Review: Tropico 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Tropico 3
Developer: Haemimont
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Genre: City Building
Release Date: 2/16/10

Has winter got you down? Well, spring has almost sprung. But if you can’t wait, you can dive into the city simulation, Tropico 3. City sims are not as common on consoles as they are on PC. There are very few offerings of this genre on the XBox 360. There are only three that come to mind: Thrillville: Off the Rails, which basically had you building and managing your own theme park, Civilization: Revolution, which in my opinion was a dumbed down version of the PC series, and lastly A Kingdom for Keflings, an Xbox Arcade title that wasn’t very complex. Now the last city sim I truly enjoyed was Sim City 4. It had so much depth and allowed you to build a sprawling metropolis. This game had you managing everything from building skyscrapers to waste removal. In comes Tropico 3 trying to show you that city sims can succeed and work well on a console. This was recently released last fall on PC and you can read our review by Matt Yeager on it here. It was supposed to be released at the same time on the XBox 360, but it got delayed. I am hoping this delay allows us to have a fully function city sim on my console. Will Tropico 3 aspire to be the working city sim on console with loads of depth or will it just be listed as another bad vacation in gaming?

Let’s Review

Story/Modes

Tropico 3 has a story much like a choose your own adventure book has an ending. There are 15 islands in the campaign mode, but how the story unfolds is up to you. Whether you choose to run your island as a communist dictator or desire to run your island like a capitalist tourist trap, it is up to you. Your island is inhabited by the local Tropicans who are prone to rebellion from time to time. How you run your island may determine if you get reelected by them. However, you can always rig the election or just throw out elections all together. You will want to be careful, though, because as the Tropicans lose faith in your leadership, they join the rebels and attack your other fair citizens. You may also get invaded by the United States if you make too many poor decisions. Basically, a lot can happen story-wise in any game.

The game has a few different modes. The campaign mode leads through, as I said before, 15 different islands. Each island has a certain goal within a certain amount of time. For example, the first campaign goal is to export $5000 in resources in 40 years. The alternate campaigns get a bit more challenging than that. After you complete the challenge portion of the campaign, you can keep on playing on that island if you would like to. So if you feel you like the little paradise you have created, you can keep on building it up.

This leads into mentioning the sandbox mode, which is by far my favorite mode to play in. There are multiple preset islands you can choose which vary in size, elevation, tourism levels, stability, and resource availability. You can adjust most of these factors which will change the difficulty of the game play. If you increase your tourism, you will get wealthier tourists, or if you decrease your stability, you may increase the likelihood of a rebellion or a hurricane. If you really want to be original, you can just generate your own random island. The only thing that is lacking in this from other city sims is you will not have the ability to design the terrain of your island manually, but this is not too big of a deal. If you don’t like how the island looks, just generate a new one. There are also some check boxes you can use to enter different modes of gameplay within the sandbox mode. You can turn on Rebel Yell and your Tropicans will rebel a lot so you better have a good military. The free elections option forbids you from banning or fixing elections so that means you have to keep your Tropicans happy. The last option that needs mentioning is God mode, which pretty much allows you to control the random events.

One of the most unique things that Tropico 3 is trying to attempt is bringing PC user created content into the game in the form of challenge mode. Right now, there are only four online challenges, but from my understanding they will be adding more challenges that are created by the PC community. This is an excellent move, as it adds something that is lacking from console gaming. I will hear from friends numerous times how a game is so much better on PC because of user created stuff. Well, now they are trying to bring a taste of it over to the console gamers so we won’t feel so left out.

Story Rating: Great

Graphics

Tropico 3 is a beautiful game. This game makes you really feel like you are in paradise. The water effects are amazing. If you zoom in, you can even see the sea weed. Now, this might not sound too impressive, but we have to consider that this is a simulation game. There is day and twilight in the world of Tropico. The only time it looks like night time is during a hurricane, in which some pretty cool rain, wind, and lightning effects were added. The most impressive graphic element has to be the sun in this game. The lighting effects constantly have sun rays shining through trees and buildings, not to mention the sunsets look amazing. They looked even more amazing than the nuclear mushroom clouds within the game. Those tend to give the island a weird reddish glow for a few years.

The buildings within this game are varied in type, but not design. If you make a row of condos, all the condos will look the same with only a slight variation in color. Games like Sim City 4 will vary the look of your buildings just due to the income level of a neighborhood. This game does not do that, but in reality I never made any of my islands into a sprawling metropolis so I didn’t really notice. However, with farms the crops will always look different depending on if you’re growing corn or tobacco.

