If you’re the type of person who feels totally underdressed unless your dinner jacket comes with fringed epaulets and a chest full of medals, and you hate the fact that your bedroom window still doesn’t open out to that ornate walkout balcony you’ve been asking for, well, the gamemakers at Kalypso think they might have a game for you.
Tropico 5 is a strategy sim that’s all about crafty Caribbean dictators. It’s a game that offers you the job of El Presidente, challenging you to speak loudly and carry a huge stick as you beat your little dirt-poor island into a land of power and importance over the course of decades.
And while real-world dictatorships tend to be anything but laughing matters, nobody takes much of anything seriously on the little isle of Tropico.
All Hail, El … You
You start out as the installed colonial governor of a nearly empty and barren island somewhere out in the Atlantic. The appointment comes with a snobby diplomat named Lord Oaksworth, on hand to help you deal with the Crown’s foppish demands for crops, money and underwater palaces; and a completely incompetent yes-man named Gen. Penultimo, a fellow who offers totally inane military suggestions while heading up the island’s research team.
What will your “specialists” be researching? Well, at first it’ll be things like “the sickle” and “the shovel”—items that can get your plantations and mines producing for the trade network. But as new crops and farms are developed, as money starts flowing in and the population begins to grow, then education and banking or perhaps governmental treaties and various military defenses will become more important things to learn about.
The idea is to wield your dictatorial clout and superior vision for the future in a way that will guide your hapless hordes through times of unwanted colonial oversight, World War II struggles, Cold War conflicts and then into the modern age. You build roads, homes, farms, military posts and vacation cabanas. Will your island become the tobacco producer for the world or perhaps the No. 1 vacation getaway for the rich and famous? Will you exchange phone numbers with a Teddy Roosevelt-like U.S. president or toss back vodka shots with a delegation from the U.S.S.R.? The choice is yours.
Each age brings a new set of problems and opportunities while you, the domain’s supreme muckety-muck, attempt to balance everything out. You’ll be working to keep the populace happy, manage natural disasters and political tumult, create a system of government, set up island defenses, and develop trade items the world’s superpowers just can’t do without. Oh, and as your people become more independent and demanding, you also have to make sure you’re not run out of office—either through a failed election or on top of a revolutionary’s pole, covered in tar and feathers.
‘Peace and Order’ Take a Pounding?
For all of its fun strategic challenges and goofiness, Tropico 5 definitely has a dark side. Fairly early on in the game, for instance, a slippery member of a subversive worldwide “order” invites you to pick up your special group decoder ring and join their shadowy number. In spite of all the tongue-in-cheek snark, it’s pointed out that certain citizens should be and will be eliminated to make your path to power smoother.
Not only can’t you stop these murders from happening, in the future you also have the ability to pay a little cash and send a loyalist or some of your military troops to eliminate any rebels or protestors. (Note that these gun-blasting assassinations and other in-the-street battles are barely visible in the crowd of tiny citizens.) As mentioned, election results are often corrupted in your snug little world, and illegal smuggling of funds is all but routine. There are quite a few references made to people getting drunk as well. (Not surprising since rum is one of your country’s main exports.) And a radio host/bar maid named Lulu often pipes up, inviting islanders to drink away their woes at her “fine” establishment. Of course, that’s only when she’s not making suggestive, winking jokes about her promiscuous sleep-around dating life. Indeed, the dictatorial lineage is expanded as your extended family members wind up pregnant, or get someone pregnant in one jokingly referenced indiscretion or another. Occasional uses of mild profanity (“b–tard,” “a–” and “h—“) pop up in dialogue.
That’s a glimpse of graphicness that the game tries as much as possible to mask with its eye-rolling, we’re-all-a-bunch-of-buffoons style of humor. (Think Fidel Castro meets Charlie Chaplin’s The Dictator.) Oh, and it should be mentioned that even real dictators can be offended by certain parts of Tropico 5. Thailand’s military junta government banned the sale of the game on its shores, saying the storyline “might affect peace and order in the country.”
Those are their words, not Plugged In’s, remember. We’ll point out the bad stuff in this T-rated sim as always, of course, but we’re not at all sold on the idea that Tropico 5 is out to destroy life and liberty the world over.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.