Saturday, October 19, 2019

Tropico 6 Review: Viva La Revolucion!

Genre die-hards will agree that although most all-inclusive city building and management simulators often match and even surpass the gameplay depth and ambition of Tropico 6, the competition consist…

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Genre die-hards will agree that although most all-inclusive city building and management simulators often match and even surpass the gameplay depth and ambition of Tropico 6, the competition consistently lacks the style and humor that the Tropico series brings to the table. Intelligently adherent to the philosophy of not fixing what isn't broken, Tropico 6 brings back everything fans of the franchise know and love while furnishing a few additions that renew the core experience without sacrificing the existent polish and charm. While there are a few hard-to-ignore hiccups that players are likely to run into and some genre trappings that understandably aren't overthrown, Tropico 6 is an attractive and unapologetically hilarious sim worthy of players' time.

Since the series' inception, Tropico has centered around the concept of allowing players to fill the gleaming shoes of El Presidente, the absurd-yet-accurate caricature of a dictator running a Carribean island nation from the top-down. This is still the case in Tropico 6 (which now rests in the care of of Limbic Entertainment), except this time El Presidente's budding banana republic lies upon an archipelago that can be connected via bridges and ports.

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In order to successfully shepherd their Tropicans through four eras spanning the 20th century to the modern day (a mechanic introduced in Tropico 5), players have to engage in a precarious balancing act of spending and managing resources, placating and intimidating local factions, and trading with world superpowers while robbing them blind. Initially, the goal is to simply win Tropico's independence from the Crown - an on-the-nose comical stand-in for the British Empire - as the rebellious colony's governor during the Colonial Era. However, in later eras, the player must maintain their grip on power by winning decennial elections through all available means, all the while staving off the ever-present threat of popular rebellion.

Of course, El Presidente will not be able to please every Tropican at all times (or even most of the time), due to the fact that each citizen belongs to one or more factions that inform their receptions of player actions. Try creating a socialist haven free of rents or healthcare costs, and Capitalists will resort to widespread white-collar crime to get their perceived fair share of the wealth; strive towards rapid industrialization no matter the environmental cost, and protesting Environmentalists will surround and hinder production chains like human roadblocks. To complicate matters further, all factions inundate the player with their often conflicting demands, which threaten to diminish the player's faction standings and overall approval rating if gone ignored.

The fine tightrope walked here is accordingly reflected in the game's abundance of thematic satire. Though Tropico 6's comedy sometimes wanders into the realm of the preposterous - which it also does well - even the most apolitical player will find themselves engaging with some of the most difficult choices that come with the office of de facto dictator. And, if they've got a decent sense of humor, they'll probably do so while occasionally chortling aloud at the all-too-real irony of many decisions that mirror reality. Sure, one could set out to establish their nation as a pacifist state that altogether renounces militarism, but within the same playthrough they might discover they've somehow slipped into a full-blown police state that keeps a tight grip on the press and practices mass surveillance to better protect its people. Similarly, players aiming to forge a completely self-sustaining Tropico are highly likely to come to rely on foreign support in the forms of trade, tourism, and shady backroom loans when under economic duress, slowly morphing El Presidente into a run-of-the-mill kleptocrat.

While the gameplay delivers an equal parts comical and bleak interpretation of real-life socioeconomics, some of the game's funniest moments come from its largely stellar voice acting. By and large, the writing and voice talent behind Penultimo, El Presidente's exceptionally sycophantic right-hand man, steals the show. Almost equally well-written and well-performed are the lines declared by faction leaders when issuing demands, though these grow tiresome early on due to their frequent repetition and wholesale irrelevance to the actual details of their corresponding demands. Similarly, El Presidente is able to deliver novel speeches that the player cobbles together in piecemeal fashion, and the recycled voice lines that comprise the final product get painfully old very quickly. All of these sequences can be skipped or muted, of course, but either option hardly amounts to an elegant solution, with the latter resulting in awkwardly silent cutscenes at the start and end of each campaign mission - during which Penultimo's vocal splendor goes sorely missed.

Entirely new to the Tropico formula are raids, which grant players the means to wage undeclared economic warfare (i.e., piracy), politically destabilize superpowers, and even pull off heists in which Tropican agents steal world-renowned landmarks, like Stonehenge and the Statue of Liberty, in their entirety. As the little fish in a big pond, it's cathartic to covertly sap resources from superpowers and curry favorable political outcomes in a way that truly feels globally impactful. That said, raiding is one of the few actions in Tropico 6 that hardly engenders any a shred of the thoughtful hesitation normally undergone before taking advantage of the game's other mechanics. The drawback to raiding rarely amounts to more than a slap on the wrist, which is odd considering the player's duplicity is aimed exclusively at superpowers that could just as easily wipe Tropico off the map as they could level crushing sanctions against it.

In today's era of early access titles and full-price releases that might as well be early access titles upon launch, it's refreshing to say that Tropico 6 is impressively stable, with this writer having experienced no crashes or significant performance issues during their time with it. Unfortunately, one particularly frustrating bug did arise, involving the game's Teamster Ports, which move goods between islands via boat. Each time a new link in an island's resource chain was added, the Teamster Port responsible for that individual island would have to be demolished and rebuilt in order to get products flowing smoothly once more. While it sounds only inconvenient on its surface, this bug can occasionally bring players' current task progress to a grinding halt, meaning that they'll have to add an extra money- and time-sensitive step to what should be simple constructions, upgrades, or work mode changes lest they suffer from unintended inefficiency.

Finally, it's a genre trapping, but it's worth mentioning for those unitiated players considering to make Tropico 6 their launchpad into the world of city builders and management sims. While it is more accessible than most sims of similar depth, players of Tropico 6 should be prepared to spend a large portion of their time with the game watching their plans unfold and, ideally, little else. Although there's usually much to be done, once the player's island nation has been developed into a relatively self-regulating machine during each era, players will mostly be watching and waiting for hitches in their well-intended designs. That's certainly not a complaint, but if watching tiny islanders go about their day while waiting for a new structure to finish being built doesn't sound very appealing, potential players don't need to regret sitting this one out.

In all, Tropico 6 is a proper entry by series newcomer developer Limbic Entertainment, whose thoughtful additions are as welcome as the impressive manner with which they effortlessly have recaptured the whimsy and charisma of the franchise on the first try. Full to the brim with raucous satire, sufficiently deep mechanics, and an admirably balanced gameplay that keeps players watching the calendar tick upwards, Tropico 6 is a well-rounded sim experience that is only lightly held back by repetitive audio design and (at the time of writing) an unfortunate bug. Aside from those gripes, Tropico 6 may be the best of its name yet.

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Tropico 6 is now available on PC and Linux with a Mac version coming soon, and releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer. Screen Rant was provided a PC code for review.

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