Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be Kim Jong-un, a real-life James Bond villain? Or maybe, like Donald Trump, you wish to find out if obtuse statements prevent one from sleeping well at night? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to ride on the back of a ferocious bear across the harsh Russian wilderness, much like Vladimir Putin? In that case, welcome to Tropico 6, where you too can mischievously hold the pinkie to your mouth, and become the subject of ridicule or a popular internet meme.
But before you threaten the world with nuclear missiles or wrestle bears in the forest as El Presidente, you have to start small. Very small. In fact, it might mean building a simple plantation to grow sugar for a meagre profit. And even that’s not as straightforward as it may seem. There’s a lot to consider when choosing the location to build one, such as whether the soil is good enough for producing your chosen resource. Thankfully, all of it’s explained by convenient overlays which display the suitability of any particular area.
Moving on, you must also decide on what to do with the new resource: employ it to benefit your own nation or export for profit? For instance, by building a distillery you could convert sugar into rum and then transport it to the local tavern. But locals are unlikely to pay top dollar for booze unless you increase the minimum wage. So instead you could build a port and then export it to another country at an often inflated price.
As you can see, on the surface Tropico 6 is very much like your typical city construction and management simulator. Without knowing any better, one could easily mistake it for yet another Civilization or SimCity. In a similar fashion, Tropico lets you build a city almost from scratch, but places a much bigger emphasis on the political aspects. It’s not just about building the city; it’s about establishing and maintaining a profitable infrastructure.
And it doesn’t end at building the plantation and profiting from the resources. It’s also up to you to ensure the efficacy of each harvest and that workers aren’t stealing any of the product for themselves. Constructing roads, establishing logistics and making sure there are enough delivery trucks available is all on your daily agenda.
From constructing a simple tavern or maybe a residential building, library or an opera house, everything requires your attention. After a long day of hard work, entertainment buildings provide the nearby community with a place to relax. But building an expensive opera house in a poor neighbourhood might not be the best idea. Beyond that, you must prioritise buildings which determine the wellbeing of your whole nation.
Building a hospital and hiring intelligent doctors leads to better healthcare. But before that you probably need to build more high schools to educate them into something more competent than those found in the local health service. Conducting additional research into medical or any other field further improves the facilities.
Whatever you do or build leads to consequences and the approval of certain factions, such as Capitalists, Communists, Militarists and the ever-present religious fanatics. Siding with one faction inevitably leads to the disapproval of another. For instance, in addition to restricting the liberty of your citizens, building a watchtower will please the Militarists. On the other hand, the religious faction would rather see you erect a church.
Capitalists will favour any decision that increases profit, while Communists, as expected, want nothing but equality for all. That implies, but is not limited to, free housing, free food and free transportation. There’re many other factions and many other opinions to consider. And whose philosophy you side with generally determines the development of your island and also provides various gameplay boosts.
But before you get comfortable in that golden throne of yours, here comes the moment that every politician dreads – the election. Before this event occurs, you must brush up on your charisma as every narcissistic politician would do. And afterwards, prepare to make a speech of empty promises about improving healthcare and education.
However, unlike in real life where you might actually get away with it, Tropico 6 punishes you for not realising promises. This might be as straightforward as losing the trust of the people or risking a conflict with the revolutionaries. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the prosperity of your state while giving the people just enough to scrape by.
Upon being re-elected, you remain in power for another four years and may even rewrite the constitution. In effect, you can decide whether or not to meet the demands of the people. Decide whether underclass citizens get to vote at all, whether to allow same-sex marriage and whether or not your island will prioritise sustainable energy. Giving people more freedom takes away control from you and Tropico 6 strikes a fine balance between the two. It’s often inevitable to learn not to agonize over some of these decisions. But certain legislation allows you to control the freedom of speech and the media itself.
As the decades pass you gain access to new buildings and technology. But my favourite feature by far is the ability to obtain World Wonders. Building a Pirate Cove allows you to send a crew of pirates – led by your loyal vassal Penultimo – and steal a landmark from another nation. Aside from improving the scenery, landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and Stonehenge provide various boosts to your island. And nothing prevents you from collecting all of them and spreading them across the island.
There’s a fairly engaging story mode which gives you an insight into the origins of El Presidente. Supplemented by humorous dialogue, it also establishes the ruler/slave relationship between him and the unassuming Penultimo. But other than that it’s more of an in-depth tutorial which shows you around various features. Some of the tasks in it get repetitive, quite literally, as you’ll often do the same thing over and over again. As such, it’s highly likely that you’ll spend most of your time in the sandbox mode or multiplayer.
Tropico 6 on Xbox One is a tasteful satire on the inner workings of politics. But it’s also a satisfying simulator of building and organising your very own nation. It’s a fun and challenging process of gradually erecting a complex infrastructure and then seeing everything function like clockwork. And of course, it’s also all about the contents of that Swiss bank account.