Well over a year after releasing on Xbox 360 and Playstation 4, Tropico 5: Penultimate Edition finally comes to Xbox One, inclusive of all DLC released since the game launched. This dictatorship simulator/construction title has a lot to live up to as it makes its debut on Xbox One, and brings a campaign filled with political twists and turns, a whole new Dynasty system and a handful of extra missions and sandbox content. Welcome to Tropico, El Presidente!
You are tasked with gaining independence for your people by garnering support from your citizens. Meanwhile, you must keep the crown at bay by fulfilling their requests and navigate an increasingly complex political landscape, balancing the needs of your people against the long term benefits of helping some of the more sinister political elements. The push and pull of the many opposing forces will see you making difficult decisions and choosing sides in order to survive and thrive as your banana republic builds the resources required to stand alone. Once freed from the crown, the real game of intrigue begins as each faction tries to bend you to their whim in order to extort you for special treatment and personal gain. Whilst navigating this political minefield, you'll need to keep your population happy in order to curry their favour and create a happy and productive workforce who will efficiently work with you in order to achieve each level's end goal. Disappoint your people and they'll let you know by protesting, rebelling, or worst of all, organising an election or a military coup. At any point in the game you're only a couple of bad decisions away from having to run from your palace, tail between your legs, and handing over ownership of your island to the next unlucky dictator.
At its core, Tropico 5 is a game about resource management and city expansion. You begin with a few basic buildings and must construct plantations, ranches and mines to collect raw resources that can be worked into consumer goods or sold at the docks. There's a large technology tree which gradually grants access to new resources and industries and the new era system will see you move from the colonial era, through the world wars, cold war and finally into modern times, unlocking new objectives and political pitfalls as you go. You begin each level with a main objective, but as you play you will be asked to perform other tasks in order to please or appease the entourage of weird and wonderful characters who are trying to either join you for the greater good or use you for their own nefarious plans. You are free to play as you wish, focusing either or resources or tourism to bring in the cash, submitting to every foreign demand or standing your ground and proudly declaring that the Tropican people will not be manipulated . You may not always win the mission by going your own way, but time and experience will guide you to the best strategy for you.
Meanwhile you must also ensure that you house and feed your population, educate them so that they can work in your more refined industries and keep them healthy and entertained so they don't get bored and start having silly ideas like “let's have an uprising." It's a balancing act of keeping your finances liquid enough to deal with any emergencies (earthquakes or tsunamis can strike at any time) and building a powerful base of resource collection and refinement in order to enhance your profitability. There are detailed statistics available for everything from foreign relations to the history of each individual citizen and those who want to be especially effective leaders will be deep diving into all of these to ensure that they are on top of all of their dictatorial duties. This level of building and management needs a robust user interface and, despite the fact that there are multiple sub-menus, reports and construction screens to navigate, the UI is well designed and moves quickly, allowing the player to easily flick through multiple screens until they've played long enough for muscle memory to kick in.
Visually, Tropico 5 hasn't progressed far from the Xbox 360 version but the flexibility of the camera and the ability to zoom in on each individual citizen add a level of charm that negates the requirement for a big uplift in visual quality. The music is excellent, offering a series of bouncy island tunes that will leave you bobbing along. The many characters you'll encounter are sassy and funny and are sure to keep you interested in Tropico longer than you would be if this was a more dry title. In fact, it's this humour that really gives the game its staying power. The main campaign is long and twists and turns through a huge adventure involving freedom fighting, war and even time travel. The missions are often fuelled by the madness of the other characters and will task you with approaching problems in different ways while you find your personal playing style.
Alongside the addition of eras, Tropico 5 has done away with the prebuilt dictators provided in the previous games and instead you will build a dynasty of custom characters yourself. These dynasties can be used across all the game's modes and can be customised or levelled up by using Swiss bank account funds which you can earn in game by manipulating taxes or making somewhat more dubious political decisions. There's co-operative and versus multiplayer on hand too, should the single-player campaign wear out its welcome. Some of the downloadable content which comes as standard with this edition includes missions and new buildings not previously available in Tropico 5. The missions are challenging and definitely worth a visit once you've completed the main game. If you still haven't got your fix, there's also a sandbox mode to keep you entertained long after you've finished the base content.
There are a lot of good things to say about Tropico but unfortunately the sub par game save system really mars an otherwise enjoyable experience. The game autosaves throughout, creating a new autosave version each time to allow the player to return to the moments before a catastrophic mistake. It's not clear what prompts these autosaves and on several occasions we found that the game would save at the exact moment that we lost an election, leaving no choice but to return to an earlier point in the game as reloading the last file would just be an exercise in reliving our own failures. We also encountered a bug where having too many saves causes the game to repeatedly prompt you to save your Dynasty before no longer being able to save progress at all. From the sixth mission onwards we received an error stating “There was a problem saving your game" whenever we tried to save either manually or automatically. Although we were able to save at level completion we could not do so at any stage during a campaign or sandbox mission and with some levels taking over an hour to complete, this is particularly disheartening. It's unlikely this will affect everyone who picks up Tropico 5 and the developers have been unable to replicate the error we reported - which is also present for some users on the PlayStation 4 version - but it's sure to annoy those who do come across it, potentially to the point of no longer wanting to play.
However, this experience aside, Tropico 5: Penultimate Edition does everything it can to be accessible. At the start of each level you can choose your preferred island on which to attempt the main objective and you can control the economic and political difficulties and set the frequency of potential natural disasters. This ability to adjust the challenge based on your own strengths and weaknesses on a level-by-level basis means that you are in control of your gaming experience. Fancy a relaxing game to kill some time? Just turn everything down to Very Low difficulty. Fancy a rewardingly tough economic and political disaster riddled dictatorship? Well it's got that too…