Version tested Xbox 360
Who wouldn't want to live on the island of Tropico? Anyone who's been on an all-inclusive package deal to the real-life island it's inspired by and forced to eat boiled tongue and microwave pizzas for two weeks, that's who. And anyone who has suffered under the US-imposed sanctions on the communist dictatorship it's inspired by, presumably. Still, at least the music's jolly.
If you feel like you've read this article somewhere before, that's because Will went on about Tropico 3's superb soundtrack when he reviewed the PC version. The music in the Xbox 360 version is just as likely to make you want to shimmy, sway, smoke cigars, pile the contents of the fruit bowl on your head and call yourself Miranda. Forget Il Divo and Leona, Simon - what recession-hit Britain needs now is a chart-topping calypso band. And more reggaeton.
There are plenty of other similarities between the PC and Xbox 360 versions of Tropico 3. Once again you take on the role of El Presidente, the ruler of a pretty tropical island in the Caribbean sea. At least it starts out pretty - if you want you can despoil the entire area with everything from lumber yards and tenements to oil wells and condominiums.
The game is a city-building sim in the classic style, with lots of resources to manage and variables to consider. You begin by establishing industries such as farming and meeting the population's most basic needs for food and accommodation. Once the money starts rolling in you can start building better facilities, invest in education, keep people happy by introducing a social security system and so on. Or you can put all the cash into strip mining, set up a secret police force, siphon taxes into your personal Swiss bank account and generally not give so much as a thought to the island's inhabitants - until they start trying to assassinate you.
The banana republic theme is what sets Tropico 3 apart from other city builders. It's much more colourful than the grey and gloomy Sim City titles and more contemporary than all those games set in boring old ancient Rome. Plus there's much more scope for humour and silliness, and developer Haemimont takes full advantage. The result is a game with real personality, charm and a unique style all of its own.
However, it's a style you'll recognise if you played the first Tropico. This third instalment isn't really a sequel, more a remake of the 2001 original. The good news is this means they've dumped all the daft pirate nonsense that was introduced two years later with Tropico 2. The bad news is that if you played the first game to death, you'll find yourself wondering what's new here.
In fact, the same applies if you've played any city building sim extensively in the last 10 years. Tropico 3 doesn't push any boundaries, present any new ideas or attempt to move the genre forwards. It's the same old story - build stuff, earn money, build more stuff, get more money, deal with random events (attempted coup d'etats, hostage situations etc.), repeat.
If that's all you're after, Tropico 3 delivers. It's a solid, well-balanced game which can easily eat up hours of your time. There are a few niggles, as Will pointed out - sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on with your buildings (such as why construction has stopped or why no one's living in those new apartments), the technology trees are limited and events can repeat themselves a bit too often (are three llama fever threats in four years really that likely?). But none of these are big enough problems to ruin the game and the good design, decent AI, pretty graphics and cheery soundtrack are enough to make up for them.