Essentially the job of any national leader, fairly elected or otherwise, boils down to making decisions. Their decisions shape the landscape of their country's industry, international relations, and the general welfare of their often fickle constituents. Most of the time, these decisions are not perfect regardless of intention. I have yet to play a city simulation game that illustrates the consequences of these decisions more pointedly than "Tropico 3", the latest in the Tropico series by Haemimont Games and Kalypso Media.
As "El Presidente", the player rules over their small banana republic in the midst of political turmoil during the Cold War era. The moment "El Presidente" takes office, one must micromanage every aspect of their island's progress to remain in office and complete the objectives in each scenario. In addition players may attempt to simply erect a thriving island in sandbox mode or play in a challenge mode. "Tropico 3" provides numerous options to develop the political character of one's very own island paradise. Players may choose to rule with the iron fist of a corrupt dictator, be a benevolent democratically elected official, and everything in between. Regardless of political identity there will always be the inevitable tension of pleasing the Tropicans enough to win elections, maintaining good relationships with foreign super powers, and staving off rebel assassination attempts. "Tropico 3" carries over the light-hearted political humor and complex game play from its series predecessors while adding in a bunch of much appreciated new features.
The most striking and obvious new feature in "Tropico 3" is the addition of detailed 3D graphics. Apart from providing the game with gorgeous visuals, the new graphics allows for free movement of the player's prospective around the environment. By enabling free range of the camera angle, it is significantly easier to place buildings and roads. Unlike in previous games, Tropicians can travel and transport goods via automobiles which are stored and maintained in public garages. Also players may create their own customizable, controllable "El Presidente" avatar to oversee their tropical island. These avatars can make speeches from the balcony of the palace, have a statue with their likeness built, and influence the actions of the island's citizens with their presence. However players can opt to utilize pre-made avatars from a roster of historical leaders such as Fidel Castro, and Rafeal Trujillo (plus some fictional characters). The introduction of a new, upbeat Latin soundtrack appropriately enhances the island motif without going overboard. In fact, the soundtrack featured in "Tropico 3" is among the best I have had the pleasure of listening to in any game. Some minor changes introduced in "Tropico 3" include oil production, two new edicts ("Same-Sex Marriages" and "Nuclear Testing"), a Nationalist faction, and election speeches.
Gameplay in "Tropico 3" is complex but well organized. Players must individually place almost every building on their island. Agricultural buildings provide Tropicans with food, cash crops, or livestock. Various camps gather raw materials (i.e. lumberyards). These resources may either be immediately exported via ship or processed into more valuable items with the help of factories (i.e. lumber mills, canning factories). There is also the option to build hotels and attractions to lure money from "yanqui" tourists. In addition players must place an appropriate number of residential buildings or leave their citizens homeless in shacks. And on top of all of that "El Presidente" must provide the infrastructure to transport goods, civil services to tend to the Tropican's basic needs, entertainment, and national defense. While players should have no problem constructing buildings, laying down roads in tight areas and in straight lines are difficult at times. Edicts provide immediate effects on the island's population and public opinion of their leader. The progress of the user's game is thoroughly documented in the game's almanac. Players can track everything from the approval rating of various Tropican factions to immigration statistics to the treasury balance. Plus players are alerted to important events and silly news stories around the island by Juanito, a radio DJ with one of the most obnoxiously fake accents ever.
Unfortunately the tutorial mode doesn't adequately teach new players how to utilize all the various buildings and edicts to their advantage. Players are forced to be proficient in each aspect of the game due to the diversity of island environments, Tropican temperaments, and scenarios. With so many options, the only way to learn about the basics of each element in the game is through extensive play. However those who have spent time playing "Tropico 2" will find picking this game up rather easy due to the similar game mechanics. It may be a difficult game to get the hang of but it is well worth the effort.
The real appeal in "Tropico 3" comes the tongue-in-cheek political commentary that breathes life into the experience. Almost every element of the game immerses players into a pseudo-historically accurate, Cold War era Caribbean. Even the loading/saving screens incorporate quotes from the likes of both communist leaders such as Nikita Kruschev and Leon Trotsky with U.S. Presidents like John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower. For some reason this detail stuck with me. It was a subtle way of putting both communist and capitalist ideologies on the same level, regardless of who endorsed them. The humor in "Tropico 3" isn't malicious or singles out the injustices of the past made on the behalf of any belief. Its humor lays in the fact no government or their officials are flawless (including "El Presidente"). Once players get over the steep learning curve, "Tropico 3" is an enjoyable game through and through. All I got to say now is...