As the dictator of a Banana Republic in the middle of the Cold War, Tropico 3 allows you, El Presidente, the freedom to decide whether you will rule your people with an iron fist – picking off your political enemies when they become a nuisance, embezzling public money and influencing election results, or whether you’ll appease your people, giving them fair votes and decent wages and living conditions. At its core, Tropico 3 is a city building strategy game so you will need to ensure that citizens’ basic needs and wants are met in order to avoid rebellion or a coup.
Providing enough food and jobs for your people is paramount, but you must simultaneously ensure that you’re able to export sufficient goods to keep the cash flowing in order to avoid going into debt and angering the superpowers. You’ll start the game with some farms and low level housing around your luxurious palace, and you must make sure you expand on this as your population grows to avoid starvation and slums developing. It’s also important to enable your population to move around the island quickly by providing roads and garages where they can hire cars. Your population will want to live near their place of work so if you don’t have a convenient way for them to move around, or don’t provide any housing close enough, they’ll shack up in a shanty, which will not please them or anybody else that sees it!
From religion and healthcare to housing standards and job satisfaction, you must cater for your peoples’ every desire. They’ll also demand that you keep them entertained, but be careful as those entertainment buildings create pollution which is sure to upset the environmentalists! You’ll need to manage your workforce, ensuring that there are plenty of jobs but also making sure that you have enough citizens of the appropriate education levels to work in all of the various industries. It’s important to educate your people, but you must also ensure there are still enough uneducated people who are willing to work for a lower wage doing the manual grafting which is so integral to your island’s success. It is possible to track the happiness and loyalty of the various groups and indeed individual Tropicans via the handy almanac tool. This allows you to see the problems on your Island as well as the areas that don’t need immediate improvement which can is a great help when deciding what to build next or what edicts to pass.
So the political element of Tropico is just as important as the city building and infrastructure itself. To be successful, El Presidente must maintain the respect of all the groups and factions within the island. As well as these domestic pressures, you must also maintain good relations with both the US and USSR as neither of them will hesitate to invade your island paradise should you get on their bad side! Understanding why a particular group is annoyed with you is just as important as whether or not your furniture factory has enough lumber being produced by the mill to keep it running efficiently. El Presidente must also balance immigration policy decisions in order to keep the island’s population growing without isolating the nationalists. You can decide to turn your island into a hub of industry, or a tourism mecca. You also have the ability to control policy by passing edicts. If you have too many singles taking up space in your tenemants, pass an edict allowing for same sex marriages and many of those singles will set up home together, freeing up space for others! Struggling to attract tourists? Must be time for Mardi Gras! Just make sure your police force is sufficient because all those drunken louts are bound to cause trouble in paradise.
El Presidente himself has a customisable avatar and if you don’t want to go with one of the predefined Dictators, you’ll need to pick two qualities and two flaws. It is worth bearing the mission objective in mind when picking these traits because they can greatly aid or impede your chances of success. If you typically try to play with a one-fits-all type of character you may struggle on some of the missions. His presence within the game is also very important as he will give a production bonus when visiting workplaces. Your people don’t want to look like slackers in front of El Presidente! It’s also possible for him to boost the respect levels of nearby Tropicans by giving a speech from the palace.
The tutorial campaign in Tropico 3 is unfortunately one of its weak spots. It focusses mainly on controls such as map rotation and building placement rather than giving you a real understanding of the game mechanics. However the campaign missions do feature hints and tips which do give you some additional guidance. I was definitely underwhelmed by the tutorial and needed to play the beginning of a mission several times before getting a real grasp of the game which is quite a substantial negative. In terms of the rest of the content, Tropico 3 provides campaign missions each with varying objectives to ensure you experience all styles of gameplay to be successful. The campaigns feature seemingly events which will come together as you play throughout the rest of the mission. For example, in one you are running a couple of oil wells on your island. Eventually the US offers to buy out the wells, and your decision will have significant impact on the loyalty rating of the Nationalist faction. It will turn out to be a more significant event than originally anticipated a couple of years later however, when the oil wells run dry! If you sold out, how will the US react to their expensive investment drying up? These story lines add some interest to the campaigns, and it’s fun to watch how your earlier decisions unfold as the campaign develops.
As well as the campaigns, there is a challenge mode which gives you a certain target to achieve within a specified time frame, which definitely adds replay value to Tropico 3. You might have to mine a certain amount of resources, or attract a specific number of tourists to your island. You can even make your own challenges and upload them to share with other players. Challenges are a great way of dipping into the game for a new experience as there are so many to choose from. You can specify how frequently random events occur, so if you’re getting bored with things running too smoothly, Challenge mode is a good way to keep things interesting! You can also play in sandbox mode, which gives you more freedom to play as you wish. The random map generator is a nice feature although the maps produced by this can be a bit hit or miss. At times the AI places the essential dock on an unreachable part of the island, rendering the map unplayable, so a bit of trial and error is needed.
Graphically, Tropico 3 is perhaps a little rough but it doesn’t detract from the gameplay and zooming in close to your people gives a high level of detail. It’s very enjoyable to watch your people milling around and performing their daily duties, however it’s not very practical to actually play on anything other than high speed. I often felt that I could actually have done with a notch or two faster than the maximum speed. The soundtrack is presented in the form of a radio show Tropico News Today, with an amusing satirical commentary from the presenter, Juanito. The music itself is very catchy and fits the game really well, adding to the atmosphere.
Overall the game is very enjoyable and I love it for the fact that it’s very easy to dip in an out of it, playing the odd mission here and there. The balance of city building and politics provides a different set of challenges every game and keeps it interesting enough to replay quite regularly. For fans of building and strategy games, Tropico 3 is a most enjoyable game!