by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Let’s talk beta
Seeing a game demonstrated during a 30 minute Gamescom visit is great to get a passing impression of where it is heading, but nothing competes with having a go yourself. I’ve been getting my Banana Republic fix with Tropico 6’s beta and was a bit surprised to see myself clocking almost a hundred hours. If the unfinished game got me this hooked already, I think I need to clear my agenda for a month after the game’s January release!
Rather than write up a regular preview, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts on the beta and give you an impression of where the game is at right now.
First, a hats off to the developers. As Tropico’s new developer, Limbic has rebuilt Tropico pretty much from scratch using the Unreal Engine. Taking an existing game and rebuilding it in an entirely new engine can’t be an easy job but they did great. The snapshots of Tropico 6’s development during the past two Gamescoms had me impressed with how smooth it ran, and with more graphical detail than ever before. But those were in “Kalypso controlled environments” - beastlike developer PCs brought to the expo by Kalypso themselves and designed to run their games optimally. Playing the Beta, I’m equally impressed as that smoothness has translated to my regular gaming PC very well indeed. And everything looks great. I particularly enjoy how the game has shed some of its paleness. Tropico has always as if it were set in the scourging desert rather than the lush tropics. I much prefer this new vibrant look.
The game is already in good shape. So much so that it took a while before I started finding little bugs and annoyances. It took even longer to find issues at a gameplay level. The standout one revolves around Tropicans being fully simulated. The first time I noticed the issues with this is when the trader arrived at the docks and he had almost nothing to take home. What happened to all the goods I had been making? A quick investigation learned that the factories, ranches and plantations were filled with goods, so the teamsters weren’t doing their jobs, right? I mean, it’s a bit painful looking at empty coffers while seeing your factory storages laden with prized goods.
The issue isn’t isolated to just the teamsters though, they affect every worker. Life in Tropico is not just about work. Tropicans need to eat, sleep, relax and worship as well. I’m guessing a bit here, but it looks like each Tropican tries to fulfill all of these activities during a certain period. To do so, they travel between work, restaurants, church and so on and this takes time as well. This all works beautifully - you can follow individual Tropicans around the island to see what they are up to, but it looks like the devs need to some tweaking to prioritize activities and travel time so that it doesn’t come at the expense of doing work.
It’s important to note that a lot of the above behaviour is exactly as it was designed. Proof of this is how much things tend to improve in later eras when you have additional city planning tools, and public transport in particular. Early on, Tropicans have only their legs to carry them around the islands, and it’s slow going. Places to eat and sleep need to be close to where people work. As soon as cars, buses and metros arrive, your planning can be more spacious.
Even with a smooth running engine that enables you to easily you zoom out and then zoom in on another location, I really started noticing the lack of a mini map. It doesn’t really factor in when I am still building up the starting location, but as soon I expand to another island, I feel the urge to be able to click on the mini-map to quickly shift between locations. Others have given this feedback and I hope the developers will take it on board.
There’s also work to be done on Tropico 6’s political aspect. In the beta, there’s very little need to pay any attention to this. You’ll get a few requests from various factions but that’s as far as it goes. Special interest people, war, super power relationships, revolts, it’s barely noticeable that they are there. This is the one area where I think the devs will be concentrating on in the coming months and I’m keen to see how the game progresses here.
But you know what, these are Tropico’s main issues right now and I think that is incredibly encouraging. There are 3 months to flesh out the politics, tweak the Tropican simulation - the devs have already said they were - add a mini map, optimize a variety of mechanics and fix whatever small bugs the beta testers will find. It’s not quite time for the devs to pull out the hammock and laze about with a cocktail in one hand and a cigar in the other, but it’s certainly getting near.