By – John Williamson

Tropico 5 PC Review

City management games such as the Tropico franchise provide a mesmerizing sandbox environment to create your own principality based on a wide scope of political ideologies.  The ability to reign as a totalitarian and morally corrupt dictator in a banana republic fulfills the fantasies of people who wonder what it was like to govern in a Dickensian society.  In contrast to this, you could create a utopian theocracy which spreads the church’s ecclesiastical will throughout Tropico.  The freedom to construct a state with contrasting economic, political and social philosophies adds a degree of flexibility rarely seen in other RTS games.  Tropico is more of a sedentary strategy game that moves along at a serene pace.  Despite these laudable concepts, the series has been stagnating for some time due to a lack of innovation and atrocious price gouging through its DLC model.  Tropico 5 is an evolution and not a revolution which cautiously develops existing mechanics to produce a more polished and user friendly experience.

In Tropico 5, you begin your political career as a servant of the crown until you amass enough revolutionary support to dethrone the royalists and become an independent state.  Initially, you serve a fixed 4 year term and must extend your mandate through policies which appease the crown.  El Presidente can issue edicts to assist the revolutionaries or export valuable resources to Tropico’s overlords.  It is almost impossible to gain a 50%+ approval rating without an extension of your premiership.  Therefore, you must gradually introduce legislation which benefits the revolutionaries and musters up support without raising any suspicions from the royalists.  This balancing act between the two factions makes Tropico’s battle for independence intriguing and immersive.

After you have achieved independence and dispelled the crown from Tropico, it is time to create your own dynasty and protect the family’s heritage.  Romantic scandals will appear due to El Presidente’s unscrupulous nature which lead to the emergence of heirs and family members within the dynasty. Each person in the royal household has a customizable perk that has a profound effect on your governance.  For example, the Financier perk grants you a $200 annual income whilst the Celebrity asset increases foreign aid by 10%.  Hereditary members of the state can seize a small amount of expenditure and transfer this corrupt money into a Swiss bank account.  After you have acquired $10,000, it is possible to upgrade your character and the effectiveness of their actions.  Speaking of actions, dynasty members are utilized as managers who galvanize employees and improve productivity.  The dynasty system is a vast improvement on Tropico 4 and increases the impression that you are running a metropolis with a growing influence in the political stratosphere.

Tropico 5 PC Review

Tropico 5 is divided into 4 historical eras which contain a number of unique situations due to technological advancements.  As mentioned previously, you begin the campaign vying for independence in the Colonial Era.  This period of time revolves around commodities and your ability to produce raw materials in large quantities.  The lack of modern technology means your economy relies on exploiting Tropico’s natural resources and trading such items with the crown and neutral countries.  Then comes the World Wars era which is fraught with infighting and political mudslinging.  Your economy is now dependent on more valuable items such as Bauxite and Steel.  Innovations in technology allow you to erect Power stations that provide electricity to businesses and wealthier homes.  Steel Mills and Rum Refineries give a huge boost to the economy as Tropico must keep up with the latest technological inventions.

The Cold War Era is next and introduces a nuclear programme with paranoia and treachery around every corner.  You have to deal with the political tensions and create your own nuclear deterrent.  Financial stability comes from a number of resources including gas and you must improve Tropico’s infrastructure through Airports.  This gives a huge boost in tourism and reduces other countries suspicions of a remote and secluded island.  Politically, you can side with either of the major powers or remain fairly aloof.  The final era in Tropico 5 is entitled, Modern Times and requires you to be fiscally prudent during the manufacturing process of essential items.  For instance, a lot of wealth comes from the production of cars and ticket sales in a large stadium.  Other sources of interest include a Space Programme and even an Aircraft Carrier for military defense.  The electronics industry is also an integral part of your economic strategy and assembles items found throughout the wider world.  There are political tensions between the USSR and USA but these are less military based and more dependent on trading rates.  The concept of a global scale conflict died during the Cold War era.

Governing a nation state is an impossible task due to the paradox of being economically responsive whilst attaining the popular vote.  Measures that improve your overall expenditure will be unpopular and polarizing.  If you neglect your citizens by keeping money in the public purse, there will be demonstrations and eventually a coup d’etat.   In theory, you could try to dismiss elections altogether and ignore the need for popular support.  However, this dissatisfaction would almost certainly cause massive uprisings. You have to invest that surplus money into public services and provide entertainment for ordinary Tropicans.

