Tropico 4 Modern Times: swatting crime

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A few buildings in Modern Times are interesting, but they don’t share a common purpose. Two of them are prominent in the above screenshot: the business center in the foreground and the diamond cathedral to its right. These gleaming glass and chrome structures nicely symbolize both the good and the bad of the Modern Times expansion–they’re bright, they’re useful, and they’re powerful, but do they really belong on Tropico?

After the jump: they paved paradise and put up a business center

The business center is the ultimate solution to unemployment problems. It provides high quality jobs for an enormous 20 uneducated workers, costs only $8000 to build, and is very profitable in any of its three work modes. Similarly, the diamond cathedral, which replaces regular cathedrals starting in 1988, is by far the most effective way to boost religious happiness. Diamond cathedrals serve more parishioners than standard cathedrals, offer better services, and provide a significant beauty boost to their surroundings. Unlike every other religious building, they also generate serious income. When using the “fundraising” work mode, they funnel $150/per visitor straight into the treasury, a change that I think is unbalanced and overpowered. Religion and health care used to be money sinks that prevented el Presidente from expanding without restraint. Hiring more workers in the Tropico 4 base game came with a concomitant increase in the need for expensive support services. Modern Times largely eliminates this economic balancing act by introducing the sanatorium and the diamond cathedral, both of which produce revenue instead of draining it.

By contrast, the SWAT Headquarters (pictured above) is a new building I really like. SWAT members function as both police and soldiers, fighting rebels or arresting criminals with equal fervor. When set to the “Personal Death Squad” work mode, the HQ can only hire members of the loyalist faction, but they shoot criminals on sight. This is an amusingly tyrannical way to abuse your people and much in keeping with the tone of the series. Unlike many of the buildings I’ve discussed in this series, nothing about the SWAT HQ is unbalancing or overpowered. It’s just a fun new approach to crime and the military.

The aesthetics of the Modern Times buildings are also an issue. In its previous incarnations, most Tropican structures were a bit grungy. They sported obvious rust, sagging roofs, or a generally slipshod and dilapidated appearance that contrasted well with both the natural beauty of the island and the few high-end buildings that weren’t in danger of imminent collapse. Poor neighborhoods and businesses looked like what they were, but that’s no longer true in Modern Times. All the new structures are clean, shiny, and perfect. If only some of them were pristine, I wouldn’t object, but there are no exceptions to this rule.

Worse, many of the new buildings don’t feel like they belong on a small Caribbean island at all. After all, this is Tropico, not Office Park Simulator 2020. Check out the Babel Tower in the screenshot above. It dwarfs everything else on the island to the point that I had to minimize the rest of the city almost to invisibility in order to fit it in. The adjacent cosmic pin restaurant, which used to be the tallest structure in the game, is only a third of its height and an even smaller fraction of its bulk.

The intangible feel and the very tangible economic balance of Tropico 4 is damaged by the Modern Times expansion. While buildings like the metro station or the borehole mine provide useful new tools and intriguing choices, others like the biofarm and modern apartments are overpowered. There are plenty of good ideas here, and the campaign is well done. But these ideas desperately need rebalancing in order for sandbox games to provide the right mix of challenge and choice.

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Dave Markell’s probably been playing games longer than you’ve been alive. While his preferred genres are turn-based strategy and RPG’s, he’ll gladly demonstrate his incompetence at anything.