Who doesn't love a good banana republic? Surely nothing could go wrong by concentrating wealth in the ruling class from an export-focused economy. Well, when you're El Presidente, you've got nothing to worry about! Tropico is all about the use (and abuse) of power in an idyllic island paradise. With the eternally loyal Penultimo and a bumbling cast of advisers, Tropico 6 is a hilarious look at dictatorship, though not without missteps.
In Tropico, you are El Presidente, the sole ruler of your small island nation. Victory depends on the conditions set, but defeat comes at the hands of an electoral loss. Thus, you need to manage the finances, employment, exports and happiness of your citizens, while still pleasing factions in order to garner support. New to Tropico 6 is the inclusion of archipelagos, more transportation for your citizens, and the ability to steal world wonders from countries around the world.
What good is a dictatorship without money? Money makes your world go around in Tropico. From bribing citizens to building plantations and seaports, everything requires serious cash. In other top city builders, you zone land and watch construction happen as needed. In the Tropico games, you place buildings directly. The direct involvement means Tropico 6 has less simulation than its competition, but you're far more free to develop the islands as you like this way. Whether you want to be an agricultural and tourist paradise, or a titan of industry polluting pristine waters, it's all under your command.
Key to your economic success in Tropico 6 is developing supply chains. You can simply just sell logs for a meager profit, or turn logs into planks at a lumber mill, fetching a higher price and employing more workers. Later, you can turn those same planks into boats, or high-end furniture. There's a very natural economic progression as you advance through the eras, even though the technologic advancement isn't as obvious.
Being an island nation, Tropico 6 relies on a constant influx of transport ships to export your goods. The end result is that cash flow comes in lump sums, which can result in a lot of downtime between shipments. Thankfully, there's a lot of management of citizen happiness to deal with. With eight factors that feed into happiness, you're juggling crime safety, healthcare, faith, and more in an attempt to keep your populace pleased. It's astoundingly complex and means you're actively managing individual lives. As happiness directly feeds into your electoral approval, there's a delicate balance between investing in the island for more money and investing in your citizenry to stay in power.
The happiness of your citizens also goes up and down based on the general happiness of the Caribbean, and the standing of various factions with your government. These factions will regularly issue demands that can earn you blueprints for new buildings, award cash, improve your standing, and more. Some of the requests are purely sadistic (choose between an aircraft carrier or nuclear weapons program), others are too simplistic. Still, it's often a good way to get a bonus for building amenities you already needed.
If you're not looking to jump straight into the sandbox, fear not: Tropico comes packed with 15 lengthy scenarios. These missions range from benign to downright absurd. From developing a bootlegger's paradise via illegal rum shipments to brainwashing the American baseball team and hacking the internet, the writing is colorful and the subjects refreshing. Some of the missions have special rules, such as more frequent natural disasters or no permanent housing. Still, all of the scenarios require you to think creatively and serve as an excellent introduction to the depth of Tropico 6's systems. As a note, Tropico 6's multiplayer supports up to four players, but I was unable to test out the mode playing before the official release.
As much depth as the citizen happiness system has, the AI can be downright stupid. Frequently, your new immigrants will set up shacks before moving into more permanent housing. Naturally, you'll build new housing for them, dependent on their wealth level. You'll then watch the housing fill up, leaving enough spaces for your citizens considered "homeless" by the housing system, but they still won't move in. You can demolish their shack, but that only seems to delete their house. The end result is two very unhappy citizens.
It also seems inevitable that you'll be unable to balance the needs of your citizens with your own development aspirations. Elections happen every ten years, but if you think you're not going to win, you can just simply cancel them. So long as the individual happiness of the citizens is high enough, there seems to be no real repercussion for refusing to hold elections. The end result of every game is the same: Presidente for life.
Unfortunately, I encountered a couple of very nasty bugs that torpedoed two separate missions. In one instance, you need to excavate gold next to an erupting volcano. A particularly violent explosion destroyed several homes, making many workers homeless. The resulting shacks popped up everywhere and began teleporting across the map, sending my housing happiness into a death spiral. A later mission requires you to build tourist accommodations, eventually raising your tourist score to an astronomical number. Apparently, I took too long to complete the objective, as the objective disappeared without a new one to take its place, wasting six to eight hours of work.
Tropico 6 could also use some quality-of-life fixes. Right-clicking both opens the build menu and quickly cancels missions. This often leads to frustrating realizations that missions have disappeared accidentally. Some other changes Tropico 6 could use are simple things. I wish the area of a building displayed in the build menu. The transportation system could use more options like railways and monorails. I wish there were visually evolving buildings as you progress through the eras. Or how about the ability to redevelop existing structures without demolition?
Tropico as a whole has largely suffered from stagnation. While Tropico 6 carries over many of the features added into Tropico 5 as DLC, the series could use some serious innovation. The sense of scale is still too small to stand shoulder to shoulder with titans like SimCity 4 and Cities: Skylines. The political systems in place are effectively meaningless. You're essentially only building partnerships with superpowers in order to get gifts of cash from them. Factions too can be more or less ignored, so long as you maintain individual happiness. None of these issues doom Tropico 6, but there's a sense that Kalypso could be doing more with its charming series.
Still, the Tropico series has always been known for catchy music, and Tropico 6 is no exception. Just listen to the theme song, for starters:
After ten hours, I just had to turn the music off. Not because it was bad, but because most of the tracks already took up permanent residence in my head. If you're a fan of groovy salsa and Cuba-inspired Latin jazz, then Tropico 6 doesn't disappoint.
Ultimately, Tropico 6 isn't quite sure how to present itself. While it comes with some much-needed improvements, none of these are particularly game-changing. Still, if you're looking for a lighthearted take on dictators and a charming city builder, you could do far worse than Tropico 6. Hopefully, Kalypso and Limbic Entertainment are looking to shake up their long-running series more drastically. It sorely needs it.
Tropico 6 was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game will also be available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this summer.
While Tropico 6 maintains the series' humor and complexity, it sometimes gets bogged down under the weight of its own systems. There's plenty of fun to be found here, but you'll be left wanting more.
- Catchy Music
- Plenty of Depth
- Satisfying Progression
- Catchy Music
- Frustrating AI
- Stagnant Gameplay