It is a little hard to believe that it has been eight years since the release of the original Tropico game. Eight years since I’ve been a ruthless dictator, foiling coup d’etats and paying people pennies for days of grueling labor. Ahh, where has the time gone? Oddly enough, as soon as I started playing Tropico 3, my first thought was “haven’t I already played this game?”
Tropico 3, like the original, is a civilization-building strategy game focused on the development and ruling of a tropical island. Your job is to be the Tropican’s Presidente (my last name, so this makes the game 40 perfect cooler) as you build up the small country and provide for the people, while continuing to appease the superpower nations and avoid assassination attempts. You must balance the needs of the people with income, expenses and the demand of the many political factions represented on the island.
Unlike many strategy games, Tropico 3 doesn’t have a lot of the features we have been accustomed to in recent years. There is a lack of civilization advancement and technology levels, very few building options, and nearly no ability to access or manage your society. I honestly expect a lot more from a game made in 2009, especially a sequel to a classic. Placing buildings and roads is a very crude process; there is little customization and not a landscaping tool to be found. Often, terrain would auto-level when placing structures on a different height, cutting off buildings from your road network, which leads to demolition and rebuilding. This also leads to frustration. The road system requires massive forethought to position anything properly. Sharp turns aren’t allowed, and intersections only work from some unexplainable formula. The sad part is that roads are one of the very few features in the game that is an addition from the original.
Generally, there are three types of buildings in Tropico 3: resident services, industry and tourist. Industry buildings, like farms, give you access to food for your people, but just as important, it gives you exports to make money, or to process into more expensive products. The construction of farms is poor. You can plan to build a farm in a fertile area, but the workers seem to plant crops anywhere, often using way too much space and planting them in infertile sand instead of healthy soil.
Perhaps one of the largest problems I have with Tropico 3 is that you have no clue what is happening with any goods produced on your island. How much food does a farm or ranch produce? How much does someone eat? There are obvious inefficiencies in production, but I could find no way to see any information at all. How can we better our building skills without this? You can make woodcutters, but you don’t know how much wood is produced, or how much could be produced, or how much a timber mill requires. Further in the industry chain, you need to know how many timber mills are needed for a furniture factory. If any of these issues seem familiar, it is because they are; these are the exact same problems that existed in the first Tropico.
A lot of the challenge from Tropico has always been the management of the people; take a few steps out of place, and you’ll be gunned down or overthrown. Keeping your people happy is a big concern because it does not take a lot for people to grab arms and join the rebellion. Keep neglecting your people, and you’ll find either the United States or Russia invading your island, (like a 300-person island really warrants that kind of attention), and that means game over. Again, the problems with the first Tropico still exist in Tropico 3.
For example, a bishop who runs a cathedral might go to another cathedral to fulfill his religious needs, (really, they shouldn’t have to, but they do), and a bishop from the other cathedral is sitting in the first cathedral fulfilling his needs, but with few or no employees in each building, nothing gets accomplished. This happens quite often, unfortunately, leading to massive overbuilding of services and huge lineups. Do 300 people really need six massive cathedrals and six hospitals? It seems the bigger your island gets, the less efficient everything runs; people run around everywhere wasting time and getting jammed up waiting for services. This happened in the original game as well, and none of it has been corrected. Instead, the developers added roads so people can drive all over the place to wait in lines faster.
The largest changes to Tropico 3 have been in the graphical and music departments. The Caribbean music in the game is really top-notch and catchy. Too bad there are so few songs! The DJ who keeps you informed of island events is entertaining and enthusiastic, but over time, he can get a bit repetitive and annoying, just like the four songs that play over and over. The graphics and 3-D environment are a big change. Getting right down to the street level and watching the islanders do their thing is fun. It is too bad the artistic style and design of the buildings hasn’t changed at all. Everything looks the same!
Tropico 3 doesn’t feel like a new game; it feels almost identical to the first Tropico made eight years ago. The main change to Tropico 3 is the addition of a garage to let people move around the island more quickly, along with an updated game engine. There is so little difference in the gameplay that I barely see the need to mention it. Tropico was a classic in its day, but Tropico 3 is not a classic today. The lack of depth in gameplay really isn’t acceptable in a modern strategy game. I found that once I increased my skill in playing the game, it just got boring. Tropico 3 has almost nothing for you to do when peace reigns and the threat from the superpowers becomes minimal. Tropico 3 is a nostalgic experience at best. The game has already been made, and I feel like I was stuck playing it for a second round when the first was more than enough for me.