by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
My buddy Penultimo
Leader of a Banana Republic - who wouldn’t want such an idyllic job? I sure do. Fortunately, Tropico comes around every few years and, with a bit of imagination, lets us rule a tropical island. The experience comes complete with the complimentary, ever supportive aid Penultimo, and together he and I rob the Caribbean bl... erm, create magnificent island empires that are the envy of dictators the world over.
Tropico 6 is a pivotal entry in the series. At first glance it may look similar to its most recent predecessor but under the hood everything has changed. Now powered by the Unreal Engine, the game was rebuilt from the ground up, leaving only the lush, green tropical island aesthetic intact. And even that has become lusher, greener, more vibrant and infinitely more varied - not in the least because maps can now be much larger and consist of multiple islands.
I absolutely loved creating small enclaves beyond the main island, and often ended up specialising one or more islands to service a specific industry. It felt fitting creating islands as tourist hotspots where the the environment and points of interest are especially important. I soon started to plan ahead every time I landed on a new map, selecting one island hopefully with some ancient ruins and outstanding beauty to become the future tourist trap... erm... destination. In most cases, islands can be connected using bridges, allowing for cars and bus services between islands, in addition to the boats and freighters that will automagically spawn when citizens travel over water. Once you have a few islands populated around the archipelago, it’s a joy to see the water come alive with all of these means of transport.
The island life
Much of my enjoyment came from something a lot less obvious: Tropico 6’s simulation of its island inhabitants. I can remember many a frustrating moment in earlier Tropicos, wondering why the hell a building’s output was so low, my workers seemingly goofing off somewhere I did not want them to be. In Tropico 6, there’s just no such frustration. If people are spending too long away from their job, it’s your own dodgy city planning that is to blame. This is because Tropicans are now fully simulated and follow realistic, predictable patterns when going about their lives. What this means is that you can actually start influencing those patterns to optimise your production output, and this in turn affects how your island develops.
I’ll explain. Those specialised islands I was talking about earlier aren’t just for show. In earlier Tropicos I would often try to create one huge city and only create a few smaller settlements in remote places. The punishment for this type of metropole planning was fairly light so I could get away with that. In Tropico 6, citizens work noticeably better when they can work, sleep and enjoy their leisure time without having to travel too much. If you design your city correctly, your industry output booms and your economy flourishes. That’s not to say you can’t create a metropol. You most certainly can, but it’s just more productive and fun to spread things around.
Your populace will help you understand what is happening much better too. Individual wants, needs and gripes are easy to figure out, and taking action on what you find out feels much more tactile than ever. For the first time in a Tropico game, I felt I had a good grasp of the simulation and could mould my empire according to the information I had available.
Where Tropico 4 and 5’s campaign missions told something of a story, I am missing that a little in Tropico 6. Some missions have really intriguing endings that remain without a follow up. I was happy to see that the mission objectives more than made up for this, with some truly unexpected twists. I don’t want to give away too much, but breaking down what you have painstakingly built up is not exactly a staple for the genre, and it had me screaming “This is all wrong!” to myself. Nor is becoming the next Willy Wonka, for that matter. I hope you have a sweet tooth. Even a mission in which a volcano erupted sporadically - destroying some of my buildings in the process - was fun, challenging and entertaining rather than angering.
Surprisingly, the missions also changed my mind about the new famous landmark stealing feature. Even playing the beta, I didn’t really see the purpose. I felt it was a gimmick more than anything else - it still is, but it is one that I have come to enjoy quite a bit. The lead-up to the theft itself is just okay. It’s a nice excuse to get to some of Tropico’s (generally great) voice work, which will make it entertaining regardless, but your involvement is light at best. The real reward, however, is a welcome influx of tourists and a perky new building in your city’s skyline. After I stole one landmark, I grabbed one or two for almost every map I played on.
Playing around with the new random map generator I was able to create some truly stunning maps. I suspect this new strength will really increase Tropico’s replay value for its fans. I hit the population limit a few times when my islands felt only mid-way done, which triggered a whole new (probably unintended) mini-game of retooling my economy towards low-worker industries. I was glad to discover later that the population limit can be adjusted in the gameplay menu.
Housing buildings such as apartments and tenements, could use a bit more variation, especially because many designs sport more of an Eastern European style than a Caribbean island one. But when these minor elements are the negatives, you know the game is in good shape. A few small bugs aside, the only other negative I can find is that the game has a tendency to lose performance in the very late stages. At every other point, navigating around Tropico is smooth as a baby.
I can’t imagine it being an easy task for a studio to take on a new game in a much loved franchise and build it from the ground up, but Limbic did a terrific job. I feel like Tropico 6 is a bit like what Civ 5 was for the Civilization series - a fresh start that does away with some of the things that have held the franchise back, while adding some new mechanics that refresh the experience. The new engine has propelled Tropico 6 to the heights of modernity, and it is a triumph. The game feels fresh, responsive and more vibrant than ever. And while the campaign missions feel a little disconnected from each other, the mission objectives have honestly provided me with some of the most fun I have had with any recent city builder.
New engine is fabulous, good simulation of citizens, fun mission objectives.
Some late-game performance issues.