(Xbox 360 Review) Tropico 4: Modern Times

Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Genre: City Builder / Strategy
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Scott Thibodeaux

Overall: 7 = Good

It’s been a while since I’ve played a game in the simulation/city-building genre, mostly because I have been playing more console games over the past few years, and the genre just doesn’t quite have the selection on consoles that is available to PC gamers. But the Tropico series stands out, and not simply because of the lack of alternatives. Tropico 4 may lack the challenge or complexity of similar games, but comical characters and humorous plot twists make it a more engaging and less sterile gameplay experience than other sim franchises. Although some of Tropico‘s flaws persist in the Modern Times expansion, its strengths are also well represented and expanded upon.

The plot of Modern Times begins with El Presidente returning to the island to find that the living conditions have deteriorated in his absence. As in the main game, you must rebuild your islands, develop the economy and tourism, and keep rebels in check—all while balancing relations with foreign powers. Much of the story in the missions involves a new character named Dr. Steinschneider, a mad scientist who aids you during a variety of disasters ranging from a hiccup epidemic to excessive seismic and volcanic activity. You soon discover that a New World Order-type of secret organization called The Conclave is controlling these events. If you’re a stickler for continuity, you might be mildly irritated by the fact that you may finish one mission in the year 2041 only to find yourself starting the next mission in 1953, while the story continues as if it’s one unbroken continuum. But considering the absurdity of some of the missions, I doubt most players will have a hard time letting this issue slide.

Gameplay remains mostly the same in Modern Times as in the base game, with the addition of some new buildings and an entirely new category of edicts. The new additions vary in usefulness. Most of the buildings are simply modernized versions of their previous counterparts, although there are a few exceptions. The Babel Tower and Diamond Cathedral are both pretty good income-generators. The Ziggurat houses a large number of people, but the amount of land it takes up makes it impractical (except for getting the “Better Than Tenements” achievement). Among the 10 new edicts are a handful that come in handy. Festival of Love and Balloon Fair are great for boosting your tourism rating. China Development Aid results in one hundred Chinese immigrants arriving on the next inbound ship, which is very useful if you have a labor shortage early on. Healthcare Reform allows clinics and hospitals to treat more patients, and Special Diplomas instantly gives half of your uneducated loyalists a high school diploma or better, improving your skilled workforce. Ban Social Media denies your citizens access to Facebook and Twitter, causing them to be more productive. Overall, these new edicts help you progress more efficiently, and the Modern Times missions tend to involve less waiting and grinding than those in the base game.

Other additions include the ability to create a Space Program, and there’s also the Timeline feature, which incorporates real-world historical events into your missions. For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Conscription edict is automatically activated. When Reagan bombs Libya, it interrupts all imports from the Middle East. These events force players to adapt their strategy by using edicts and resources that they may not have used much in the main game. The Timeline helps to break up some of the monotony and adds a bit of challenge.

While enjoyable overall, Modern Times has its share of glitches and shortcomings.  The radial-selection interface for choosing buildings and edicts seems like a good idea in theory, but the sensitivity of the left control stick often causes my selection to switch at the last moment, and you frequently have to back out of menus; I would have liked the option to use the interface provided in the PC version of the game. Also, in both the base game and Modern Times, panning across terrain and releasing the control stick will find the game occasionally continuing to pan, sometimes for several seconds. However, the most disturbing flaw I ran across was that twice during Modern Times missions, the game completely froze my Xbox. The console would not respond to controller commands or allow me to return to the home screen, so I had to reset. Despite the fact that the autosave icon had appeared periodically throughout the missions, I had to start back at the beginning of the mission after I’d rebooted, losing about two hours of progress each time. Needless to say, it was incredibly frustrating.

I don’t know if other players will experience the same glitches I did, or if I’m just the exception, but either way, I still feel as though the good outweighs the bad in Modern Times. The DLC is over half the length of the base game, making it an excellent value for the price. The new additions don’t impact the gameplay on a fundamental level, but they give the game enough variety to keep it interesting. If you enjoyed Tropico 4, then Modern Times provides more of the same alongside some great new additions.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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