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Tropico 3

Havana good time.

I am shimmying as I write this. Why? Because listen to this! Hooray! The Tropico 3 soundtrack makes life better. You can eat to it, shower to it, go to Tescos to it, play games to it - and I'd estimate that doing so improves your daily lot by at least 25 per cent. Find the airport level in Modern Warfare 2 disturbing? No longer a problem! Just ramp up the Tropico beat, and mow down those innocents with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step! Activision didn't need an in-game warning, they just needed a Latin beat toggle!

Beyond watching a cigar factory being built while tapping your feet and twitching your mouse hand to the music though, Tropico 3 is a superbly designed city-builder - placing you as the Castro-esque revolutionary leader hell-bent on either creating an idyllic society of socialist freedom with a lovely beach, or a corrupt and sinister autocracy - also with a lovely beach.

It's a revamp of the first Tropico game - where Sim City and Colonization collide, mixed in with a warm and humorous approach to the ways in which you can turn yourself into an utter cigar-chomping bastard - from nobbled elections all the way to Swiss bank accounts and your personal secret police.

Along with a collection of sandbox islands to build upon, the game's initial release contains 15 different islands that open up to you - each with their own resource issues, topographical extremes, local demands and campaign targets (like staying in power for a certain number of years on a cursed island, exporting a certain amount of oil, embezzling a certain amount of money - all that cool stuff). The plates you have to spin as benevolent dictator, meanwhile, are many and varied.

You can either design your own benevolent ruler with their own individual perks and traits, or pick from a range of pre-set presidentes.

For a start, there's the familiar resource management stuff - keeping your cigar/canned pineapple/posh furniture industry in motion from farm, to factory, to export from the dockyards. Then there's matters like education, health and crime to consider - each with associated buildings that need constructing, and various option chains that open up ever more expensive and improved services.

Then there's the balance between your manufacturing industries and the filthy rich American tourists that need money bleeding out of them. What's more, you can't forget the variety of people that you'll have to attract as immigrants to keep your economic engine turning - and the fact they'll need nice/grotty accommodation, and that the greedy swine will want more and more money out of your coffers for filthy plebeian desires such as food, entertainment and accommodation. The scum.

It's a fascinating and well-paced balancing act. At first you rely on investment from the US or USSR (or an unlikely-to-last mix of the two), but as the years roll past from a 1950s start-off you'll hopefully get the right mix of production-line exports and wallet-bearing tourists and begin to move out of the red (or further into it, I guess) with the potential of swimming in your own personal Scrooge McDuck-styled piles of cash.

As my first act in power, I always have a good old wave. Works for the Queen!

Even if you've got a nicely developing slush-fund though, chances are there'll be clouds on the horizon. There are many and varied factions within your island paradise - religious types, nationalists, capitalists, Guardian-reading liberals, good old traditional communist nutballs [surely the same thing - Ed], and they all want their personal needs met. If you fall out of favour with them then at best they will not vote for you when elections roll around, but at worst they'll turn rebel.

Of course, after a failed election you can encourage the miscounting of votes, and continue to up your military presence to chase the rebels back into the hills like the dogs they are, but it becomes an increasingly difficult tightrope to walk.

Then on top of this again there's the arch rivals of the USA and USSR to placate and/or get into bed with to keep that investmest cash coming in, and to avoid the threat of circling battleships and possible invasion. It turns out that being a revolutionary leader isn't all motorcycle diaries, blowjobs and exploding cigars.