My name is Chaz Neeler, but you can call me El Presidente. It’s important for you to know that, while I am in every way your superior, I also want to be your trusted friend. I look out for you, the little people, and everything I’ve ever done is for your betterment. I mean, SURE, I may have smuggled rum into America for an outrageous profit during their prohibition, but how else could I afford to squeeze all of you into those tenements with that gorgeous view of the cattle farm?
Let’s not squabble over the fact that I assassinated my own son in order to fake a war with the Axis powers to win back some of the Americans’ favor, either; he knew what he was getting into when he was born into my dynasty. All of those civil liberties I borrowed from you? Well, consider them a gift from you to me as a thank you for that brand new hang gliding club that will attract all those new tourists. I will continue to act in your best interests, even if you aren’t smart enough to know what they are. I am your Presidente and I just wanted to be the first to say, “Welcome to Tropico 5.”
Tropico 5 is the latest in the line of island dictator simulators, thrusting you into the role of leading your small island community towards greatness. Whereas the previous two iterations of the series took place during the Cold War, Tropico 5 instead introduces a campaign mode that ushers you through multiple eras, each with their own trials and tribulations. Starting in the colonial era, you’ll be a mere governor of a colonial island owned by the Crown. Completing tasks will prolong your stay in power by decree of the King while you secretly build up support for your inevitable revolution.
Once you finally break away from the oppressive thumb of the Crown, you’ll be tasked with holding elections and maintaining your role through the support of the people in a new era. This ends up being drastically different compared to the previous games, thanks in no small part to the eras. Before, it was entirely possibly to simply win your elections via advancing industry and buying your way to happiness, however that’s simply not the case anymore. Each era limits what technologies and buildings you’ll have access to, so you’re going to have to learn to make due with less.
You won’t be entirely on your own in Tropico 5. This time, you’ll be able to grow your dynasty as family members show up to help you during your rule, and they often serve as valuable pawns for negotiation. Quite honestly, this feels like a feature that was never fully fleshed out. It’s pretty cool to be able to have someone in line that I can send off to Harvard as a way to bolster trade talks with the US or the rare espionage mission, but outside of a few events, it’s fairly meaningless. I was hoping for something closer to Crusader Kings 2 where I’d eventually be forced to pass the torch when I had passed away, but as it stands, the dynasty systems simply allow for a few more options that you may actually need.
Just like in previous iterations of the series, you’ll be given all sorts of optional objectives to complete. These missions usually revolve around the idea of constructing a specific building to appease a political faction, but a good deal of them play out as mini storylines offering sizeable rewards for pushing through. At one point, I financed the communist revolution to the tune of $10,000 in hopes of earning some favor with them before an election, and before I knew it I was forced to build more housing to handle the influx of new citizens.
The missions still aren’t perfect, however. A good chunk of them felt scripted, and on numerous occasions I ended up taking on missions that required me to have a certain amount of a particular building and instantly rewarded me when it was realized that I’d built them years before. The only missions that truly seem to be reactionary are when you’re dealing with protestors. When your citizens decide to get uppity, you’ll have the option to send the army after them, buy them off, or negotiate with them. While negotiating you’ll have to complete a side mission to appease the protestors; however, these are all directly related to the issues at hand. It’s a great way to feel some pressure while still being guided on how to improve your island paradise.
These missions also act as your way of directly interacting with the other nations in the world. Keep them happy via completing missions and playing diplomatic chess with your embassies, and you’ll be rewarded with more profitable trade routes, free buildings, and even a little extra for your Swiss bank account.
Speaking of, your Swiss bank account actually serves a purpose this go around. Your dynasty stays without you, regardless of whether you’re playing the campaign, sandbox, or multiplayer. As such, your dynasty members each have a unique global skill as well as a managerial skill for when you assign them to a specific building, and by spending your hard earned illegal slush fund you can upgrade them to be a bit more powerful. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it finally makes the Swiss bank account feel like a meaningful feature as opposed to a little aside.
Fans of the series will be elated to know that the signature humor is still found in spades throughout Tropico 5. Penultimo chimes in as you finish each bit of new research, and speaking to your other advisors will usually elicit a chuckle. There’s a disembodied voice that plays through your radio speaking directly to your citizens about your failings and successes, and it’s quite honestly one of my favorite parts of the game. Sure, she may not be happy with how things are, but she’s smart enough to know that insulting El Presidente on the air probably isn’t the best move. Instead, she’ll simply spin the details a bit, making sure that your citizens don’t feel bad about your abysmal mortality rate by simply reminding them that they’re now free from the shackles of modern medicine.
At the end of the day, Tropico 5 feels like more of the same. There’s nothing here that stands out as revolutionary, but instead it feels like a more streamlined version of where the series has been heading. For newcomers to the franchise that’s fantastic news, since I can’t honestly suggest starting off anywhere else, but long-term fans are going to be left a bit wanting. There’s nothing here that truly elevates the franchise or demands attention, but at the same time I can’t put it down. This is definitely a case of “more of the same,” but when the same is good, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were given for review purposes.
Tropico 5 stands as the perfect place for newcomers to the franchise to hone their craft, but veteran rulers may not find enough here to demand an upgrade.