Tropico 5 PC Review

Healthcare is also an important factor and you should keep at least two clinics on the island to treat people in an efficient manner.  In Tropico 5, there are a multitude of factions who all have their own grievances with the state.  Libertarians are easily dismayed with an increased military presence whilst other groups including the clerical supporters demand an increase in religious monuments.  It is vital that you use statistical information to see which groups are riled and change your policies accordingly.  Tropicans also expect a level of financial prudence and revolt if the country is in negative equity.  This increases the difficulty curve as you have to invest in housing developments and expensive policies which are popular whilst balancing the books.  The Tropican populace isn’t very accommodating and lambasts you during times of hardship.  It is ironic that popular initiatives can reduce your overall support due to their cost and impact on the state’s bank balance.

Throughout the game, you can issue or repeal edicts to temporarily muster support or embark on a new legislative programme.  There are a number of edicts you can introduce based on economic values and incentives for specific social classes.  For example, a tax which targets the wealthiest in society instantly increases your budget and ability to embark on expensive programmes.  However, this measure will undoubtedly result in discontent between the rich and poor and cause major frictions.  Also, wealthier tourists will be less inclined to visit Tropico and spend large sums of money.

During your time in office, you have to deal with ethical conundrums and make difficult decisions based on your own moral inkling.  One example which exemplifies this is the option to allow same sex marriages.  This is a move upheld by libertarians who support equal rights and fairness to all regardless of colour or sexual orientation.  On the other hand, vocal religious figures have biblical views which vigorously oppose same sex marriage and believe in the idea of Adam and Eve.  Whatever decision you make will anger a proportion of the electorate and it is imperative that you attempt to appease citizens who disagree with your choice through other policies.

Tropico 5 PC Review

El Presidente can make sweeping changes to Tropico’s codified constitution and affect key areas of governance including voting rights, economic strategy, military tactics and even regulation of the media.  You have the authority to choose between a number of voting systems which offer varying degrees of success based on your priorities.  It is possible to allow free and open voting but this can be risky as radicals now have a platform to proclaim their extremist views. Another alternative revolves around sexist segregation and bans all women from voting.  Finally, it is possible to restrict voting rights and only include the wealthy in Tropico’s “democratic” process.  Having a segmented and unrepresentative type of election will cause major uprisings which threaten your legitimacy.

There are three distinct types of economic structures which affect the way your country is managed.  Firstly, you can instigate a Planned Economy notion and this increases the effectiveness of buildings with a manager.  As a result, the throughput of a farm or mill will be noticeably higher than before. The second economic strategy is a Plutocracy which improves the rate of your Swiss bank account acquisitions by 20%.  Running a corrupt society driven by personal greed is available as you endlessly exploit Tropico’s profits  You can also select a Free Market economy and this prohibits the state from interfering in construction prices.  As such, you may have less personal wealth but your island will be financially stable due to lower manufacturing costs.

Employing foreign workers with intellectual skills is essential as they provide excellent leadership skills and help increase the overall culture throughout Tropico.  Most of the citizens littered throughout Tropico are labourers and poorly educated.  Fields such as education and healthcare require overseas specialists who attempt to expand the minds of your people. These experts are far from cheap and are less prone to accept your inadequacies.  Healthcare professionals will cost in the region of $10,000 per person, so you must use them wisely and encourage their work through a good pay package.  Talented immigrants are utilized as project managers and enhance a building’s productivity.  Another role of theirs is to instill worker confidence through a respected and fatherly role.

Tropico 5 PC Review

Every so often, you will encounter random natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes and even heat waves.  The game suddenly switches to a number of fairly dreary and unremarkable cutscenes which illustrate the impact of certain geographical forces.  For the most part, these events are unbelievably weak and only cause a minor amount of damage.  I would expect a humungous earthquake to decimate at least 25% of my frail island which offers little resistance.  The opposite is true as you usually only suffer a few casualties or witness the destruction of a minor guard tower.

Tropico 5 includes a research system that allows you to learn about technological innovations and eventually construct complicated buildings by experts within a very specific field.  When you begin a campaign level, your technology is fairly primitive and it is vital to research anything within your grasp.  The research has to completed in a modular fashion so you must investigate basic technologies before moving onto groundbreaking inventions.  The research mechanic is impeccably designed and ensures that you modernize Tropico in small, realistic steps.

The trading system throughout Tropico 5 is rudimentary and works in an automated manner.  All of your imports and exports are transferred automatically from factories to the dock and travel across Tropico’s idyllic seafront.  The only manual input involved comes from the interconnected road networks which require you to ensure that goods are being transported correctly.  New buildings have to be added onto a current route and connected to the dock.  The same applies for mines which contain valuable resources such as Gold and Uranium.  Every mine you will encounter is remote and a substantial distance from the epicenter of your island.  As a result, it is important to create an efficient transportation network over a prolonged area.

