Tropico 5 is a delightful dictatorship simulator

The dictatorship sim Tropico 5 was another PS Plus offering, and one of my favourites so far.

I used to be obsessed with The Sims. Absolutely obsessed. I pored over every little detail of those guys’ lives – and I know that’s the whole point, but really.

And like Chuck Klosterman in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, I sometimes thought about how easy it was to be pure evil to these Sims, if you really fancied it. The ability to choose your own moral alignment was a relatively new feature in games back at the turn of the millennium, with limited work previously done by the likes of the Ultima games in exploring how the decisions you make can alter your path.

Making the tough choices is one of the biggest challenges you face in simulation games, which is why I really enjoyed playing Tropico 5.

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Humble beginnings

Your job is to build a dynasty of rulers on your very own tropical paradise. Starting off in the Colonial Era, you’re tasked with constructing the various facilities, residences and industrial buildings on each island, while improving citizens’ happiness and quality of life. On top of that it’s your responsibility to negotiate trade agreements with other nations, and best your political rivals through canny use of your natural resources.

Aside from the Tutorial there are three game types to play: the Campaign game is a full single-player narrative involving international intrigue, considerable strategy and all-out war. As you move through the different eras from Colonial times to the Modern Age you must suck up to the right people and prove your prowess as a fearless island ruler.

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The Mission (and I assume there was more than one available on the online store but hey ho) is a fun contained story involving the vital production of cheese, and your quest to defy the Crown in becoming the worldwide leader of said cheese production.

The Sandbox is the real test – and where it most closely resembles its forebears; Sim City, The Sims, Sim Hospital…anything with Sim in it basically. And just like these games, the tongue-in-cheek humour is one of Tropico 5’s most appealing features.

Making difficult decisions

But when you’re faced with some of the tough choices, that’s where things really get interesting. You can alternately piss off the Allies and the Axis; the USSR and the USA, even as far back as choosing what’s best for your citizens who are fiercely loyal to the King, or to the Revolutionary cause. When the King’s representative asks you on a whim to ship him all the milk you have available, rather than make it available for islanders, do you cut them off or risk the wrath of the Crown?

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There’s always a workaround for these things, but as your island grows more sophisticated the logistical and strategic solutions can be costlier, more inconvenient or simply a massive pain to try and organise. That’s where the real challenge lies, and aside from the odd arbitrary blip the makers of Tropico 5 have managed to strike a pretty good balance in most aspects of the game.

Before this instalment I wasn’t even aware of the series, but thanks to the PS Plus scheme (which has boosted the popularity of many a title), I’ve found what could be my new favourite strategy game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out how to start a revolution.

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