Guest Author - James Shea
A city-sim of sorts where you run your own island republic, "Tropico 4" unfortunately takes far too much from its predecessor and ends up feeling more like an expansion than a new game.
Tropico is a city-building sim series; what sets it apart from games like Sim City is the fact that the cities in question are built on volatile Caribbean islands, complete with revolutions and political entanglements. Tropico 4 continues that trend, but its most obvious problem is that a huge amount of its content is recycled from Tropico 3 - not just core gameplay concepts, but the majority of its design and graphic elements. There are a few things that the game adds, but not quite enough to justify its release as a whole separate game.
In general, Tropico centers around two things: keeping the economy running, and keeping people happy. In those regards Tropico 4 is pretty much the same as Tropico 3, with most of the same buildings and facilities. There's a few new token structures, such as a ministry building where skilled professionals can help mitigate costs and improve productivity, or various entertainment buildings like shopping malls and art museums. However, for the most part, none of these new buildings really add any new gameplay - they just sort of add more to the existing systems.
One new part of the game is the increased foreign relations system. In Tropico 3, foreign relations were with either the USA or the USSR, and determined foreign aid money and/or the likelihood of an invasion. In Tropico 4, three new entities have been added to the mix (the EU, China, and the Middle East), and the five political groups also determine import and export prices. Each nation is tied to certain goods, so if you're producing or importing a lot of goods of a certain type, it helps to keep the appropriate nation happy.
Another new feature is small side-missions. These are generally offered by the island's various political factions, or in some cases outside factions, and generally offer improved faction relations in exchange for completing a task. The communist faction might ask you to build more houses, the intellectual faction might ask you to build a high school, a foreign nation might ask you to export some types of goods, and so on. These offer some short-term goals to shoot for as you play the game without significantly distracting from the main gameplay.
The graphics are one of the most questionable new elements of the game; a new cartoonish graphical filter has been overlayed on otherwise-serious Tropico 3 graphics, creating a kind of weird, out-of-place look. I wouldn't mind a cartoony look if the whole game had been done like that, but introducing a new aesthetic (and a new interface) is kind of weird when it's not taken all the way. So much stuff is recycled from Tropico 3 in terms of graphics that it's strange they didn't just make it an expansion.
However, the game itself is fairly solid (again, mostly because it copied from Tropico 3). If viewed on its own merits, Tropico 4 is a great game; if viewed as an expansion, there's not much point to it. If you don't own T3, then T4 is a fine product since it has everything T3 has and more. If you own Tropico 3, there's no way Tropico 4 is worth the full cost of upgrading.
With that in mind, I give Tropico 4 a 7/10.
Buy Tropico 4 from Amazon.com