The character models are impressively detailed as well. When you are fully zoomed out, they look like ants in the streets. However, when zoomed in the all the way, you can make out their faces, clothing style, and even their shoe laces. I prefer the bikini clad Tropicans, but that is just me. These Tropicans have numerous animations as well. You will see them protesting your decisions, throwing on red berets armed with AK47s when they join the rebels, and a number of others. For a simulation game, I was a very impressed by the presentation of this game.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound

Tropico 3 is very similar to other simulation games in the fact that it has very repetitive music. There are less than a dozen songs that repeat in a loop. At first, the Latin music fits right into the games mood and is quite enjoyable, but after a few hours, it gets quite annoying. This could have easily been improved by inclusion of a larger number of music tracks. Oh well, at least my MP3 player can fill in that void, and it does. As with all Xbox games, if you start your MP3 player before playing the game, you can have it override the game music but not the effect music. This made the game a lot more tolerable in terms of music.

Sound is used a lot to clue in on the on goings of your Tropicans. For example, sometimes you will hear the gunfire of rebels or the sound of a group of rowdy protesters in need of execution. There are only a couple of voice actors in the game, and one is the radio DJ. He will basically give you news reports of daily events on Tropico. While what he says is pretty humorous, he tends to get a bit repetitive as well. The other voice actor is that of the mayor, who will only speak during elections speeches, and you get to choose what he says from a list of options.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

Gameplay

Tropico 3 has the kind of city building gameplay I have longed for on a console. The controls have you using the two sticks for map navigation. It also has you using the right trigger combined with the right stick to zoom in and out. The right trigger also pulls up your menus. Most of your menus use a radial interface, which is a perfect control scheme for a console simulation game. After a short time, I was flying all over my island quickly doing tasks for the needs of my Tropicans.

The first thing you have to do when starting an island is to pick an avatar to become el presidente. There are quite a few preset historical choices ranging from Fidel Castro to Che Guevara. Each avatar has benefits and flaws that truly do affect your gameplay. You can also customize your own which I find most entertaining in sand box mode. My first avatar was a pop singer who was a womanizing alcoholic. Yup Enrique Iglesias! The avatar you pick is very important especially in the campaign mode. In the campaign mode you will find that using certain preset avatars works best and changing it up will help you succeed at beating them. In the game your avatar will just wander the island aimlessly. You can take control of your avatar and have him visit construction sites to speed them up, visit factories to speed up production, visit protests to talk with the masses, make speeches at his palace, or even shoot rebels.

Your island basically starts out with a very limited population and only a few buildings. Eventually, you will begin to add more buildings based on your desires for the island and the demands of your people. There are so many different directions you can go. If you build hotels, spas, pools, and beaches, tourists will begin to arrive on your island. Then you have to build some souvenir shops, restaurants, and clubs to entertain them. Nothing says you even have to attract tourists. If you want, you can throw some mines and oil refineries and strip your island of resources. No matter what you do, if you don’t please the people, they may rebel. So you might want to build some military bases and outposts to keep them in check. Things that will please your indigenous Tropicans are schools, churches, farms, housing, and of course jobs. Some buildings help you increase your exports like cigar factories and rum distilleries. I could write about five pages on just how all the buildings interact with each other and your population. There is only one thing that I had difficulty building, and that was roads. When building roads, you usually drag your roads from one point to another. The only problem is sometimes the game will auto assign how the road will lay out. There are some times when it will say you can’t build a road through something when there is nothing in the terrain to block it. This is really my only gripe with the gameplay, and you begin to figure out ways around this minor flaw.

This game is very political, so there are a lot of ways you can govern and a lot of political factions to please. The most obvious is your relations with the US and the USSR. You don’t want a “Bay of Pigs” on your hands. These two factions control a lot of your economy on the island. They are the ones who send you aid when you need or request it. If you make an alliance with one, the other will not invade, which is nice, but they also stop sending aid. You also have to please your religious, capitalist, nationalist, communist factions, just to name a few. One way you can do this is with edicts you enact. For example, if you get rid of contraceptives on your island, you will please the religious factions and experience a population boom. If you want to upset them, allow gay marriage on your island. This will, however, please the intellectuals. They are so openminded. You might also want to keep your military happy or they might just throw a coup. There are many others, but once again I could go on and on about them.

Your Tropicans and tourists have individual needs as well. You can look at each one of them individually and see where they work, live, their relatives, and even what’s on their mind. If you don’t like what’s on their mind, you can have them shot by your military, bribed to think differently, or if you have secret police you can just make them disappear all together. If other citizens witness them getting shot, their opinions about you will change, and they may even instantaneously throw on a red beret and run to the hills to join the rebels. Get too many of those rebels against you and they will attempt to overthrow your regime. The tourists are pretty easy to please. You just need to build nice hotels, beaches, throw in a zoo, a pool, and maybe even a souvenir shop or two. You will also want to keep them safe. If you have a serious rebel problem, tourists may get kidnapped in exchange for ransom. The way you handle these situations can really affect the opinions of different factions.

Random events also occur throughout Tropico 3. Occasionally you will have hurricanes and earthquakes that will destroy a few of your buildings. Losing your more expensive buildings can be quite frustrating. Rebels will attack your buildings from time to time, being the pesky vermin that they are. You will occasionally get offers from corporations interested in buying out one of your exports. This can be a useful way to get quick cash, but in the long run it dips into your overall profits.

