Tropico 6 released for Playstation 4 and Xbox One September 27th, and I now know more about former and current dictators than I ever learned in a history class. For example, did you know that Stalin had a lab that collected and analyzed the excrement of other political leaders in order to create psychological portraits of them? Or that former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu banned Scrabble? I hadn’t, but in Tropico 6 you too can be the beneficiary of these and other compelling facts.
Suffice to say the game has been the subject of several late nights and many new night terrors. My husband has now moved to the guest bedroom after I muttered: “oh you’ll take the bribe” in my sleep. With its catchy theme music and cheeky humor, Tropico 6 will have you questioning your ethics in no time.
For those unfamiliar with Tropicos 1-5, this is a city-building government simulation. If that’s already a non-starter for you, I’d still encourage you to try it anyway. I admittedly make a pretty terrible virtual dictator—I have yet to survive the World Wars, much less Cold War. (Luckily, the game allows you to skip around and experience them all without successfully completing them.) As you play as Presidente, you will build up the community of Tropico while meeting the demands of various factions and foreign powers. The larger your population grows, the more plates you have to spin.
The first thing I noticed was how quickly accustomed to the controls I became. The tutorial, while perhaps tedious for seasoned fans, actually managed to keep a quick clip rather than bogging gameplay down. I only did a portion of it because it did such an effective job at giving me the “lay of the land.” (Pun intended.) It usually takes me a few failed attempts (i.e. misfires) to remember what buttons do what, but this felt surprisingly intuitive. This was an unexpected relief, considering the enormity of menus, charts, and reports one actually need review throughout the game. I also appreciated the D-pad shortcuts included to navigate the landscape efficiently. Granted, it’s not the most reflex-intensive game, but it is complex in other ways. Which brings me to…
Being as I was unfamiliar with the game, I honestly went into this with very little expectation beyond “SimCity for South Park fans.” This game comes with an overwhelming array of concerns to juggle and political personalities to appease. There is a definite learning curve for anyone new to this franchise. I made things difficult for myself from the get-go by deciding to be a pacifist colony the first time around. It cost me $16,000 to avoid war with the Crown and gain independence. I still can’t get myself to put a hit out on citizens, or forcibly institutionalize them. However, if you’re clever, you can get through the game in pretty alright shape without doing so.
I appreciate that there is no “easy” choice. The player is always having to weigh the costs of doing business, and whose loyalty is needed most in a given [in-game] year. Something I do need to go back and spend more time on is the almanac. There are reports on citizen loyalty, faction leaders, and data regarding territory concerns. The one I found trickiest to keep on top of was employment and housing. If your population grows rapidly, you have to not only make sure you have housing everyone can afford but jobs that suit various education levels. I enjoyed plotting out agriculture and mining/drilling sites most. In the “Modern Times” stage, one must consistently balance between progress and ecology. I found seeing the digital landscape change under my “rule” both compelling and, at times, arresting. Overall, the gameplay felt well-balanced and enjoyably challenging.
This was originally optimized for computer monitors. I get it. This makes it really difficult to read the updates in the top, left-hand corner. It hadn’t been until I navigated passed my construction office that I noticed it had been on fire for six months. I was halfway through being conquered by the Axis before I even knew we were under siege. I was playing on a 32” screen, which I find comfortable for gameplay sitting at the far end of the room. Here, however, I found myself needing to sit directly in front of the television to know what was happening on the islands. While I enjoy nostalgia as much as the next person, we have wireless controllers for a reason.
While the wit is quick, the game itself lagged often. There were multiple occasions in which the game jumped frames, or froze entirely. That got old quick, especially as I tried to put out fires, both literal and figurative. The load times between menus could also run long, prompting me to keep a book nearby if I decided I wanted to update the look of the palace or change up my gaming session.
Tropico 6 is addictive, quick-witted, and surprisingly educational. It’s simple enough to learn, it’s complex enough to keep you from mastering it too quickly. While it had its minor irritations, it was never enough to keep me from looking forward to my next session. There’s plenty of land to conquer and people to manipulate the next time you’re feeling Type-A.