The first time I lost a game of Tropico 5, I was bewildered. I'd been voted out of the office of El Presidente after carefully guiding my nation out from colonial rule. We had a surplus of $20,000, beautiful roads, a thriving industrial sector, a standing army, plenty of food.
I pictured poor El Presidente standing on his terrace, hearing the election results roll in. "It's not good sir. We've lost by nearly 30% of the vote."
"I've given them everything," says El Presidente, eyes heavy, tongue thick in his mouth. "Universal suffrage. A booming economy. Practically zero unemployment. Plenty of housing. Bountiful food. Free and open elections. And still they betray me?"
I reloaded an old save. To hell with honest elections—I had the opposition party leader murdered. I made it so only the wealthy could vote. I waited. This time I stood on the terrace on election day, fire in my eyes, and saw a town cowered into submission.
What manner of monster have you turned me into, Tropico?
No laughing matter
Tropico 5, like its predecessors, is a Caribbean-flavored city builder. This time around you take control of an island as its royally-appointed governor and then guide it through independence, the two World Wars, the Cold War, and into the modern era of exploitative tourism.
How you do this is up to you. Do you stand as a pinnacle of democracy in the region, keeping your citizens happy with enormous amounts of food and freedom? Or do you go full Fidel Castro and seize power?
Either is possible, but the game is lost when you're forced out of office—by the ballot or the bullet.
Tropico 5 is darkly humorous, like if someone turned Charlie Chaplin's The Dictator into a video game. For instance, you can build a strong standing army to help maintain control: Guard towers on every corner, a barracks every two or three blocks, tanks rolling down the streets at night, martial law. People will be upset at this. They'll feel their liberties impinged, and that will drive up the potential for revolution.
Unless you also build a bunch of media buildings. Throw in a newspaper and a couple of TV stations downtown and suddenly your citizens can feel freedom coursing through their veins. It's a party! Those guard towers and tanks? They're for your own protection. That's what the news says, and why would the news lie to citizens?
The new "era" system in the game also adds a unique challenge to Tropico 5. This is the first game where I've had to plan a city across multiple time periods, and it's a great teaching tool for why cities like Boston or many cities in Europe end up with weird anachronistic architecture.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.