While I wouldn’t say I lose sleeping thinking about it, sometimes I have to wonder if Fidel Castro has heard of the Tropico series, and what he actually thinks of it. I mean, there are plenty of video games out there that feature satirical elements, but Tropico wears its influences on its sleeve. From the island setting to the music and sound effects, it’s pretty clear that developer Haemimont had a certain ‘world leader’ in mind when it came to crafting Tropico 5, the newest entry in the long running simulation series.
Granted, calling Tropico 5 a simulation game might be a bit misleading to some, considering how complex other games in the genre can get, but there’s still plenty to do on your fictional Caribbean island. Taking the reigns as “El Presidente,” you are in control of your little island nation and you have a ton of options when it comes to growing and expanding your country.
Most playthroughs start the same; after taking a quick survey at the layout of your island, you can begin to mine natural resources such as iron or lumber. As you continue to grow in population and revenue, options to construct new buildings, research new technologies, and enact new social policies begin to present themselves. With the ability to choose how your infrastructure is laid out (you’ll even have to lay out roads manually), there’s plenty of customization available, something that I was glad to see made the transition from the PC space to consoles.
Aside from deciding what to build and where to build it, a lot of the draw comes in the form of how you want to run your country from a political standpoint. Things start simply enough. At the onset, you might decide to issue edicts to lessen taxes on your people, or increase the military presence on your island. There are plenty of policies and edicts to choose from, and there’s a fine balance to figure out when it comes to making your citizens happy, but not allowing them to essentially have free reign.
That being said, as any fan of the series may tell you, the greatest asset that Tropico 5 has going for it is its sense of humor and how it tackles capitalism and communism, the Cold War and world leaders. With the aide of your advisor Penultimo, you’ll often be faced with certain challenges and choices, such as siding with different world leaders or choosing to assassinate an unruly citizen who runs the risk of starting a rebellion.
The game, in some way or another, is always reminding you of just how insane dictators and fascists can be, but it’ll never discourage you from acting in your own self-interest. The Swiss Bank account serves as your personal money stash, and throughout your reign you can choose to secretly divert funds into it, usually at the expense of your hard-working citizens. Considering it has little effect on the game (it’s more of a personal high score than anything), it’s odd to see it being featured so heavily here. I suppose, if nothing else, it serves to reinforce the rather selfish nature your reign might take.
There’s also the newly introduced concept of your own personal dynasty, which allows you to build a family of rulers. Finding heirs to your kingdom usually involve some rather dubious means (including a tense match of thumb wrestling), but adding to your stable of leaders allows you diversify your dynasty, as each ruling member will take on some trait of some sort.
For example, my first leader was an environmentalist, which helped to reduce pollution throughout the island. Be warned though, your own dynasty can end up stabbing you in the back should you not include them in the decision making process. At one point, after having one of my members fail to negotiate with a group of rebels, he ended up siding with them and attempted to overthrow my rule.
It’s these small additions that breathe life into Tropico 5, and it’s impressive to see the entire game being faithfully ported to the PlayStation 4. For the most part, it handles navigation and control quite well by mapping point-and-click controls to the triggers and face buttons. The developers have also thrown in some radial menus for good measure.
As for performance, aside from some troubling pauses that occur when loading, the game runs well enough, though I did notice some very slight hitching when zooming in and out of environments and cities.
That aside, it’s great to see Tropico 5 up and running on the PlayStation 4, especially since you’d be hard pressed to find a developer willing to port a strategy game to a non-PC platform. While it’s largely unchanged from its previous outing, Tropico 5 is still as appealing as ever, assuming you’re still interested in the satirical world of banana republics.
This review is based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
With a lack of strategy and simulation titles on the platform, Tropico 5 is as alluring as ever, despite the fact that the series hasn't changed much over the years.