Tropico, the computer game released in 2000 by PopTop Software
, is the archetype
(out of five maximum) games everywhere. It was well put together and thought out and released with a minimum of bugs
by a company that can apparently handle game development
without totally dropping the ball.
That being said, there are just enough things wrong with/missing from the game to drive me absolutely batshit, and not in a "I'm very challenged by the puzzles in this game" way. Rather, if my mind could talk, it would say "I'm very challenged by how to make this game do what I think I have to do to solve this game's puzzles." This three-star-quality game has basically placed me one frustrating step away from resolving it, by (unintentionally) making it difficult to begin the steps necessary to really feel like I'm playing a game. Tropico makes me feel like I'm playing the game of trying to figure out how to play Tropico instead of playing the game Tropico itself.
Tropico is a direct descendent of SimCity without actually ripping it off. The self-described "Caribbean Simulation" gives you the job of being the dictator of a very small island nation; you are responsible for developing its economy/community/etc over a period of fifty years. Every 5-9 years, the citizens call for an election. Elections can be fixed in your favor, but at the cost of respect from your citizens.
The game operates at a smaller level than SimCity. You start with 50 citizens and can see each simulated individual's desires, thoughts and happiness and even follow them around as they work and eat and do all the things a Sim does.
I won't go into detail about how the game works, as other write-ups describe it well. Instead, listen to my concerns:
Tropico, while developed well from its initial design, is incredibly frustrating at least in part because of its smallness. You feel the desire and may just have to (I'm not sure) micromanage everything short of actually being able to tell people where to go--you can't do that, though at times you wish you could.
The game is a complex simulation, but it's not intuitive. You spend every year of the simulation wondering things like "Why did I lose money this year and not the other three?" or "Why do teamsters never bring gold to my jewelry factory?" or "Why am I losing support in this election?" without any clear way of finding this out. It's too much like a real-life simulation, and at times you want to just set the speed on "very fast" because you feel like there's nothing you can do but wait.
I get the feeling in my head playing it that the solutions to the problems my island is having might be obvious, but I can never figure things out. I direct something to be built, and give it high priority, yet sometimes it's not built for 10 years. I wonder if tourists have stopped arriving at my island because I did something wrong or because of the programming bug that left three cruise ships stuck in the bay. I see chaos-theory-like results radiating out of my meaningless-as-the-proverbial-weather-changing-butterfly actions. Are my clicks really having any effect? I can't tell!
Tropico is graphically pleasing--you can zoom in very close to see the nicely-rendered citizens and buildings--and three stars worth of fun, at least for a time. But it falls into a trap Maxis, the more experienced simgame company, has learned to avoid through practice--how to make the user actually feel like he's doing anything.
This is of course most frustrating when actions that cause the game to end--military coups or an election stacked against you--occur and you seem powerless to stop them. All your work--if your work really did anything, you're not sure, and if not, at least the time you devoted--is about to be brought to end, and you want to prevent it, at least until you can figure out how to make your actions have any effect, but it's futile and hopeless and it all slips through your fingers, and basically this game was a nice try but I would like my thirty dollars back, please.