It's been a long time since I've played a Tropico game, in fact, it might be since the first game in the series. The Tropico games have always been about building up and managing an island in the caribbean, with all the tasks and risks you'd expect for the situation. The thing I remember the most from the original was the ability to name a person on the island and watch their family tree spread. Tropico 5 makes that family you, the leader of that island nation, and your dynasty is equally as important as those of your citizens that inhabit it.
Tropico 5 is broken up into a few modes of gameplay, but the core of it is still a Sim City style game. This means you can set goals for yourself, but the gist of the game is the simulation itself. Start in a colonial era Caribbean paradise and build and evolve into modern times. Along the way you'll grow crops on plantations, raise animals on ranches, mines for rare minerals, dig for oil, and build up industries around textiles, cigars, booze and tourism. For every raw material there is a job, for every job there is a person, and every person needs a place to live and stuff to keep them happy. It's your job to manage all of this.
If you're new to this style of game, there's a single player campaign that'll ease you into various tasks. As the game starts out in the colonial era, you'll be paying homage to a king back on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. It isn't until you've had a revolution that you'll be free to rule and spend your money without worrying about appeasing the crown. Each mission in single player steps you through a different era and gives you different goals to focus on. There are characters that act as advisors along the way, and you'll even run into a few famous historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt.
Graphically, Tropico 5 is fairly impressive with gorgeous vista to look at. The islands are very detailed with different terrains yielding different bonuses for the type of building created on it. For instance you'll want to plop down ranches in plains or put lumber mills near a group of trees to be chopped. The game shines to life once your island inhabitants start filling up the city you've created for them, you'll watch people mill around to their daily tasks, and even do small things like sit down at a restaurant to eat or carry groceries home.
At anytime you can click the person and see some info about them - you'll see their age, birthplace, what kind of house they live in, where they work, and how happy they are. Depending on the person (perhaps it's a person of influence) you could also kill, bribe or banish them from the island for a price. It's here where Tropico 5 sets itself apart from other simulators out there - the way its inhabitants fit into the simulation play a crucial role in success.
This is incredibly apparent in the early game where you are worried about how well you are liked and how many people will fight for you during the revolution. These soldiers and revolutionaries will fight the king's soldiers when the time comes and later on the same people might be needed to vote for you to remain in power.
Tropico 5's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness in all of these layers. Buildings have several upgrades that can be applied, and it's clear cut what they do. But sometimes a building “isn't producing” and the game does a really poor job communicating why. Hiring certain types of managers for a building might produce a better result, but it's unclear what type would produce the best without some trial and error. Managers can influence things like beauty, economics, and production rates - but how those numbers change when you install the manager isn't clear. The layers of Tropico 5's onion are many, and that's a good thing for hardcore strategy fans. But there can be a steep learning curve to be truly successful.
Tropico 5 features multiplayer modes as well, one of which is co-op play. In co-op each player can build their own respective city on an island. You can team up and form trade routes between players, share resources, finances, or even workers to help complete buildings faster. For the most part you'll simply be working on your city with another player that just so happens to be on the same island.
In the few rounds of co-op play we tried, gameplay didn't feel all that enhanced by having another player present. There wasn't any special projects we could both work on, I couldn't send soldiers to defend my partners in time of need, or anything like that. In fact during one game my partner failed to appease the crown really early on and I didn't even realize he had been booted out of the game.
It's along these lines that there's a huge piece missing from Tropico 5's multiplayer and co-op - the ability to save a game in progress. A later game I was playing with a friend, we had about an hour of time invested, and were just about to break out of the Colonial era. We decided to call it a night but much to our dismay there was no way to save and resume where we were sometime later. This means if you want to play and enjoy an online game with a friend you're going to have to invest several hours into the game at one time.
Tropico 5 isn't a game for everyone, but it does do enough to create its own style and differentiate itself from other sim style games out there. There's a off sense of humor present throughout the game, some of which featured some pretty questionable jokes, but for the most part you'll get a chuckle from your advisors commentary. If sim games are your thing there's lot of layers here to learn and take advantage of as you build your perfect island paradise.
The Co-Optimus review of Tropico 5 is based on the PC version of the game. A code was supplied by the publisher for evaluation purposes.