The comedy art depicting a leering, cigar-chomping dictator on the front of Tropico 3's box gives the game away far better than the blurb on the back. You're him, minus the cloud of Royal Habanos smoke.
It's an empire-building sim of sorts, but rather than placing you in the shoes of architect or businessman, Tropico 3 instead plonks you firmly into the boots of 'El Presidente'.
A tropical island is your lump of clay, waiting to be moulded in whatever way you see fit. If other city-building sims give you splinters from building and headaches from directing spending, Tropico 3 gives you an ego the size of, well, a small tropical island. Charm and charisma is just as important as efficient town planning.
Beginning with some land and farming equipment, the immediate task is to swell your yield and eventually take on help from the local populace. A snowball effect quickly takes hold, and before you know it you've got foreign ships docking in your ports to ferry out your products. With your income you're expanding your island's trade - jewellery, car manufacturing, food production, education and, of course, the military trade are just a few examples.
Each of these incomes bring with them their own considerations. At first it can all seem overwhelming: a real leader would have support staff for secondary planning like roads interlinking businesses, housing for workers and families, accommodation for tourists, and so on. If this seems rather dull, then it's all for a good, or bad, cause.
As you build your island's reputation you'll attract trade deals, first with rival islands' militia and then with either the USA or the USSR - you'll ally yourself with one or the other and wait for the benefits and embargoes each faction brings.
While you're juggling a burgeoning nightlife scene, fighting unemployment and putting in personal appearances to reassure voters, you'll also have to deal with the game's events system. These subtly tie in to the overall plot, the equivalent of the butterfly-tidal wave theory.
One excellent instance of this is having a drunken tourist smash into your limo, then you ending up later in the game fighting zealous religious groups over their prohibition campaign. It's unpredictable and provides the excitement: do you dismiss a seemingly random event, or act upon it to prevent it coming back to bite you on your backside?
Tropico 3's success lies in its ability to switch between micro-management and the bigger picture effortlessly. It looks great and offers a hugely involving experience, and although it's not one for toe-dippers, anyone with a relish for gradually rewarding, meaty gameplay will be well served.
So addictive you'll be playing for weeks
- Excellent events system
- Tiniest details included
- Huge international flavour
- Sunny, detailed visuals
- Overwhelming depth