A lot of quality sim titles have popped up since the Sim City series pioneered the genre. While there are plenty of good games, very few of them do anything particularly bold or innovative. While it’s normally a bad thing to label a game a “clone”, Tropico 3 fits this bill, and still does a relatively good job of maintaining itself as a unique, enjoyable title. Unfortunately, though, the sim genre is still best left to the PC.
Tropico 3 can be best described as Sim City: Cuba. While the core of the game lies in typical city-building activities like zoning houses and allotting territory to the industrial sector, Tropico 3 adds a unique twist…you play as a Cold War-era Central American despot. When you’re not playing with tax rates or delicately arranging your streets, you’re maintaining an army to stop coups, juggling relations with the United States and Soviet Union and dealing with non-stop assassination attempts. While these are always a factor, the core of the game still lies in the entertaining tedium of city-building of constructing houses, giving citizens a place to work and just generally lording over your territory.
While I still enjoy taking a largely-empty plot of land and turning it into a thriving metropolis, there is still a pretty good gap between Tropico 3 and a deep, accessible sim game on a console. Tropico 3 on the PC was held in high esteem here on MyGamer. It got a score of 9.6 in our review, and netted an Honorable Mention in the Best Sim category in our Game of the Year 2009 article. The thing is that the 360 version of Tropico 3 has an absolutely brutal menu system…which I’m not sure can be remedied in any way. Picking out a building can take eight button presses, and placing it can be equally difficult. Hunting through menus for other things like ordinances and declarations can be equally tough. Even the most basic actions require way too much flipping and toggling. While the game still retains all the content found in the PC version, a deceptively steep learning curve develops just from the trouble you will have finding things. It’s easily surmountable, but it’s a hassle you will never stop noticing.
Much of your time in the console version will be spent playing the Campaign Mode, which takes the regular gameplay and either tasks you with completing specific objectives or defies you to stay in power in spite of a plethora of strange hurdles. Examples include exporting a certain amount of fruit, converting a monarchy to a democracy and saving your country from a crazed voodoo shaman. The Campaign doesn’t really do much in terms of wildly altering the gameplay, but the various trials you’ll have to go through keep things interesting. There is also a “sandbox” mode where you can just freely build a tiny nation, but the single-player mode is more closely tied, I think, to the Campaign Mode.
The graphics are fairly impressive in Tropico 3. Environments are lush and well-crafted, and the locales can be zoomed in and out freely. Zooming all the way in allows you to literally see each individual citizen of your nation go about their daily business, and you can watch them enter and exit the detailed buildings as they work, eat and sleep. The sound is limited to non-stop salsa music (which is fitting, but still mildly annoying as the game goes on) and some well-done fake radio broadcasts that update you on things like your diplomatic relations and the developing needs of your citizens.
While Tropico 3 on the Xbox 360 is enjoyable, there’s no reason to get it on the console if you have a PC capable of running it. The game is still an entertaining experience, but the controls are plain-and-simple better on the mouse and keyboard. Granted, there is plenty of fun to be had on the 360, but this is hamburger when you could have steak. Check out Tropico 3 on the PC. Get it on the 360 as a still-somewhat-attractive last resort.