Several years ago, three different developers released three different Tropico games: Tropico (the original game, released by PopTop Software in 2001), Tropico: Paradise Island (an expansion pack, released by Breakaway Games in 2002), and Tropico 2: Pirate Cove (a pirate-themed sequel, released by Frog City Software in 2003). In all three games, you were tasked with running an island community and simultaneously keeping your people happy, making the island prosperous, and squirreling away some money for yourself.
Now Haemimont Games has entered the fray with Tropico 3. The last time I reviewed a Haemimont game (Imperium Romanum in 2008), I chided the developer for releasing yet another Roman city simulation rather than branching out and seeking something new. So I found it a little curious when I learned that they were taking on the Tropico franchise, and then curiouser still when I discovered that they weren't doing anything new with it. Tropico 3 is almost exclusively a remake of Tropico and Paradise Island, right down to identical themes, buildings, edicts, and character flaws and strengths.
In case you missed the Tropico series back when it came out, here's an overview of what you do in the game. Playing as “El Presidente” of a small Caribbean island, you must make the high-level decisions to guide the island to success. This involves placing buildings (including restaurants, hospitals, and apartment complexes), deciding how the island should make its money (including farming, mining, and tourism), issuing edicts (including praising a superpower and starting a literacy program), and keeping your people happy (which can be difficult, because your people are divided into different factions, and some, like capitalists and communists, want different things). You also need to siphon some of the profits into a Swiss bank account for yourself, so you have something to fall back on at the conclusion of your reign.
As an example, suppose that you decide to boost your economy by exporting rum. This means that you have to place some sugar farms in weather-appropriate locations on the island (which requires some construction workers), you have to build a rum distillery (which only employs high school graduates, meaning that you might also have to build a high school), and you have to build roads to connect these buildings together and to a dock, so that your goods can be moved and shipped (which requires teamsters). If you decide against rum (or if your island doesn't support it), then you can also try out tobacco and cigars, gold and jewelry, lumber and furniture, or stick to low level exports like pineapples, bauxite, or beef. One nice thing about the game is that you're given lots of options for how to build your economy.
Almost everything in Tropico 3 is lifted verbatim from Tropico and Paradise Island, but there are a couple of new wrinkles. The most meaningful of these is that your people can now use cars. Some buildings (like the construction office) have garages built in, and so their employees can use cars for free. But everybody else has to rely on stand-alone garages, and these garages only allow people to drive to places. When they want to come back, they either have to find another garage nearby, or they have to walk. I liked the garages. They make it much easier to expand to the “suburbs” of your island (in Tropico it took years to build an airport, basically because by the time your workers walked to the construction site, it was time for them to go home for the day), and they add new strategy to the game. Because garages are bulky and have a not insignificant maintenance fee, you have to decide where to place them and how many to build, which isn't always easy.
The other main change in Tropico 3 is that you now get to control your avatar in the game. If rebels attack your island, then you can help your army beat them off. If you visit a construction site or a production building (like a farm or a mine), then your very presence will convince the workers to work faster. And if you visit a service building (like a pub or a church), then you'll improve the service rating of the establishment. The nice thing about this change is that it allows you to be a little more active in your management of the island, since it gives you something to do other than just watch your people at work. But on the downside, guiding your avatar gets to be a little bit tedious. You can't queue up any commands, so for your avatar to be effective, you have to click on destinations for him every few seconds, over and over again, ad nauseum. Left to his own devices, your avatar will sometimes go to useful buildings for you, but mostly he'll just stand around and do nothing.
The campaign that comes with Tropico 3 includes 15 scenarios, but I didn't think much of it, mostly because the scenarios aren't all that different from sandbox mode. I also found the scenarios to be pretty easy. Sometimes the first ten years of your reign can be challenging as you attempt to build up your economy without people getting too mad at you, but after that it's a cakewalk to keep everybody happy and to start making money. Luckily, the campaign is only one component of the game. There's also an official sandbox mode, where you can set the conditions for your island, and numerous “challenges” that you can download and play (the only challenge I tried was a lot more interesting and difficult than the campaign). So if you like managing cities, and you don't necessarily need objectives or a storyline to have fun, then Tropico 3 just might provide you with dozens of hours of entertainment.
Overall, Tropico 3 is a fine city management game, provided that you don't mind that it's essentially just Tropico with a modern game engine. Everything looks good, but as I played through the campaign I kept feeling like I had done it all before – because I had, nine years ago – and it wasn't as exciting the second time through. So if you're one of those people who played the original Tropico games, then there isn't much to see here, but if you missed the series when it came out, and if you like city management games, then Tropico 3 is certainly a worthwhile game to try out.