In many ways, Tropico 5 plays like its predecessor, even if some of the buildings are missing or changed the jokes about your rise to power and the art style offer no revolutionary change from what came before. However, the game’s foray into colonial history through the World Wars, the Cold War, and the modern era offers a sense of scale and history that Tropico 4 lacked and a greater challenge for the would-be tin-pot city building dictator you’ve always wanted to be.
The game works just as it does on PC, with you starting out as a humble colony of an overseas motherland vying for independence. This is achieved readily enough by increasing the support of those who favour breaking away from the crown by opening entertainment buildings (which are limited in the early game), providing enough food, and building homes for your people among other things. Once you’re ready to go it alone, your glorious revolution begins and ends with what amounts to a bribe to your former overlord or an invasion you must repel if you want to keep your newly independent country, and more importantly, your Swiss bank account.
Fighting off that invasion can be done if you fulfil royal contracts to renew the length of your tenure as colonial governor, thus extending the start of the game until you have time to prepare your defences and raise your armies. And you’re going to need an army. It’s likely true to say that in every society at every point in history there have been some who have wanted the violent overthrow of their government and while that may be the case, the fact remains that as the game progresses there will be those who seek to oust you, yet for no obvious reason.
One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, as they say, but in a game where you control so much and can raise your people’s support to 80 or 90 per cent and still be faced with sporadic revolts against your benevolent and glorious regime is a little tiring. Some people are never happy but there are surely better ways to show it (underground newsletters, civil unrest etc.) rather than armed insurrection every time.
Tropico 5, despite that, largely sticks to the fun aspect of city building rather than the challenging one and you should find that if you do a decent job saving your retirement fund from the rebels isn’t too difficult. Once you progress to the World War era you may be forced to confront an invasion from one of the major world powers, an altogether more difficult prospect. The biggest task you face as the game progresses is that of balancing your economy. The shiny towers and grand buildings that become available late in the game may look like tantalising additions to your nation but they are expensive and balancing the books can prove tricky.
Making money, especially in the late game, is dependent on your ability to produce the good demanded by the world’s markets and establishing trade deals accordingly.
Such market realignments can come at a high price. It’s tempting to build a grand old city during the colonial era but as you reach new eras your people will demand better housing and conditions. Reasonable requests, to be sure, but no one wants to have their house demolished to make way for a shiny new apartment block either. Make the wrong choices here and you soon find a growing rebel threat emerging.
Tropico 5’s focus on the light elements of the city building genre also come at a cost and the game would benefit from some of the detailed statistics and charts you might expect to find in CitiesSkylines or SimCity. At the least, more information would help you figure out sooner what was going on and why, which would, in turn, help you plan your growing metropolis better.
Part of the problem with the game’s economy is that resources are finite and that mine you built at the start of the game is going to run out sooner or later. When you reach the later eras, when your mineshafts are empty and your forests are depleted, those resources would have come in handy, especially as commodity prices never change. You might think this would help you plan your economy but it doesn’t really, as it’s difficult to keep track of exactly what’s coming into your production centres and what’s going out.
There is a decent length campaign here and multiplayer to go along with it but the game offers little incentive to keep playing once you’ve reached the end of the tech tree and depleted your resources. Tropico 5 offers the base for a great city builder but the one we have is at times too simple and the game does little to address the problems which have always afflicted the series.
At least you still have your Swiss bank account.
Tropico 5 is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The game was developed by Haemimont Games and published by Kalypso Media. A copy of the game on Xbox One was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.