There’s a genre seriously lacking in the Xbox 360’s software catalogue and that’s naked alligator mud wresting. I’m joking of course – it’s topless glamour model stairlift racing. But seriously, it’s the simulation genre, with the little-known A Train HX and Civilization Revolution being the best of a small bunch. We can now add Tropico 3 – the first console version in a series of previously PC-only sims – to that list too. I think publishers Kalypso should have dropped the ‘3’ at the end though – it might alienate people, which would be a bad thing considering this is jolly good stuff.
Instead of seeing “Press Any Button to Play” on the title screen you’re presented with the words “Press Any Button to Rule” which sums up the idea behind Tropico 3 perfectly. This is your chance to become an El Presidente of a chain of “banana republic” islands and it’s your choice as to how you rule them. You can be a tyrant, forcing your people to live in shacks and work in farms and then sit back and reap in the cash or turn the island into a tourist resort with hotels, sandy beaches and tacky gift shops. There are different factions to keep happy and also the chance to form relations with the US and the USSR. Doing so opens up more options, like being able to let the Russians test nuclear missiles on your shores in return for a hefty cash injection into your Swiss bank account.
After a slightly lacking tutorial you’re then given the chance make your own Presidente. What’s interesting about this is that you have to choose two good and two bad personality traits, thus giving your chap both bonuses and hindrances. There’s a vivid sense of humour throughout – if you choose a leader with tourettes syndrome then you get an extra $1000 a year from your Pay Per View speeches. There are also lots of jokes about llamas. Tributes to Sim City, perhaps?
Regardless if you’re playing through a campaign – each of which have different objectives and can take hours to finish – or just messing around in the sandbox mode the first twenty minutes or so should wisely be spent building churches, clinics, farms, schools and apartment blocks to keep the masses happy. If you anger too many civilians they’ll become rebels and live in the woods, occasionally blowing up your buildings and causing trouble. To get people back on your side you can lower rent and taxes, perform speeches at the palace, increase wages and build more entertainment facilities. It’s a demanding game always requiring attention but that’s what can glue you to the joypad, making hours seem like minutes. The only real faults are the steep learning curve and the lack of an auto save feature.
And obviously it goes without saying that this isn’t a game for everybody but those that take up the leadership challenge should find themselves enjoying this for a long time, much like a fine Cuban cigar.