilled peeps in without having to pay for them specifically until I get a good enough economy to support schools. Or switch between both.

Just keep in mind that (unless you leave a large cushion of cash in the account) you're probably going to end up running in debt for the first couple years, until your buildings all get built up and running, and you start getting the good exports out. Likewise, your happiness is probably going to drop for a good while, because it'll take a while to get built up to the point where you can start throwing extra money toward just things to make the peasants happy, and less revolting. It shouldn't be a huge problem in most campaigns, though, unless you let it get REALLY out of hand. (Mine usually drops down to 38-40% or so before I can start pulling it up again, for instance.)

Anyhow, hope that maybe helps? If there's anything specific, feel free to mention it!
(Deleted comment)
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