Read my long overdue Tropico 5 review to find out why the fifth installment in the series doesn't live up to the expectations.
I hope you don’t mind me continuing to review semi-ancient games. Tropico 5 was released way back in 2014, but for once I didn’t wait until the game and all DLC were on sale to purchase it. Since I really enjoyed Tropico 4 (review here), I bought Tropico 5 in 2015, quite close to the release date by my standards. I even started writing this review in 2015, meaning it’s been in my drafts collection for three years before I now finally managed to get it published. That’s probably not a good sign for the final score.
Many of you are already familiar with the recipe used to cook the Tropico series, but for new readers, here’s a quick summary. Tropico is a series of city builder games where you play as a dictator, El Presidente. The goal is to build and manage a thriving city on an island (or several islands, depending on which game in the series), and to stay in power. If the rebels, or a foreign power, manage to throw you off the island, it’s game over, man!
The games have a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and is pretty laid-back. I’d perhaps go as far as to call both Tropico 3 and 4 borderline casual games. And that was one of the most appealing aspects of both of them. Kick back, relax, and rule your island with an iron fist! Tropico 5, however, makes a few changes to the Tropico formula, changes that make the game a lot more stressful than its predecessors. The experience is even downright annoying at times.
Tick, Tock, Says The Clock
As with the other Tropico games, Tropico 5 gives you a lot of tasks when managing your island. Build a particular building, attract a certain number of people to the island, and so on. If you complete a task, you get a reward. But unlike the previous games in the series, Tropico 5 puts heavy emphasis on missions that prevent a doomsday clock like event to happen: In the first part of the single-player campaign, you have to declare independence from The Crown, a spin on the British Empire. If you’re not able to complete a series of tasks assigned by the crown before a timer runs out, they catapult you off the island. Game over, Player One.
This countdown timer game mechanic reminds me too much of the tower defense genre. Build your defenses before the attack comes! I own over 300 games on Steam, not a single one of them is a tower defense game. I also tend to dislike the hang-in-there-until-reinforcements-arrive kind of missions you often find in strategy game campaigns. To make a long story short; I really don’t enjoy this new game mechanic introduced in Tropico 5.
Your Past Will Haunt You
Another change from previous Tropico games is that you’ll often find yourself returning to islands you’ve managed earlier. As you progress through the single-player campaign, the missions will take place on one of two islands. Whatever you build on a particular island during an earlier mission will be on the island when you return to it later. So if you fucked up earlier by for instance not constructing enough military buildings, you might have dug yourself a hole you can’t get out of. Which is very unfortunate. Make sure you save, and save often.
While we’re on the subject of military buildings, let’s talk a little about how the warfare mechanic works in Tropico 5. Spoiler alert: They don’t. War can either happen because rebels come running out of the forest to throw you in the ocean, or you’re invaded by a foreign country. When this happens, you have no way to influence the outcome. You can’t control your soldiers, and single armies will often go head-to-head against multiple enemies. It doesn’t matter if you have tons of forts, the stupid idiots will line up to get killed, just like in a bad action movie.
This was mitigated somewhat in Tropico 3 and 4 because El Presidente himself had some military power, and could be controlled directly. In Tropico 5, however, he cannot engage enemies. Neither can he be controlled to do anything else useful. El Presidente was a prominent figure in the previous Tropico games, now you rarely notice him, which is a shame.
The (Few) Good Bites
Not everything about Tropico 5 is terrible. A couple of new game mechanics that actually work well has been introduced, like the eras. You progress from one era to another when certain criteria is met. Advancing makes new buildings and features available to you.
Tropico 5 also introduces the concept of managers. These citizens have special abilities that can boost the output of a factory, the happiness in a particular area, or have similar effects. There’s also a decent tutorial for new players. And like the other games in the Tropico series, the music, and the radio announcers are awesome.
Now would perhaps be a good idea to retire the Tropico franchise. Maybe it would have been even better to do it with the release of Tropico 4. But no. Kalypso Media, which owns the Tropico IP, has other plans. A new Tropico game, surprisingly titled Tropico 6, is scheduled for release this year. The developer of Tropico 3, 4, and 5, Haemimont Games, has been replaced with
Limbic Entertainment, which has previously developed three games in the Might and Magic video game series. Getting some new blood, and new ideas to Tropico could be what the franchise needs. We’ll see. Check back in 2022, when I’ve picked up Tropico 6 on a Steam sale, and written a review.
I had a lot of fun with Tropico 3 and 4. I really, really want to like Tropico 5 as well. That’s the reason why I’ve put 18 hours of gameplay into it. But I just can’t bring myself to recommend the game. So as soon as this review is published, I’ll uninstall Tropico 5, and never play it again.
If you’re only just now discovering the Tropico series, I recommend that you purchase Tropico 4 instead. Find the game on sale (sites like IsThereAnyDeal.com can help you with that), and pick it up with all the DLC.
This review is based 18 hours of single player gameplay. The following DLC were installed: Espionage, Generalissimo, Gone Green, Inquisition, Isla de Vapor, Joint Venture, Mad World, Map Pack, Supervillain, Surfs Up!, T-Day, The Big Cheese, The Supercomputer, and Waterborne.