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Hands on with Tropico 5 on Console

March 18, 2015, Author: Dan Moore

Many years ago, I remember stacking shelves at a games store as one of my first jobs. I noticed a game I immediately dismissed, it was called Tropico and at the time I thought it was a poor man’s version of Civilization or Sim City, one of those titles that will fade away after the first game.

Oh, how I was wrong. Fast forward nearly fourteen years and Tropico is still going strong, now on its fifth iteration and making the leap to the new generation of consoles. I recently had the chance to sit down with the PlayStation 4 version of the game to see how it was coming along.

Going into the preview, I had my doubts that Tropico could work on a console, since most RTS/Civ style games struggle with mapping PC controls with a gamepad. My fears abated after just a few minutes, and I found the dualshock 4 to a fairly intuitive way to control, once I remembered what everything does.

Everything can be accessed easily from the pad, from build menus and research trees to the current missions and state of the island inhabitants. The triggers pull up different menus, and tapping the shoulder buttons runs through various tabs, with the D-Pad letting you select different options within them.

Everything can be accessed easily

Once I figured out which button got me where, I could bring build menus and respond to needs fairly quickly, creating what my inhabitants needed with ease and appeasing their ever present wants.

These wants, apart from showing up as number based stats (it’s a civilisation building game, what did you expect?), come from characters who will pop up and assign you tasks. It’s a motley crew of characters, ranging from a communist woman trying to steer you to dictatorship, to a aristocratic Brit who gives you missions from the royal family.

These missions might be active, say, build a library, or they might be a bit more passive, requiring you to simply accrue a certain amount of money. The problem is that each character represents a different faction, so completing missions for one might piss off the others, causing you other problems down the line. I only saw a small cross section of this mechanic during my demo, but it certainly seemed intriguing and yet one more thing to juggle.

Tropico 5 plays out across three time periods, starting with colonial times when you first arrive on the island, before heading up through to modern times. While I only got to see pre-created saves of each of these, I was told that the game moves seamlessly between each, unlocking new technology and buildings at each stage to allow you to progress.

More modern buildings unlock as you progress

More modern buildings unlock as you progress

There is now a dynasty mechanic as well, so you create an initial character, the ‘El Presidente’ you play as, and as the things progress, you might be asked if you want to marry a foreign leader’s son or daughter, or potentially find love in some other way. This will then grant the possibility of kids, further extending your lineage. I couldn’t get much of a bead on this mechanic in my short time with it, but it all seems to play into the political meanderings that run at Tropico‘s core.

The character creator is new to Tropico 5, and has all the usual changes you can make to the starting figure – gender, hair, size, height, etc. – but you can also give them a certain advantage. So, for example, if your character is a financier, you get an extra $200. These abilities are fairly slight, but every little helps. This also applies to kids and partners, so you can customize the family of El Presidente until your heart’s content.

As usual, the content is very tongue-in-cheek and nudges you to play as a dictator, but doing so creates rebels that will randomly attack your buildings. If you have an army base, it will react to this threat without you doing anything, but zooming into lets you watch the battle play out. You also get protests if your policies aren’t making people happy, which in turn can then create more rebels.

They are part of the rebel alliance...

They are part of the rebel alliance…

You can also create a constitution after a certain period of time, allowing you to dictate various aspects of island life. This can be quite funny because you can contradict yourself with the options, getting one that shows while everyone can have low pay and rubbish jobs, they are quite happy with that.

It was put to me that Tropico 5 is as deep as you want to make it, and it certainly looks that way. Drilling down into the menus will provide all sorts of stats and data, from the level of health care you have to how happy your citizens are. If you are so inclined, you can use this data to create the perfect society, or you can just wing it and hope, which is just as valid.

My time with the almost-but-not-quite final build of the game left me wanting to see what the full game was really like. It was quite a sedate experience that worked really well on a console, and if you are looking for something a bit different to the usual ‘kill stuff until x happens’, it might be worth checking out upon its release on April 24th.