The problem I've got with most sim-type games is that they're as straight as William Hague in his Young Conservative days. In the past few months, I've watched people struggling to enjoy Traffic Giant (sort out your local fag-end town's transport system) and Airport Inc (run a successful airport).
Snooze. What happened to causing a bit of mischief? Salvation could be close at hand. At the recent ECTS show, I was impressed by a relatively unknown title called Tropica, which is being built around a modified version of the Railroad Tycoon II engine. Styled as a SimCity in South America, it enables you to rule over your own tropical island in the way that you see fit.
Sadly, our favourite staples of the Banana Republic, namely growing huge swathes of poppies or dense furlongs of marijuana fields aren't going to feature in the game. For some reason the developers thought the mass market might shun such deviant behaviour. Huh? And terrorism per se isn't going to play a major part. PopTop says it might happen as an in-game event, but not as an organisational activity. Shame.
Still, as a dictator you should be able to find enough anti-social constraints to occupy your stay in paradise. One of our favourites is the capacity to declare free elections, lose and then refuse to leave power low the generals laughed...
The key to success is how the locals (let's call them Tropicans) view you. You can't interact with them directly, but the way you mould the island affects your population and its stability. Build a hospital and a doctor will arrive, and so on. Run your island into the ground and you'd better be on good terms with the army. Of course you don't have to be a bad man. If you want you can try to steer your colony away from the stigma of poverty, and into a new reign of collective prosperity. The choice, as they say, is yours - and if you want an island that's bursting at the seams, this might be the only way to go. Happy Tropicans make more babies, although you could also try imposing a contraception ban by cosying up to the church.
Mainly an open-play game (ie you rule until you're kicked out of office), you can also set the game to end under certain winning/losing conditions. If you start growing your moustache now it should be ready by the time the game ships, in March next year.
Those gadget catalogues that fall out of periodicals at the most inopportune moments are either goldmines or graveyards (depending on your point of view) of fantastic ideas given flesh. Or at least premoulded plastic and a nifty marketing catch phrase. However, while the ideas look terrific on paper, and the products look great, you usually find that the Everlasting Light Bulb blows after a few weeks, and the Radio Controlled Clock turns out to be just a clock. No remote control, no stunt flying.
Tropico also looks fantastic on paper. The premise behind the game is simple and to the point. You have risen to power on a tropical island in the Caribbean and you have to transform your Third World island, consisting of a few shacks and some farms, into a thriving powerhouse of an economy. In this respect, there is more than an uncanny similarity to SimCity, where you have to provide housing for your virtual masses, and cater to their day-to-day demands. Churches, housing, education and basic healthcare are the most pressing requirements, so it's a click-and-build test to create your very own paradise-on-sea.
However, things aren't quite so easy. As in the real world, everything costs. In large amounts. And schools don't really make much in the way of money (despite Government attempts over recent years). You have to fund all these building works, and so to this end, you need to start creating either a nice sideline in tourism or some export industries. As your starting funds tend to be just slightly shy of broke, you have to exploit the basic resources that are at your disposal. Farms can be converted to produce things such as coffee, bananas, sugar and the like. And that tropical jungle is ripe for some serious slash-and-burn timber removal. All of which can be sold to a demanding Western world. However, devastating your forests will turn your island from paradise lost to Runcorn found. Not something that will have the tourists flocking in.
Once you start to get some kind of income trickling in, you can develop some factories and industries. Not only will the bank balance grow, but you'll keep more of your island's inhabitants employed. And this is important because your population are not just worker drones there to do your bidding but have individual thoughts, feelings, needs and most importantly, political leanings.
You see, despite being an el presidente-style dictator, you still have to get re-elected every ten years. And, although you can always rig the electoral ballot (well if they can do it in the US, they can do it anywhere), this only pushes the vote up 20 per cent your way, so if you're as popular as a randy dog in a Miss Lovely Legs contest, all the bribery in the world isn't going to get you another term. Just to complicate matters more (and quite true to life) some of the various political views are polar opposites.
Communists, capitalists, environmentalists, militarists (we're guessing fascists wouldn't have gone down well in Germany), religious fanatics - every political faction you can think of is represented on the island, and they've all got their own agenda. Some will want bigger factories, others will want to preserve the rainforest. And if one group gets too pissed off, they run to the hills (for a while) then come back to your tropical town. With guns. Lots of guns. Cue one civil war, and bad news for your election manifesto.
As if all this wasn't enough to keep tabs on, you have both the two superpowers breathing down your neck (and supporting any insurgents if they take a real dislike to you). Uncle Sam and the glorious Soviet Republic both take more than a passing interest in your affairs (although you can turn this to your advantage, as the occasional donation can come in very handy). And we haven't even mentioned tourists yet, who trickle then flock to your island (providing you create a few hotels and some dodgy nightclubs). Yet more loot for the treasury coffers. At least most of it. Naturally, being a slightly corrupt dictator, you might want to cream off the occasional dollar for a rainy day, if your bank account in Switzerland is looking a little barren.
So what's the problem? This has all the makings of a fantastic game... Well, just like the Radio Controlled Clock, what looks great on paper is a disappointment in reality. And the crux of the issue is the technology used to create the game. The developer, PopTop Software, shot to fame in 1999 with the utterly fantastic Railroad Tycoon 2. A tile-based, four-view isometric game in which the aim was to create a thriving country by linking up various industrial centres with the local population. Three years on, and Tropico bears more than just a passing resemblance to its erstwhile big brother. Four-view isometric, tile-based and frankly when compared to games released in 2001, looking very old and tired.
And the troubles don't end there. While the buildings have been drawn to an intricate level, basic things such as being able to plane rectangular buildings at a 90-degree angle have been left out, so any attempt to create a city of dreams ends up being the town of nightmares (just like Runcorn). While every person on the island has their own thoughts, this is largely superfluous as you run the island on a macro, not micro scale.
Tropico is a disappointment, as so much more could have been done. And while the game will appeal to a small core of gamers who still hanker after Railroad Tycoon, everyone else will be left feeling just a little bit bored, and very ripped off by the unwarranted Pound-34.99 price tag. Great inventions change the world. Mediocre or useless ones end up in a catalogue. No prizes for guessing where Tropico is headed.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode