City builders have evolved over the years, giving the player extensive freedom through in-game mechanics, as well as a large amount of customization. Designing a city had become too mainstream, with SimCity and Cities Skylines becoming the main titles of the generation. But what happens when you are put in command of not a city, but your very own nation – that too an island nation, isolated from the outside world, far away from any external disturbances? Yep, that defines the Tropico series, and Tropico 5’s added gameplay mechanic of “progression of time” adds a shred of realism to an otherwise fictional game with fictional characters (of course, any resemblance to any character, living or dead, is purely coincidental!)
In the game, the ‘era’ system plays a big role in the freedom allotted to the player as well as the citizens in the game. You start off not as the dictatorial Presidente of the island, but rather as a colonial governor sent by the Crown (representing the colonial powers in Europe) to rule on the island. You have a fixed time for ruling, called a ‘mandate’, after which another new governor will be sent to the island,and you will be routed up and sent back home. Your job is to instigate the native folk of the island, as well as the many arriving from other colonies of the Crown to work on the island, to rebel against the Crown. Once you have enough popular support, you can either pay the gold price by buying out your freedom with debt, or pay the iron price by fighting off the Crown’s troops with your own.
Later, you progress through the World War and Cold War eras, dealing with the people’s demands, being a democratically elected leader or a despotic ruler. The War in the main continent demands your attention, and both of this eras have a pretty pathetic ending – research a number of scientific technologies, build up your army, then side with either the Allies, or the Axis powers and later either the US or the USSR, and survive the attack by the other. As soon as you declare for one side, the other side will stage an invasion of Tropico, and the side you have declared for will help fend the invaders off. The final stage lies in the Modern era, which can be accessed by either the Nuclear Program, or the Space Program – leading to an age of peace and prosperity.
Time plays an extremely important role through in Tropico 5. Scientific progression, the freedom allotted to the player in the choice of construction of buildings – everything is determined by the era you are in. Tropico 5 also employs a special device in the hands of the Presidente and his dynasty (because how can he be a Presidente, the ruler everyone needs and deserves, without having any superpowers or super gadgets?) which allows him to control time itself. Slow down time to issue more commands to individuals, or to buildings, or speed time up to stop waiting for the crops to be harvested and the minerals to be mined to be sent off the island to other nations, or to witness the instant completion of the construction of new buildings. Time is a central part of the main story itself (SPOILER ALERT!) when the Presidente becomes his own enemy in order to stop the destruction of the world at the hand of the Order. He has a time machine, but he can only speed up, or slow down the flow of time, never go back in time to change the timeline itself (That’s basically what loading a save file from a previous checkpoint is, but I’m assuming El Presidente doesn’t know that)
Time Plays an extremely important role in the game – the mechanics as well as the story itself is influenced by time and its progression.
One of the most important changes to the Tropico franchise in Tropico 5 was the ‘era’system, which radically changed the average player’s approach to Tropico. Every era is unique in its own, visible through the citizens and the buildings. Colonial era has nothing but farms, ranches, mines and logging camps to make money from, which was the main objective of colonialism – to import raw materials from colonies and dump finished products back in them. The War era, from the Great Wars down to the Cold War sees struggle in terms of freedom, as well as in terms of resources. The modern era sees new challenges, like pollution, changing revenue models from primarily export based economy to a mixture of export based and tourism based economy. Maybe it’s the only thing that’s realistic in a game that’s based on absurdity – but when it’s well implemented, you can’t help but admire it. And if you don’t like it, well, a signed order from El Presidente to shoot you always works.
The story’s idea of ‘Doomsday’, and how the Presidente goes back in time in a time machine invented by Abraham Zweistein (absolutely not Albert Einstein) and the portrayal of a timeline paradox is one of the most comical, yet brilliantly implemented ideas known before in the history of Tropico. A combination of absurdity and hilarity – that accurately describes the feature. The outcome of a nuclear war, as described by the primary antagonist Leon Kane, will be the ‘rebirth of a new Earth’ – a concept that led to the UN intervention and subsequent end of the Cold War in late 1990s after the fall of the USSR. Sending a message through humorous overtones was always a strong point of Tropico, and Tropico 5 doesn’t fail in that manner either.
Maybe it’s time to go back in time, board a steamer bound for a lonely island in the Pacific Ocean, and start building up a dynasty that rules over it until the end of time itself.