It doesn’t seem right to write a single review for the whole thing, but the DLCs do make additions that can be used throughout both the original campaign and the Modern Times one as well and only one of them is compatible with the Modern Times timeline, so it’d be difficult to find a proper way to split. Still, the issue isn’t only that my perfectionism is bothered by needing to file it under this edition, which is the only potentially complete one, instead of the GOG one that I played, which is sold as the base game and a separate DLC pack that also includes Modern Times, but even more so the fact that Modern Times is pretty much a different game, not affecting the original campaign or nine of the ten DLC scenarios. If anything, it may even be said that the differences between the base Tropico 4 game and the Modern Times “expansion” are greater than those between Tropico 3 and vanilla Tropico 4.
But I have to start somewhere and the base game is the obvious place, though it’s pretty much only a slightly enhanced Tropico 3. Seeing as I already reviewed that some years ago, this doesn’t leave me with too much to say without repeating myself, but the general idea is that if you liked that game and are content with simply more Tropico, which is true in my case, you’ll probably like this one as well. And if you didn’t play Tropico 3 but find the genre and the style appealing, Tropico 4 is a good place to start. On the other hand, if you didn’t like Tropico 3 or felt that it was quite enough in itself and expect something different, you won’t find what you’re looking for here.
Quite frankly, I could simply copy the third and fourth paragraphs of my Tropico 3 review and they’d fit perfectly well here as well, though it should probably be said that, while there are still a whole slew of factors to be taken into account and some lessons to learn for those willing to notice, Tropico 4 is, if anything, even more lighthearted and over the top. Perhaps too much so at times, but overall it works well and the way in which matters are presented to you by the various characters, with texts and voices that are so outrageously stereotypical that they move past cliché and loop back to being at least passably amusing, serves to turn what would otherwise be a realistic feeling of doom and gloom into consistent fun, once again stressing that it’s just a game and its purpose is to entertain. Plus, I find Penultimo and Sunny to be much more appropriate radio hosts than Juanito and Betty.
The various elements usually work well together and are mostly intuitive, the fact that each trait now has five levels and increases by one whenever you win a scenario with it active is interesting, while the objectives are also quite varied, not allowing the player to get bored over the course of the game, and at times they may even surprise, considering the limitations that the available gameplay elements would appear to impose. While the early years of most scenarios are still too similar, there are even a few that start slightly differently, giving an impression that the developers at least considered doing something about what was one of my main complaints about Tropico 3.
Under these circumstances, the main issue of the base game are just those limitations mentioned above, scenarios quite often being interesting in spite of the available gameplay elements and not thanks to them. There’s a constant impression that scenario creators wanted more this time around and struggled to get as close to their vision as they could with the tools that were available, the result often being a somewhat awkward approximation which, while not out of place in a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, still kept making me wonder why wasn’t a little more effort put into making the changes and additions that’d have provided them with the tools they needed, especially since sometimes it’s a matter of very minor changes.
But while I’m on the topic of scenarios, I definitely missed the approach used in the original Tropico 3 campaign, where you tended to have a clear long-term primary goal to work towards and freedom to choose how to reach it and what else to do in between. In Tropico 4, the approach is similar to that used in Tropico 3: Absolute Power, though perhaps not quite as stressful. You usually still have time to breathe and can most of the time delay meeting a goal long enough to prepare for whatever’s next, but what you get are multiple goals that usually need to be met in order, with unclear consequences or at times unclear in themselves, and sometimes they’re timed as well.
Otherwise, I keep looking at my Tropico 3 review and keep thinking I could pretty much copy it here, this time when it comes to the negative aspects as well. Are the first few years of scenarios still tedious due to being pretty much the same every time? With just a few small exceptions noted above, yes they are. Are the music and radio broadcasts still very repetitive? Yes, and no matter how fitting they are you’ll still roll your eyes and sigh at some point. Do characters still get out of cars some distance away from their destination and then walk the rest of the way, do they still sometimes choose an entrance that’s not the closest to the road, and do they still insist on causing gridlocks by crowding on one road when almost empty alternate routes are available? Oh yes! Has public transportation been added? Only in Modern Times, and only one type. Can you now at least build roads with more lanes? No. Has a terrain leveling tool been added? Again, no. Are entrances more clearly marked on blueprints? Not unless they’re access roads. Can you now see exactly why a protester’s protesting? No, you still can’t.
And I still feel the need for more information and control. For example, you can fire a person, but not hire them in a certain job. Or you can’t see what the range of any building that has one is. But this is most notable when it comes to goods, where I’d want to know what’s the maximum quantity of materials a factory can store or sometimes, especially when I have a goal to track, exactly what’s ready to export in a dock instead of simply the total number of units and value. I’d also want to be able to send food to be exported instead of having all marketplaces and supermarkets fill their storage space first, or to stop exports of certain products, which only seems to work for oil products because the refineries have such a setting while no other buildings do and on the trade page you can only stop imports… Which I’d also want to be able to control better, for example in case of factories that may use multiple materials.
I’m also not keen on the concept of ministers. Having all edicts except the general ones locked until you build a ministry building and hire a minister for that particular category may make the early years of many scenarios trickier, and then once you do hire them they don’t seem to do much. Once in a while there may be a gaffe, which will have negative consequences unless you fire the minister in question, or sometimes even if you do, while on the other hand one or two bonuses may at other times be offered by a minister with sufficiently high attributes, but it’s too little and definitely too random. Plus that only being offered a maximum of three citizens to choose from for such a position, no matter how many would actually be qualified for it, definitely feels like you may at least sometimes miss out on better candidates.
