Imports must now be juggled with exports, but like discovering that the new Star Wars movie is about a trade dispute, it's hardly the sort of thing worth getting excited about. At best, it's a way to get your hands on raw materials early in the game. At worst, it's another menu option to click once your own economy is self-sustaining.
Also new are natural disasters, introduced a mere 22 years after Sim City unleashed earthquakes, volcanoes and tornadoes, and the ability to post your screenshots and achievements directly to Facebook and Twitter. Doing this crashed my game every time, with the posts themselves taking hours to appear, but I'll be generous and put that down to pre-release review code.
Tropico was never the deepest strategy game around, but it was one of the most fun, and the humour returns as strong as ever. Radio broadcasts poke fun at your decisions while cruel caricatures pop up with their requests for specific buildings, more exports or just a sackful of cash. These requests now appear as floating exclamation mark icons that can be clicked, then accepted or dismissed as you see fit.
The weakness of the game is that it still struggles over the long haul. You run out of new building types to exploit all too quickly, while the game's flaky factions and citizens tend to make the challenge stupidly easy or maddeningly difficult depending on their whims. You can build a series of lovely air-conditioned apartments, and offer free housing for all, but shantytown shacks still spring up all over your island.
You can go out of your way to placate every faction, balancing out your capitalist excess with concessions to the environmentalists and placating the intellectuals while pandering to the religious, but the game is always happy to plunge your ratings for murky reasons, forcing you to spin more plates ever faster.
City simulation is a genre with an in-built plateau where the grind eventually overpowers the fun, but Tropico fares worse than its peers at staving off that inevitable moment where you scrap everything and start over. With just 20 campaign missions and a sandbox mode, there's really not a lot of content on offer, and the option to create and upload your own scenarios, while welcome, isn't enough to compensate.
It's hard not to like Tropico 4, because it's based on a solid foundation that is naturally engaging. It was and remains an enjoyable if slight take on a dry genre. Its tragedy is that it hasn't bothered to build anything worthwhile on top of that foundation, preferring instead to coast on jaunty music that makes you feel like you're playing in Nando's and broad satire that fails to sustain the game beyond the first few days of play.
Newcomers to the series will find much to enjoy, but existing fans may wish that El Presidente had made a little more effort.
Tropico 4 is out now on PC. A Xbox 360 release is planned for next month.