Actor/director Mel Brooks is often quoted as saying "It's good to be the King!" from his 1981 comedy History of the World, Pt. 1. In Kalypso Media's PC title Tropico 4, you don't get to be King, but you do get to be a dictator (which is almost as cool).
Tropico 4 has players forming his own communist Caribbean island nation through the arms of socialism with a hit of Karl Marx. Of course, if the player doesn't feel like that's the way to go, the game can also be played as a resource-exploiting capitalist. The ultimate choice is the player's and Tropico 4 does a good job giving the player all the tools he needs to get the job done.
Much like EA's SimCity games, Tropico 4 is played via an interactive overhead map (which the game refers to as an internal spy satellite). Cities typically begin by default with some infrastructure such as the player's palace and a harbor, but it's up to the player to actually build the town up to a place of power one way or another.
As the dictator, the player get to decide what direction to take on the island. Mines, logging camps, farms, and the like can be built. The same for public buildings (schools, police, etc.), entertainment venues, power plants, and so on. The only thing that the player can't build are the deliberately pathetic shacks the island's citizens live in. Of course, better accommodations such as apartments and higher-quality housing can be built on the player's dime.
If that all sounds like a breeze, it really isn't. Intermixed with everything else is a good assortment of challenges ranging from political tension with the USA, USSR, China, Europe, and the Middle East (the game takes place in the 1950's) to dealing with petitioners within the player's own populous. The internal protesters are a new feature in Tropico 4 that didn't exist in Tropico 3, as are the improved graphics. Balancing internal and external demands while at the same time maintaining the island's ledger (along with the player's own Swiss bank account) can sometimes prove overwhelming, but that's also where the game's true challenge lay.
The various tasks and requests from citizens and external sources alike, though, prove to be a gameplay weakness for this game. Where progression in Tropico 3 was fairly clear, Tropico 4 seems more like a sandbox-style sim game with mission-based tasks. Players can take on as many as five of these at a time and there's a question as to whether or not there's any real reason to do them in any particular order. Other than the lack of continuity in tasks and citizen protesters, there are few differences between Tropico 4 and its predecessor.
While an acceptably entertaining play, Tropico 4 lacks the focus that many other RTS games have; whether it be defeating an enemy, saving the world, or simply managing a growing metropolis. It does feature rather good-looking visuals and has some very pleasant Latin tunes on its soundtrack, but the A.D.D. it suffers from gets in the way. Then again, doesn't everybody these days?
Final Game Guys grade: B+