A beautiful tropical island. A thriving economy and industry. A potentially corrupt and oppressive government. No wait, forget I mentioned that last one. Tropico 6 – the latest instalment in Limbic Entertainment’s city/management simulator has finally hit consoles, and after a long summer of waiting for the port, I’m happy to say that while it has its problems, it’s a pretty good addition to my library.
The Tropico series has always had a weird and unique place in my life. On the one hand, I love a good city builder and so Tropico is a perfect fit. On the other hand, Tropico is an extremely complex game – it’s a city builder, but unlike any other you must also manage your imports, exports, political relationships and manage your citizen’s needs. There’s a lot to keep track of, which would usually put me off a game. But Tropico has a way of unpacking its complexity and making it much more accessible – something Tropico 6, too, manages to uphold.
This isn’t to say the game is easy, however. There is an incredibly steep learning curve included in Tropico 6. I completed all tutorial missions and played through some campaign scenarios – and still managed to lose a lot of my games (which, take a few hours each, so you can imagine how I was feeling at the end of these play sessions). If you’re wanting to jump into a city builder and instantly know where you are and what you’re doing, Tropico 6 isn’t the game for you. There is learning and you will be confused. A lot.
I predominantly played through the campaign – which tells the tale of El Presidente (you) meeting with his loyal assistant, Penultimo, and slowly growing the island of Tropico into a thriving country, free of the constraints of other nations. Each campaign scenario develops from the previous, and sets you new tasks that will help grow the nation, and also test your ability to maintain this growth. For example, in the first scenario, the end goal is to proclaim independence from the crown. To do so, you’ll need to befriend revolutionaries, smuggle and export gold and help Penultimo with his “secret project” – once these are done, depending on your focus throughout, you’ll be able to buy your independence, or fight for you independence. The game gives you a remarkable amount of free reign, despite this being a scripted campaign setting.
As this is a console port, my main concern when loading Tropico 6 up for the first time was how it would feel and run on console. I’d previously played Tropico 4 & 5 on PC and so had become accustomed to using a mouse and keyboard to meticulously plan out my city. Luckily, doing most tasks with a controller does feel natural and accessible. It’s not as refined and specific as on PC, but the grid-snapping feature that Tropico 6’s map has makes it so you’re never really encumbered by playing on console rather than PC.
From a technical point of view, Tropico 6 has done incredibly well in stepping up from its predecessor and porting from PC to console. From a visual point of view, it’s a little tough to describe. When looking at the archipelago of Tropico from a distance, it’s beautiful. Each little island is unique in its geography and looks incredibly idyllic. But, when you being to zoom in and truly experience Tropico life it leaves much to be desired. Citizens are rich and in-depth from a stats point of view, but when looking at them up-close there’s little that sets them apart – the rich and broke citizens look and act very similar. Buildings can be customised and refined to improve their efficiency, but when looking at them from the ground they look like poorly rendered PS1 textures.
With the complexity and range of things included in Tropico 6, I can forgive this. There is much more here than just visuals, but it’d be nice to have had some kind of variation – especially when you’re encouraged to explore your island as El Presidente, visiting buildings and interacting with people.
Tropico 6 is a unique city-builder that manages to build upon the best features of the previous games. The humour and writing is brilliant. It has satisfying building and managing elements. But, the game is shrouded by its complexity and depth, which can lead to a confusing and overwhelming experience. It’s enjoyable, but only if you have an afternoon off to experiment and learn the mechanics of the game.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*