Now that I got through the original campaign and the general aspects affecting the entire package, let me move on to what’s specific to Modern Times and say I quite like the concept of the timeline in itself. Having buildings become available at certain times makes sense and is something quite normal and expected for a game of this genre covering a significant period of time, so it may be said that it was lacking before, even if the game managed just fine without it. Also, while the effects and even the implementation may be a mixed bag, I’d say the concept of major international events affecting Tropico is at least a decent addition as well.
Back to the new buildings, most are useful and powerful. They’re also more expensive, larger and the later ones also require a fair amount of power, but you’ll definitely want to use many of them once you’ll see their benefits. I mean, modern housing is far better than the older kind, organic ranches produce all three types of ranch products in large quantities, solar power plants generate large amounts of clean electricity regardless of where they’re placed, metro stations finally bring public transportation into the game and solve traffic problems if placed right, car factories generate huge profits and so on.
What’s wrong is that most of those new buildings aren’t additions, but replacements. And no, I won’t take the mod somebody released to fix this issue into account, because this is about the actual game, where as soon as one of those replacement buildings becomes available, the old one can no longer be built, nor can any existing one that gets destroyed be rebuilt. Considering the larger sizes in some cases, this means you may end up being unable to have a needed building type in an area anymore.
For some, such as fish farms, organic ranches, modern housing, water treatment plants or aerodromes, it works out well in terms of gameplay, as long as you can afford the higher initial cost and the power requirements, though even then some may want islands that look a certain way and prefer the old buildings for that reason. In other cases, however, this replacement can cause problems, and I’m thinking for example of bio farms, which may produce higher yields but unless they’re in the corn mode require good conditions for three different crops in one location to be efficient, or national banks, which can’t be squeezed into as small a space as the old model and can create an odd situation when set on urban development, as each will reduce building costs by up to 28% instead of 20% but the maximum is still 60%, so you’ll have to either stick to two and only go up to 56% or still build three but end up using them very inefficiently. And, on a different note, why exactly can you only have one telecom building if it has a limited range?
Past this, the scenarios themselves are even sillier but more stressful, so both less fun and less serious. And it’s also odd to see all the new edicts in a separate category instead of being split among the existing ones, as they could definitely fit in there. Also rather odd that they don’t require ministers. But a bigger problem is perhaps that it may be hard to determine their exact effects, as for example the one time I used the fertilize edict I couldn’t really tell right away whether it did anything. Combine that with the fact that they’re expensive and in some cases clearly unethical, and it means I generally tended to stay away from them.
And there are also bugs, albeit nothing game-breaking. While this doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, I didn’t notice anything except some text issues while playing the original campaign, but odd things happened from the first Modern Times scenario, when I was given the option to directly upgrade marketplaces to supermarkets once these became available but one marketplace didn’t upgrade automatically, probably because there was no room. Didn’t crash the game, but it was strange, especially since that’s the only time you’re given the option to automatically upgrade, other replacements at most prompting an optional objective to demolish all buildings of the old type and then build a certain number of the new type. Also, I noticed right away that the work mode supposed to make fish farms generate money didn’t seem to work at all, so I didn’t try to use it anymore, though now that I looked it up I saw it should work if you set, or re-set, that mode after the building is built and has employees. And I’ll also consider it a bug that communists in Modern Times demand sanatoriums, which charge for health care that’s worse than what hospitals offer citizens for free. And there may be others as well, but I didn’t notice them, or at least don’t remember.
To finally get to the DLCs as well, I have to say they’d have made a good expansion if they’d have been released as one and they bring their additions to the entire game, unlike Modern Times. At least some of the new traits may also be useful in the campaigns, and the same goes for some of the buildings. Most likely have too specific uses to be given much consideration outside the scenario that requires them, but you will want to have cement factories pretty much anywhere, plantations on islands with good conditions for cash crops and bunkers whenever you need additional soldiers. And the added scenarios are decent enough as well.
The first big problem I have with the DLCs, however, is the very fact that they were released as individual bits of content. While less ambitious than Modern Times, they’re better implemented and therefore I’d say they’d have made the better expansion if released together as one, though it is odd that only one makes use of Modern Times. Either way, they only became worthy of being taken into account once they became available as a package and I’ll keep holding the initial release model against the developer and publisher, especially since they stuck to it for Tropico 5 as well.
There are also bugs though, including the fact that the witch doctor trait is supposed to lower the respect of the religious faction, which makes perfect sense, but instead raises it, and I’m quite sure that’s not the only such case, but it’s the one I remember now. Much worse, however, is the fact that the same Voodoo DLC brought the one game-breaking bug I stumbled into, that map offering no usable terrain high enough for wind turbines to produce anywhere near the maximum power and the best to be found, relatively speaking, being on the edge of a high lake, where you may just manage to fit a few if you’re really careful. However, depending on exactly where you place them, the water level may suddenly rise to the level of the lake, though it won’t actually display as such unless you save and then load that save, otherwise appearing that ships suddenly start flying and you can’t build anything anymore for no obvious reason, the only fix being to reload an earlier save or, lacking one, to restart. Now that’s likely a general problem with the game, but I didn’t experience it on any other map and not sure which others, if any, have spots which may trigger it.
When everything’s said and done, the complete Tropico 4 package is basically just more Tropico, but still makes for an enjoyable game, though I could have probably done without Modern Times in its current form. Like the concept of the timeline, but not the way it was implemented, and also not keen on the increased silliness and stress levels brought by that campaign. And speaking of which, the original campaign may have perhaps taken itself a little more seriously as well, the multiple references were a mixed bag, and I’d have still preferred the original Tropico 3 campaign approach, with clear long-term goals and freedom to choose how to reach them and what to do in between, but it was definitely enjoyable even so. And on top of including decent additional scenarios, the cement factories, plantations, bunkers and some of the traits added by DLCs improved the entire game, so it can easily be said that the DLCs were a good addition as well when taken as a whole. But only then.