Tropico 5 PC Review

You can compete in multiplayer matches which contain a host of customizable options to make each encounter interesting and remarkably unique.  Attributes that can be changed include Map choice, Starting era, Starting population, Starting money, Economic difficulty, Political Difficulty, Disasters, Victory by points, Victory by money and Victory by construction.  As you can see, there are a lot of different scenarios on offer which contain unique victory parameters.  Being able to adjust the rate your finances deplete is extraordinary and adds to the overall experience.  However, I was unable to test the multiplayer aspect as every server was completely empty due to nature of pre-release press access.

From a technical standpoint, Tropico 5 is laudable but currently has some optimization issues.  The game is aesthetically pleasing and contains a stonking amount detail as you can zoom into individual crops and see the inner mechanisms of your country. The options menu contains a number of settings such as Detail Level, Shadows, Scene Resolution, Water Quality, AntiAliasing, Grass Detail, Anisotropic Filtering, Terrain Detail, Post Processing, Cloud Shadows Textures and Visibility Distance.  Annoyingly, there are no specific variables for either the AA or AF so you can only turn it off or on.  This is an oversight as lower end machines may want to use FXAA and not MSAA x8.

Tropico’s graphical exuberance is accompanied by a rhythmic samba infused soundtrack which sounds wonderful and fits beautifully within the game’s setting.  In terms of performance, I managed to attain around 40fps on maximum settings with an i7 4770k and R9 290 at 2560×1440.  This is disappointing but it’s important to reiterate that this may be due to the early preview press build I was using.  Other features such as a color blind mode and multiple save slots create a more approachable experience.

Tropico 5 PC Review 6

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Tropico 5 is a thoroughly addicting city building simulator which devours every moment of your spare time.  The comedic tone and charismatic characters create an infectiously entertaining experience.  I found the game to be extremely cathartic as it alleviated my elevated stress levels through its slow and captivating pace.  The improvements over its predecessor are trivial but work in combination to produce a much better game.  More specifically, being able to reign during 4 contrasting eras adds a lot of variety and appeals to players who enjoy a specific period of history.

Tropico 5 Technical Summary:

Tropico 5 PC Review Sum

  • Time Played – 21 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 2560×1440
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
  • DRM – Steam,
  • System Specs – i7 4770K, 16GB RAM, 4GB Sapphire R9 290
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, Amazon, Gamersgate, Local Retail
  • Demo – No
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  • Matt K

    Sounds like this is a good addition to the series for those who enjoy it. But personally, I’ve never really been able to. I’ve tried a few times with 3 and 4 but always lost interest.

    • John Williamson

      I think the Tropico series is better suited to people looking for a game which moves at a more pedestrian pace. 3 and 4 are remarkably similar so that might have put you off a little. What other strategy games do you like?

      • Martin White

        How would you compare this to games such as Civilization or more importantly for me Civilization Revolution ?

        • John Williamson

          Tropico 5 and Civilization Revolution are different forms of strategy games. Tropico is a real time strategy game based on city building and improving your countries profitability whilst retaining your ability to lead through a popular vote. Civilization Revolution is a turn based strategy game with each turn progressing several years in the game. Also, the gameplay is more about warfare and conquest – trying to expand your empire and capture the strongholds of various civilizations. In brief, you can’t go wrong with either of these games but one certain style of gameplay may suit you better.

  • St1ka

    I’ve actually been meaning to try the series but always keep putting it off. Seems Tropico 5 might be the best place to start.

    • John Williamson

      Yep! Tropico 5 is a fantastic RTS game if you are new to the genre or looking for a more approachable game. The musical score and setting is wonderful and gives the game a lot of character. If you aren’t looking to spend the full price, check out Tropico 4 instead with the Modern Times expansion.

  • STD

    Dude. Windowed mode is included…Change the resolution and there is an option for windowed

    • John Williamson

      Thanks for letting me know! I’ll have a look at that now.

    • John Williamson

      Yep, you are completely correct! Not sure how I missed that one, but suppose it could be clearer as an option. Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed the review.

  • DreadPirateR

    Nice review again. Think i can wait until the price is lower for this seeing as i haven’t even played Tropico 4 yet 🙂

    • John Williamson

      I think that’s the most sensible thing to do! Tropico 4 is still a fantastic game and with the Modern Times DLC will keep you going for some time. Thanks!

  • trincetto

    I love slow, relaxing management games and I’ve been wanting to try the Tropico series for some time, but always felt unsure which episode to pick — especially considering the number of DLC available for Tropico 4. It seems like this one would be the best one to start with.
    Good review!

    • John Williamson

      Thanks! Yeah this is definitely the best Tropico game to date due to the refinements here and there. There still might be a lot of DLC coming though, it’s hard to say. However, the base game set in various eras does keep the game fresh. This is a great game to play after a long and hard day of work.