It was eight years ago that the original Tropico introduced us to the idea of having fun being the bad guy, with you playing the benevolent or malicious El Presidente who must build up your island paradise by threats or generosity whilst boosting your Swiss bank account.
Despite having taken a less than enthusiastically received detour in Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, Kalypso has wisely returned El Presidente to where he rightfully belongs, with some new elements thrown in for good measure.
This time around your empire consists of 15 islands and you can either choose to enter the campaign mode (where each island provides different objectives and goals) or endlessly experiment in sandbox mode. There’s even an online dimension where you can take on challenges provided by other players. If that wasn’t enough, a new Timeline Editor allows you to create fictional historical events or even incorporate real ones and, for further variations, a mission generator will produce random maps to play on.
Maximum replay ability was clearly the main focus for the developers, who obviously wanted to avoid simply churning out more predictable re-runs of the first game. For this reason you can also choose your character from 18 different avatars such as Che, Castro, Eva Peron, Pinochet and Noriega or construct your own from scratch. This is not just purely for appearance, as each avatar has personality traits that may influence future decisions, including being short tempered, a compulsive gambler or liar, a coward, a womaniser or simply paranoid.
You can then take your avatar around the island to make speeches, visit factories, reward soldiers and fight (or fix!) elections. You can also influence the course of events by issuing a range of edicts that cover social issues (such as same-sex marriage or wire-tapping), foreign policy (making the US or Russia your ally), the economy (e.g. building permits and tax cuts) and domestic policy (martial law or amnesty).
The tasks you’re set usually revolve around creating a set amount of buildings, making target amounts of money or exports, and increasing respect and happiness levels in the populace. On the dark side you can also be rewarded for bribing ten citizens or arranging 15 ‘accidents’!
Whether you decide to be a tyrant or a kind elder statesman is ultimately less important than balancing positive and negative popular support. On the home front you have to feed, pay and entertain your workers while making sure you don’t antagonise specialist groups like intellectuals, nationalists and the religious.
Internationally you have to build up your exports and tourism, with both Russia and America angling to take ever more control over your country. Typhoons and earthquakes can also take their toll and if you alienate too many of the people, they might become rebels and try to depose you.
Having such depth to the gameplay means many will find it completely absorbing, although the tutorial could have provided more assistance to get you started. The emphasis is fully on having fun and the lively Latin soundtrack sets the mood perfectly, as do the voice-overs from a local radio DJ who constantly reminds you what areas and problems need addressing.
The construction times often seem to last ages (even with fast-forward engaged) and sometimes it’s not clear how to organise crops reaching the docks, but despite these niggles fans of the series will be relieved that it’s a return to form.