Friday, January 15, 2016

Tropico 4 - 20/20 hours

I probably shouldn't have bothered with Tropico 4's campaign mode. It gives structure to the gameplay by telling a story and presenting you with challenges, but the story is pretty stupid and the challenges are mostly along the lines of "build impractical thing here" or "pay an arbitrary amount of money to an NPC." To a certain degree, they are interesting constraints on your island-building, as they all more or less required you to build an island with a big enough surplus to support the frivolous, plot-advancing expenditures. However, the only real value I got out of the campaign was in the early levels that acted like an extended tutorial by presenting you with challenges that explained the functions of various buildings and game mechanics (like the island where you had to import everything, or the island where you had to build up tourism).

The plot itself is simple enough. You lead your various island nations to prosperity, building up a reputation as a skilled dictator and then one day you're framed for the assassination of an American president. You lose everything and have to rebuild your fortune with an assumed identity all the while plotting Count of Monte Cristo-style revenge on the NPCs who contributed to your downfall.

It's perfectly serviceable, provided all you want is to have an excuse to build up islands. Your actions have a marginal amount of context and meaning, and for a silly little strategy game like Tropico 4, that's probably enough. It only starts to fall apart if you try to extrapolate some broader worldbuilding from the game's plot. Then you're left wondering why there are so many small islands with local sovereignty left in the world. Or why your resources don't carry over from one mission to another (especially since the plot itself has you growing in power constantly).

I likely would have been happier just playing a couple of random maps and seeing how prosperous my island nation could have become. No regrets though. Leaving aside the game's dubious attempts at humor, it was quite a lot of fun managing supply chains, navigating the island's politics, and attempting to raise my country's quality of life. Almost fun enough, in fact, to make up for the fact that natural disasters (especially tornadoes) are the  worst strategy game mechanic since Civilization III's pollution, and for much the same reason. They come out of nowhere to undo your hard work and they are keyed to punish success (when a tornado hits a built up island, that's what's known as a "target rich environment.")

Overall, though, I'd say my time with Tropico 4 was a pleasant one. It's a solid and engaging strategy game, wrapped inside a beautifully realized Caribbean setting, wrapped in some pretty dumb and borderline offensive political humor.

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