Ruling your own island is an impressive video game concept, and one that the Tropico series has managed to make money off of since 2001. The fifth installment in this series was released back on May 23rd, and now, six months later, the console version has arrived. This is not the first time a Tropico game has been released to consoles, with Tropico 3 and 4 maintaining decent lives on the system. Unfortunately, like many other strategy games, their ports over to consoles were a bit rockier than developer Haemimont had hoped for as the controls clumsily translated to the Xbox 360 gamepad. Now with the Xbox 360 version of Tropico 5 in our hands, it was time to find out if those pesky issues had been ironed out.
Visually, Tropico 5 has received a few touch ups on its memorable art style. The original artistic design remains mostly in tact, with the same cartoony vibe returning from the previous games. But the environments and textures have been improved upon by brightening the color scheme and adding some much needed detail. While the changes may seem fairly small, they go a long way to adding life to a world that runs off the life of your island. That being said, it is time for the Tropico series to take the leap onto current generation platforms. Tropico 5 has a PS4 version coming in 2015 and it will be very interesting to see if the art takes a considerable leap in that version.
One of the more important features integrated into Tropico 5 was in the form of multiplayer. This multiplayer includes both co-op play and versus play. The co-op has you teaming up with friends and working together to build your own empire while versus has you going against another player in hopes of completing objectives first. The multiplayer is a decent idea, but its implementation leaves a bit to be desired. First off, the objectives you must complete are very standard, such as export 3,000 crops, make $20,000, etc. Completing them brings little to no satisfaction and the only reason to do so is just in hopes of bringing the multiplayer session to a close. There is also a huge issue in forcing players to play 45 minutes per game session as this can result in people dropping out midway through, which is an incredibly frustrating situation.
As for the actual strategy gameplay within Tropico 5, it has remained mostly the same as in past installments. However, there are a few minor enhancements that hope to keep the experience fresh. One of those comes in the form of now being able to establish a dynasty with descendants who will help you throughout your reign by going out on exploration trips and boosting other aspects of your game. Haemimont has also integrated eras into the Tropico timeline. You will now begin in the “colonial times” and progress through multiple eras that have unique visual characteristics like paved roads.
These additions are integrated well, but they do not change enough to really make the Tropico experience feel brand new as the copy you just purchased. The strategy elements such as managing your own economy, your population’s happiness, your foreign relations, etc. are all very interesting, and they work well, but we have been doing the same thing for years and the age is beginning to show. That being said, the aforementioned is only just beginning to rear its head, meaning that the gameplay within Tropico 5 still produces quite a bit of entertainment.
There does seem to be a bit of an issue with the difficulty in Tropico 5. There are more than a few times where you will be attacked by an opposing force and be toppled in minutes. You combat this by building your own forces, which is very tough to do in the early stages of the game. Even later on in your game, you will find yourself trying to build up your empire economically and be attacked by revolutionaries with little to no defense to fight for you. You then learn the hard way that you should dedicate a majority of your money to beefing up your military. The hard way consists of the attackers destroying your main compound, resulting in you being kicked out to the main menu and having to start all over. What only adds to this frustration is the fact you cannot complete buildings while being attacked. This means that if you are being invaded and have not already set up a ton of defenses, quickly creating some is not an option.
While most of the time spent in Tropico 5 will be in the game’s sandbox mode, it does offer a story mode to players who want a more controlled experience. This story mode is a good idea for introducing players to the many concepts within the game, if it had done just that. In the story mode you are thrown into multiple scenarios and given specific objectives you must complete in order to advance onto the next segment of the mode. These objectives feel very arbitrary and simply help you build up a decent community, a community that is ripped away once the mission ends. That is correct, after you complete one segment of the story; you lose all your progress, buildings, and trade routes. This results in the mode feeling incredibly disjointed and entirely forgettable. It serves more as a device of frustration than one of teaching.
The Tropico series has always done one thing flawlessly and that is create a suitable environment for the game in your hands. It manages to do this not only with the fitting visual style but also with the terrific sound design. You will hear sounds from all across your city that adds layers of life to the little lives going on below your cursor. Another aspect that helps build a great atmosphere is the jaunty music you hear throughout playing a game of Tropico 5. It is all very light hearted and really lightens the mood on a game that can quickly build up a lot of stress.
Translating a strategy game onto an Xbox 360 controller is a very tough thing to accomplish. You can look no further than the Tropico franchise for proof of just that. In past installments, the controls have been unwieldy and off-putting for anyone just putting their hands on the game. By far the biggest disappointment of Tropico 5 is the fact that these controls have not been improved upon in any way. You still have to awkwardly dig through layers of menus to find exactly what you want to build and enact. The tutorial does its best to simplify the many concepts of Tropico 5. Unfortunately, it fails to do so as despite it still teaching you a variety of things, there are certain aspects of Tropico 5 that you must find out on your own. For example, where the hell a certain building you are required to start construction of is located. Once you get used to the system, it is much easier to navigate around. That does not change the fact that it should not take around six hours of game time to simply get used to the controls. While it has a few positives, the control scheme of Tropico’s console versions needs a solid overhaul before Tropico 6 hits shelves.
Despite its issues, the Tropico series has always managed to be a lovable one. This go around, Tropico 5 continues to have some annoying problems that need to be addressed. The controls are disappointing, the story mode is awful, and some other nagging issues persist. Despite that, it continues to remain a ton of fun when you are building a civilization and watching your group of citizens prosper alongside yourself. However, unnecessarily difficult enemies squander that fun too many times. Tropico 5 is a game you want to love, but disappointing mechanics become a problem in the relationship that ultimately leaves you disappointed yet again.