Tone is a curious thing—sometimes overlooked, but nonetheless capable of defining a game’s personality. In few genres is the value of this part of the gaming experience as pronounced as the tycoon simulator. SimCity, for example, takes a neutral, po-faced approach, while Frostpunk leans hard into survival territory to create a singularly grim atmosphere. Tropico 6 takes a different route, lampooning past global politics in a goofy and fun nation-builder that, nevertheless, probably should have taken a little longer in the delivery.
Tropico 6 comes as a salve to anyone tired of the aesthetic status quo in gaming. Pseudo-European historicism, metropolitanism, grimdark naturalism, and dystopian visions are all absent, replaced with an approximation of the tropical idylls that adorn tourism posters the world over. Further detail in the visuals might be appreciated, but certainly is not needed, as the coconut palms, golden beaches, and tracts of forest convey a paradisiacal atmosphere. The look is bolstered by the cheery calypso soundtrack. The uptempo beats are sure to get toes tapping, even if they do become overly familiar and borderline tiresome after extended play.
Muting the audio in favour of a personal playlist circumvents the issue, but it should still be mentioned in light of the time sink that Tropico 6 demands. Fans of city builders will be aware that the balancing act required to maintain a happy citizenry and profitable industry can take tens of hours. Tropico 6, as with its predecessor, complicates this process through the inclusion of eras. In the tutorial (and sandbox, if they so choose), players begin in the Colonial Era, fulfilling tasks that move the action forward through the World Wars, Cold War, and Modern Times periods, each of which unlocks additional mechanics—industries to increase profit margins, edicts to mollify the population, world monuments to steal, and political superpowers to bargain with.
The incremental addition of new toys gives freeplay a sense of structure for anyone who seeks it. Otherwise, the game includes 15 missions to help players get a grip of the gameplay outside the limitations of the tutorial. Although these missions are stories, they do not combine into an overarching narrative. Each quest is bookended by narration from Tropico’s second-in-command, Penultimo, as he and El Presidente recount snippets from the island nation’s history. The situations encapsulate the silly tone that the game aims for, including buying Tropico’s freedom from colonialism by smuggling out gold hidden in coconuts and trying to put a Willy Wonka parody out of business. Less amusing are the bugs apparent in some of these missions, as objectives will sometimes stop appearing, leaving players no way to complete the adventure. Thankfully, gameplay-affecting problems are few and far between, with perhaps the most notable being the lack of acknowledgement for fulfilling import demands from non-Superpower trading partners.
For El Presidentes who would prefer to write their own destinies, Tropico 6 offers a robust sandbox mode. Players can begin a campaign in any era, with an archipelago randomly generated according to options such as aridity, topography, and size. Custom victory objectives can also be set, alongside other variables that affect the difficulty.
However, players hoping for a real challenge may want to search elsewhere. Rarely does Tropico’s economic state fall into an irremediable spiral, even with the toughest conditions in place, as gaming the expenditure of profit-producing industries is always possible to increase revenue from exports. Meanwhile, the threat of being ousted through enemy invasion is slim, and the encounters easily won. Although rebellions are possible, citizens will endure decades of dictatorial oppression, homelessness, and a 0% approval rating without ever rising up, even in the absence of police stations and military forts. The other major loss condition—being voted out—is a non-issue, as elections can be delayed indefinitely without any notable ramifications. Economic corrections therefore usually require only time. In this respect, Tropico 6 feels geared towards newcomers to the genre.
A key absence is the granular micromanagement of the likes of Planet Coaster. Nevertheless, the context of being El Presidente rather than a business owner goes some way towards explaining the difference. A curious side-effect of this altered perspective is Tropico 6’s political engagement. Colonialism, Cold War paranoia, nuclear threats, and neo-liberal global economies are among the cultural developments mentioned, but the game takes an irreverent approach to them all. Some commentators may, as a result, criticise Tropico 6 for making light of problematic historical moments (perhaps justifiably), but the veneer of humour that rules over every aspect of the project pushes such concerns out of mind.
This trait is just another example of how the flippant, devil-may-care tone proves to be Tropico 6’s greatest asset. However, even a thoroughly enjoyable romp amidst a winning environment is not enough to elevate the game beyond its contemporaries. Tropico 6 matches and even exceeds the breadth of content found in fellow city-builders, but it does not delve deeply enough into its simulation to take the genre forward a step. For some prospective players, the lack of depth may be too great an impertinence to brook, but everyone else will find a delightful management sim with one of the best settings the genre has ever seen.
Reviewed on PC.