Tropico 6 Hands-On Preview – A Benevolent Dictator
Around a month and a half ago, I gave you my hands-off impressions of Tropico 6 from when I saw it at Gamescom. I was pretty enthusiastic about the game, or at least I was certainly looking forward to it. Recently I've had the chance to jump into the closed beta of Tropico 6, building up my banana republic on two of the fifteen levels.
Under new developers Limbic Entertainment (Might & Magic Heroes VI & VII), Tropico doesn't feel like it's a huge change from previous entries. This doesn't mean there are no changes. Some core elements have been altered and new features added in. Does it do enough for the new entry and the first by Limbic, having taken over from Tropico 3, 4 & 5 developers Haemimont Games? Let's find out.
I suppose calling it a banana republic is a misnomer. I imagine some levels will be like that, but in the two missions I've played, as well as the two sandbox exclusive maps made available, I've found myself with a wealth of options and resources at my disposal. Plantations can grow up to nine different crops - including bananas. You can build a ranch to farm up to six types of animals, my personal favourite being Crocodiles, mostly because I imagine a farm full of Steve Irwin's, wrestling with the crocs.
The game is full of resources to take advantage of, letting you build up your city. If not crops and animals, natural resources like coal, iron, oil and uranium to name a few. All of these can be exported, or imported if the land you've settled on doesn't have what you need. Import and export is an essential utility as well, completing trade routes to improve your relations with other factions - these factions do change, depending on the era you are currently in. The major use for the resources is to create a cycle of prosperity and development for your land.
Coal and Uranium can be used to fuel power and nuclear plants respectively. Of course, Uranium can also be used to create a bomb, increasing the power of your island nation. This power and the defence of your land can also be improved through other structures like forts, garrisons, barracks and other military buildings. Some of the military buildings also allow you to instigate raids on other areas, stealing resources, people and even wonders of the world like the Statue of Liberty.
There are a host of options to be found with a majority of buildings, primarily because a large number of buildings have been given different modes for you to set them as. Nothing exemplifies this more than plantations and ranches. Both now have options that allow them to lower productivity, by up to as much as 60%, but ensure the land below them loses no fertility. Previous titles would be monstrous to continue with late on as the lowering land-fertility would effectively cripple your production.
Of course, this lowering of productivity can harm you if you don't have enough production buildings. That's one area where the raids come in. Short on Corn or gold? Just go steal some. Maybe you want a centrepiece for your thriving archipelago, go steal the Taj Mahal which can increase your wealth dramatically, as every Tropican that dies automatically bequeath their wealth to the state - with no ill effects! All of the wonders have a unique benefit, also with the benefit of increasing the tourism of your grand state.
Much like any city building game, you're going to need a good balance of everything. From money, generated through various means, to the resources required to keep your people happy and win elections or keep the rebels at way. Of course a good management of people themselves to work in your farms, ports and tourist destinations. Of course being Tropico, you also want to keep a track of El Presidente and his personal Swiss bank account, because what leader doesn't have a private Swiss bank account full of ill-gotten gains?
Actually, the narrative I've found myself in is that of a benevolent leader - something I always seem to drift to unless I actively choose not to. It doesn't matter what game it is, from Tropico 6 to Fable 3, even real life, and everything in between, I always aim for the greater good. I'm not afraid to make the hard decision when I need to, but I prefer to look after those beneath me. Even now I can see that Tropico 6 will help drive an emergent narrative, led by your decisions. If you're not a good leader, though you'll be getting rich as a result of that, you can spend your money to buy elections or maybe just kill, or lock up, anybody who disagrees with you. Democracy!
One thing is certain, this is far from a bug-free experience. Though that is the whole point of the beta test, it lets Limbic work out the kinks in the system, get feedback from those who've preordered the game - or such as me who are fortunate enough to get to try I out beforehand. Even now, most of the bugs feel minor compared to what could otherwise be game-breaking or game-stopping issues. Granted, there are still a few major issues that may not be bugs, but design flaws or some unintended consequence.
My major issue comes with your people - the Tropicans - who seemingly refuse to work or take up residence in one of the many available homes I put down. I have genuinely had over 70 homeless people, with around 40 of these also being unemployed. The problem is that there was more than enough housing space for these people and over double the number of job vacancies they could have slotted in. The 'broke' ones were the most infuriating because I actually put down free housing for them - there was no rent to even pay!
It's irritating to say the least and downright stupid, also making the game much harder than it needs to be. Why? Because these jobs, housing and more are part of the core means of you remaining in charge of your island paradise. At least at the start. Whether it your mandate to rule in the colonial era, which can only be extended by fulfilling trades and other missions - all of which require what you have to at least be running, not relying on people who are too stupid to sleep in a free bed and enter an open job.
Other minor bugs also persist in the game, but they're more a blemish than anything to really complain about. Examples include buildings floating off of the ground or people walking on water (maybe El Presidente gave them the power?). Also, when you demolish a plantation, the crops that the plantation had grown don't disappear. I could live with this if it was designed as a sort of persistence, but when you build over that land, the crops remain, growing through houses and other buildings.
Ultimately, the question is if I've enjoyed my time with Tropico 6 so far. Honestly, yeah. I wouldn't have spent over 20 hours with it. There is a huge caveat with that though, I have always been a fan of Tropico, city building games and their ilk - despite any issues. I even spent a large amount of time on the nigh-on irredeemable SimCity remake. Take from that statement what you will.
Limbic certainly need to smooth out issues with the AI, giving them a bit more intelligence and also wiping away some of the issues shared with the aforementioned SimCity - namely traffic. It's all well and good having a full simulation of a person, having them travel to their job, but this simulation also needs to have them think of the best route, not always the most direct.
If you like Tropico, then I would say Tropico 4 with the Modern Times expansion and Junta DLC packs is the ultimate experience. Can Tropico 6 top that? It's certainly possible. It won't be released until next year, coming to the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, so there's more than enough time to work out the kinks.