If you’ve ever dreamt of indulging in the joys of dictatorship, then Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition might be up your alley. As the all-powerful leader of an island nation, you’ll be tasked with building a city, setting up a society of laws, rules, and regulations, and ensuring the ongoing rule of your bloodline. It’s a complicated, enjoyable and, oftentimes, daunting task filled with city building, war waging, and election rigging.
The major twist of the Tropico series that sets it apart from other games of the genre is that you aren’t just an invisible hand of God floating over the city and guiding it, but a political leader with your own goals and motivations. You want your island nation to thrive, sure, but you also need to stay in power and gain personal wealth, which may inform your decisions. This conflict of interest as the player, will cause you to make decisions that you never thought you’d make.
For example, when creating a Constitution for your society, you may want to give voting rights to the masses to keep them happy, but doing so makes you accountable for the population’s happiness, and if you don’t manage the city well enough, you’ll get voted out of office — “Game Over.” I felt bad about signing a Constitution that only gave the right to vote to the wealthy, but found it hard to resist creating such a limited pool of voters who could kick me out of office. Of course, what I didn’t know at the time is that by doing so, I was creating quite a large group of citizens who were unhappy about not being able to vote, and who might be tempted to start a revolution to overthrow me.
Since Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition involves politics as well as the usual elements of a city-builder, you’ll need to keep an eye on various political factions, economic policies, diplomatic relations, and your own personal standing among your own people, and abroad. In many ways, the game has you occupying two conflicting roles, the first in which you want to build the best society possible, and the second in which you want to control and suppress your society in order to keep yourself in power.
As someone who has never really been drawn in by the city-builder genre, the added personal stake involved with being a political leader was a huge game-changer for me. I was very attracted to the idea that I needed to balance the happiness and perfection of my society, with my own self-interest, and ensuring that I was staying on top. Additionally, I tend to be more interested in the broad ideas associated with building a society, like choosing the type of economy we’ll have (socialist or capitalist), deciding what the state’s policy on religion will be, and creating specific laws and ordinances to guide our civilization. Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition gave me the opportunity to play the role of well-meaning, but ultimately corrupt despot, and it was an absolute blast.
Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition also features an “eras system,” wherein your society will evolve to various stages of human history. At the start, your society finds itself in the “colonial era,” and will be under the rule of a foreign power. Once your country declares independence (if that’s how you’d like to proceed), you can choose whether to fight for your freedom, or purchase independence by making your mother country whole on the money they invested in your island. Either option advances your society to the world war era, where you’ll be forced to pick sides with either the allied or axis powers. Each era has unique obstacles, which require different strategies to overcome and remain in power.
You’ll also unlock new options for buildings, technologies, and abilities as your society progresses. Once your society has entered the cold war era, for example, you’ll need spies and counterspies to advance your own interests. This will call for intelligence agencies and other information gathering assets. Unlocking new tools for your island is always an exciting experience, even though they always come with the price of added obstacles to overcome. I was a little disappointed, however, that as my society entered the 20th century, and technology advanced, all of the existing buildings weren’t reskinned for a modern feel. It seemed a little weird that I had nuclear power plants and skyscrapers next to old shacks and rural condominiums.
Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition also offers a multiplayer mode, where players will compete/cooperate with other island nations in a shared world. Players can trade goods, forge alliances, break those alliances, spy on one another, and much more. The servers for multiplayer are not live at the time of this review, so I’ve yet to test this mode out, but it’s pretty clear how something like this would work, since foreign powers in singleplayer mode work in the same way. If executed properly, this could be a very interesting component.
The biggest issue with Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition is in its lacking of a sophisticated UI. There are no indicators for how much of the island will be benefitted by placing grocery stores, police stations, or hospitals in one area versus another, and yet the benefit of these units is based on the relative need in that area. It would have been nice to have some idea as to what effect each of the added units will have on their immediate vicinities, without having to do any guesswork. Notifications of major events are another UI shortcoming, as I was often left unaware of key events transpiring in/around my nation, and a timeline log of some sort to help keep track of what was going on could easily address this. That said, the UI is overall pretty good considering the massive obstacles involved in making a city builder playable on a console.
Tropico 5 Penultimate Edition’s presentation is very good for a city builder. The music is exaggerated latin and tropical tunes, and the voice acting is over-the-top and comical, which gives off a distinct vibe that something sleazy or shady is going on here (and there probably is). The island can be a really beautiful place, depending on how it’s built, and weather changes will occasionally provide a change of scenery.