Elections are very important in this game because if you lose one, you lose the island you are playing on. Keep the people happy and you have nothing to worry about. If you want, you can decide to cancel elections in true dictator fashion. If you decide to go through with them you can choose to make a speech. In these speeches, you have a few choices to make. You can control what issues to talk about, what faction to praise, and what you are promising to do for your island. If the speech goes poorly and the polls start showing you losing, you can always fix the election. This brings me to quote the game manual:

“Politics” is made up of two words. “Poly”, which is Greek for “many”, and “tics” which are blood sucking insects.

-Gore Vidal

Control/Gameplay Rating: Classic

Replayability

Tropico 3 has a lot to offer in terms of replayability. With all the different modes I mentioned previously, there are many different ways to choose to play. There is also so many different possible outcomes or directions. Should you become a communist dictator military state or industrial nation? How about a capitalist trying to make the next hot spot tourist destination or make a fortune off mineral mining? There are hundreds of different ways you can direct your island, so there are also hundreds of different reasons to come back to Tropico. If they really expand on the content brought over from PC users, you can even find more reasons to challenge yourself.

Replayability Rating: Unparralled

Balance

Let me start by saying that you can pick up Tropico 3 for $40 retail. That is an amazing price for a new retail game. Usually when a game is priced that low you might think to yourself, must be crap. Let me assure this is worth every penny. This game is only about $10 more than Civilization: Revolutions, which has been out for quite some time. I believe it is safe to say that this game has a lot more depth.

The campaign mode of this game is just plain hard. I don’t think that necessarily is bad thing. It promotes you to try different strategies. They didn’t make this game to be walk in the park. If want to succeed you will definitely have to choose the right avatar, build the right structures, plan your budget, and manage your Tropicans appropriately. If you want easy or are just unfamiliar with this genre, then start out in the sandbox mode. This way you can tweak your map just the way you want and build a most glorious city on your island.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality

Well the title alone tells you that Tropico 3 is a sequel. City simulation game sequels are more or less remakes of their predecessors. The original Tropico was very much like this one, but with much less features and graphics more appropriate to the time it came out. Tropico 2 had you managing pirate islands in Caribbean and was a brief departure from what makes Tropico great, the humorous politics. Tropico 3, even if it is a remake, scores something for originality, at least when it comes to the fact that it’s a console release. For that, I have to give Haemimont some credit. It has way more depth than expected, and the graphics are of course definitely along the lines of this generation of games.

Originality Rating: Above Average

Addictiveness

Tropico 3 is a great way to lose track of time. My second time playing it, I ended up doing a marathon run of about ten hours nonstop. Most of this time was spent on one island where I built the perfect little resort island for my snobby yet wealthy French tourists. My third time I spent another six hours creating a military state where the Tropicans were constantly rebelling and US was patrolling my shores nonstop preparing for invasion. Anyone who protested this direction was shot on sight. I will definitely be taking breaks from all the RPG and FPS style games I play to get my fix in this game.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal

Whether you are a casual or diehard fan of the simulation genre, Tropico 3 is the game for you. This game has an enormous amount of depth. So if you are unfamiliar with this style of gameplay, try the demo since it is free on Xbox LIVE. Don’t let this intimidate you, though, as you will pick up on it pretty quick in modes like sandbox. With the price of $40, this game should appeal to even those budget gamers out there. The game is also rated Teen, and the only thing might actually be a little too much for younger audiences is the alcohol and tobacco references, but I am sure most kids can catch that on primetime television as well.

Appeal Rating: Great

Miscellaneous

Earlier I asked the question if Tropico 3 would succeed at being a great game on a console. The answer is most definitely yes. This game exceeded my expectations on the level of detail. The fact that I could see what everyone on my island was thinking and the managing of all the political factions was just amazing. I hope this will lead to more developers experimenting with this genre, but first this game will need to succeed at selling. In conclusion, I can honestly say I enjoyed my vacation in Tropico 3 and will be visiting my islands a lot over the next year.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: UNPARRELLED
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: CLASSIC

FINAL SCORE: A GREAT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Tropico 3 is a beautiful city simulation game that proves these can be playable on console without cutting out the details. This game’s visuals will have you feeling like you are on a vacation from all of your other games. With all of the gore and seriousness with a lot of modern games, you need the trip. The political humor is great form of edutainment, though it won’t help you with that political science exam. Although music and sound clips were a little repetitive, they did suit the theme of the game. The gameplay is seamless with your Xbox controller. Who needs a mouse anyway? The main campaign will be a real challenge for all but the most diehard players of this genre; good thing there are numerous other modes like sandbox to get you started. Incorporating online challenges from the PC community is a great way to add life to this game, and I can only hope they will add more. Tropico 3 packs in one serious vacation for a mere $40. With a demo for free available on Xbox LIVE, you can check out what this game has to offer for yourself.

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