Before I reviewed this game, I had never found myself thinking “If I was President of a small island nation, how would I feel about same-sex marriage?” or “how would I go about rigging an election?” However after delving into Tropico 3 I can say that thoughts like that now distract me throughout my day. _Tropico 3_ is an engrossing and thought provoking construction and management simulator that takes you on a crash course of 20th century culture and politics. Will you construct a liberal tourist haven? An industrial epicentre built on a strict communist ideal? Or will you embezzle every penny that comes your way and let your people starve?
_Tropico 3_ throws you in at the deep end, after a tutorial that is far too brief you are let loose on various tropical islands to fulfil a wide array of objectives. The game throws at you a community with a problem, it could be depopulation or impending famine, and your goal is usually to prevent this. How you do this is up to you. Whilst this freedom is a welcome thing to any Tropico veterans, new players can (and will) be confused and intimidated.
The missions are very self contained, and is not a ‘campaign’ as such. Before each level you can create your avatar, El President. They can be male or female and entirely of your own design, or you can play as pre made leaders, popular choices being Castro, Pinochet and Guevara, you can even play as a pirate if you like. Each avatar has its own personality and creating your own is fun and useful. If the level requires you to attract ecotourism then create a charismatic environmentalist. If you need to fend off rebels then turn yourself into a hardened war-veteran. The detail of character creation is impressive and a great feature that most construction and management games lack.
When in game, much of the play time is spent constructing, expanding your town and reacting when things go wrong. Things going wrong will take up most of your time, in between the joys of placing new houses and amenities. In earlier levels and at lower difficulties, you can simply react to problems and foreign nations will provide money or free buildings. However the steep learning curve means that only a short while into the game you have to start anticipating what could go wrong before it happens. In a game that throws random events at you all the time this becomes a significant challenge.
In fact the greatest feature of this game is what makes it so difficult; everything is realistically interlinked and represented. A global market crash can cripple your economy; an outbreak of flu can prevent emigration and tourism. Terrorists can hold key structures to ransom and rebels can overthrow your regime. If you choose to play a lengthy game and develop an island over fifty years you will face all the problems of any developing nation. As I played, words from Geography at school flooded back; gentrification, overpopulation and urbanization to name but a few. All these real world problems will happen and it is up to you to find the solution.
It may seem like I am praising this game as some sort of educational tool, a historically accurate political simulator. Thankfully _Tropico 3_ isn’t that. The game balances the fun and the serious perfectly; every building and policy description usually has some joke or satire within it. Players are kept informed of in game events by the lovable Juanito, a charismatic radio presenter who reacts to your every decision with cheesy and irreverent humour. For the most part his jokes are appreciated, but they become repetitive and rely too much on llama puns. Hearing that a llama had gone on trial for eating your hat is funny the first time, but not the fourth. The music played is great however; a mix of ambient tunes and upbeat ballads that really help set the scene, some are so catchy that I started singing along.
The visuals for this game are neither heavily stylized nor hyper-realistic. They are colourful and detailed much like the first Tropico game. The emphasis is on detail, you can read signs on market stalls and graffiti on buildings, pan the camera down to street level and you explore your city as though you were on foot. It is the little features that make _Tropico 3_ beautiful to look at, the rolling oceans and the orange glow of a setting sun. Of course, if you’re playing this game properly you will be too busy making money or saving your career to notice any of these features. But they are there if you look.
It is difficult to find fault with Tropico 3. It is a game built on an excellent formula from previous games and has plenty of nice touches and polish. Aside from its difficulty and steep learning curve, Tropico 3 only has one other major flaw, a flaw entirely dependent on the people who play it. It is a game limited only by your imagination, it is up to the player how they are going to play, and playing the same way every time will suck the fun out after less than ten hours. The game provides sandbox and challenge modes for this purpose, to encourage you to experiment. If you’re looking for quick fix action and easy gameplay then Tropico 3 is not for you. If however you have a penchant for llamas or have ever wanted to rule a Banana Republic, then _Tropico 3_ is a dream come true.