Console ports of a city building, management based, and precise controlled simulation never seems to pan out quite as well as the original, and can exude some trepidation on the part of gamers to pick up one over the other. ‘Tropico 5’ for PlayStation 4 successfully implements a control scheme that not only works, but thrives on console, and brings over an experience that console players have been sorely missing.
‘Tropico’ as a series has always been a light-hearted take on the city management genre, with injections of revolution, communism, and the opportunity to be your own little totalitarian dictator if so desired. The last entry in the series, ‘Tropico 4’ introduced the series to the modern age of gaming with some impressive visuals and solid mechanics that made the experiences of building an island paradise (whether for you or your people, certainly not both) quite enjoyable. ‘Tropico 5’, as a whole experience, doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel as much as the previous entry, but rather add some tread to the tire and teach the driver some new tricks.
Create your Dynasty, for better or worse
One could be forgiven for glancing at a few screens of ‘Tropico 5’ and thinking there isn’t much variety to be had, as most games do indeed look somewhat familiar, and honestly start in mostly the same way. What isn’t apparent immediately is the meaty campaign, a story to be told of your rise to power, and furthering your regime through time. The campaign, consisting of a large number of missions across multiple eras does a great job of also serving as a tutorial. The campaign starts with your arrival on the island, where you begin with humble plantations and country homes, looking to gain independence from the crown. The crown grants you, as ruler, a mandate of roughly 5-6 years in which to rule, if your mandate runs out, as does your time. The first mission teaches the player that in order to break free the chains of the empire, you must gain 51% favor of your people, which can be attained in a multitude of ways.
The campaign continues to educate the player on how to progress through all the eras, and after a few missions begins to transition to more of a true mission-based mode, where the final goal is something along the lines of “have $200,000 in your Swiss bank account” or “Gain a Space Program”. The campaign in itself is interesting enough and serves to teach not only the basics, but allows for some trial and error to see the best, or sometimes most creative, ways to further your progress.
As your dynasty progresses, you gain additional family members, which can be dispatched to manage buildings, attend college, or can simply retire if they bring shame upon the regime. Adding and customizing the family can be pretty entertaining, as putting your new cousin Frankie in a space suit with a chef hat will likely not earn him much respect with the dignitaries he visits, but it’s at least fun to see him waddling around the island. Your family may also turn to some great assets as they learn and gain more experience, gaining valuable traits and abilities to further production and more.
Casual, yet refined, with a parasol
Core gameplay in “Tropico 5” isn’t a wrench in the gears, but more a cog in the machine, as it remains largely unchanged barring a few tweaks that do make gameplay more interesting. Each game starts in a way that should be familiar to the “Tropico” fans, or really any city building or management games of the past few years. With your small tract of land encircled in a type of “fog-of-war”, you begin to build your construction office in order to get buildings up quicker, a teamster office to shuttle resources around the island, and dig in some plantations or ranches to start your ascension to an agricultural powerhouse. As you progress and continue the journey toward sovereignty and independence, new goals pop up. Some advisor may ask you to import a certain resource, another may want you to export entirely too many bananas, each is attainable for the level when they are issued, and usually offers some motivation to push or shift workforces and effort around the island.
Beginning in the early 20th century, your island paradise journey takes the trip through the world wars, Cold War, up and to Modern Times, where all research and buildings are available, and allies (or enemies) like the US and USSR begin to seek assistance in exchange for favor, resources, or liquid assets. The progression from Colonial times up and through the different eras is a good progression, but largely goes unnoticed barring the large screen popup and info that new research and buildings are available, and usually a new goal to progress to the next age. For as pleasing aesthetically as “Tropico 5” is, your island seems stuck in the 1920’s in terms of the buildings and areas you build. While it’s entirely understandable that plantations, farms, and other structures might stay similar or change slightly, but the fact that homes, grocers, police stations, and more also stay exactly the same. Newer buildings have a new look and feel to them, but placed near or adjacent to an older building sometimes looks plain jarring. Simply adding an overhaul to the structures to bring them into the new times would be more than welcomed, as well as randomizing the models for things like mansions and homes would at least make it feel less cookie-cutter and stamp-like, and more like a living, breathing settlement.
As the ages progress, more challenges, buildings, research, and potential allies become available. These new opportunities create some living and breathing challenge within “Tropico 5”. The US may want you to begin exporting loads of rum, and grant you positive relations, and perhaps some tourism. The USSR might come back requesting cigars, in exchange for the same as the US, and therein lies the choice. The brilliance is being able to play either side, or neither. Being able to straddle the line and hope the sides do not discover you’re working with the other is interesting, just as working solely with the USSR is an exercise in meeting their demands, while ensuring the US doesn’t straight up invade and “liberate” you. The research itself has some interesting concepts, and when unlocked allows some freedom in the avenue of edicts like tax cuts and more, while others unlock buildings. Research is a bit of a bore in the fact that it just goes on in the background and takes a few months, but the rewards from the research is more than enough to ensure you don’t forget to hit L2+X frequently.
Playing a game typically only released on PC and best experienced with a mouse and keyboard on a console is an experience that some would rather avoid, and some might describe as “lame”. “Tropico 5” does a great job of utilizing the PlayStation 4 controller in a way that provides the feedback, accuracy, and control of a keyboard and mouse as close as possible without compromising. Overall the experience using the DualShock 4 was better than Ok, but it can’t be said that it is equal or better to traditional keyboard and mouse for quick decisions and popping around the map.
The Bottom Line
“Tropico 5” for PlayStation 4 offers up the same great content we’ve seen on PC, and in a control scheme that works well for what it is – ultimately if you didn’t get the chance to play on PC, or would rather kick back on the couch and dish out your dictatorship, “Tropico 5” is most definitely a solid experience.
Back is the great experience of building your legacy, and “Tropico 5” like a fine rum-based beverage on its own, comes to PlayStation 4 with more features and a solid bundle of options. This version of “Tropico 5” could be considered that fine rum-based beverage with the proper garnish.
Reviewer’s Note – “Tropico 5” includes a multiplayer mode that consists of cooperative or competitive multiplayer, however we were unable to test and fully review the feature prior to the games launch. Also available is a Downloadable Content store that was unable to be launched to evaluate options and pricing prior to launch.