Many, many years and six iterations of El Presidente's exploitations in tropical paradise might be a bit too much. One indication of a (sun)burnout might have been the studio changing from Haemimont Games to Limbic Entertainment. However, there's still some air left in this slightly bloated body, even if the offerings feel overly familiar to series veterans.
For those new to the whole shebang, Tropico is a city-building game with a tropical "banana republic" theme with you taking the helm as El Presidente. Your daily tasks include setting up farms, processing plants, new housing for your people, and all sorts of entertainment and infrastructural buildings. Unique to the series are the various political mechanics to be used to ensure re-election, have dissidents suffer "unfortunate accidents" and so on. The series takes full advantage of all the clichés of its theme. Balancing between budget, your Swiss bank account, population happiness, various internal groups like communists and capitalists while competing superpowers throw an additional wrench in the works - it all takes a bit of getting used to. Especially as the sixth iteration doesn't really cut anything previous games have brought and instead adds a bunch more on top.
There's no big campaign this time, but rather a selection of scenarios with unique narratives and tasks on different topics, from criminal management to logistics and diplomacy. The solitary islands have been expanded into entire archipelagos, prompting a bigger emphasis on mass transit and logistics in general. New bus lines, tunnels and bridges aid the people to move about from their homes to their places of work. The bigger your republic expands, the more you must spend on transportation options. For people accustomed to the likes of Cities: Skylines these options are nothing spectacular, but nevertheless, they're nice to see as part of your city planning. The largest maps and biggest populations are rather daunting to manage, though, and the early game's micromanagement of individual structures and people gets almost impossible later on. The expanded scale is a bit at odds with the detailed one-person options the game still offers.
Other new features include the nice but purely cosmetic ability to customise your palace, hold election speeches to boost the confidence of your people, a new research system to unlock buildings and their customisation options, plus the much-touted world wonders you can steal for yourself to add as tourist attractions. World Wonders are a bit of a head-scratcher - they're a touch too far from the totalitarian tropics theme and feel more like a feature more suited to some other game. They do add some considerable gameplay benefits in addition to their obvious tourism-boosting abilities, but they just don't feel like a perfect fit here.
The review version we played wasn't a completely final build, so some of the technical issues may get resolved later. Road-building was particularly problematic in tight areas which should have had plenty of space, but the aggressive snap-on feature didn't let us place the start or end-points freely. Some events repeated themselves over and over again, which seemed either an oversight or a clear bug.
Visually the new Tropico is fine to look at with its azure seas, lush landscapes, and nice changes in scenery from one map to another. The shift in scenery from the default jungle-heavy tropics to arid desert islands is a welcome one and gives different scenarios some actual personality. Up close the flat ground textures and lack of detail in buildings or crops doesn't hold up as well. The main problem here isn't that Tropico 6 would be an absolute horror-show to look at but rather that Tropico 5 from 2014 looks almost as good in many places. The difference in visual detail should be larger than it currently is considering the advances in five years between the two. Audio fares well enough with familiar calypso themes, Latino beats and generally laid-back island rhythms. There's a couple of proper earworms in the mix, too.
The biggest sin committed by Tropico 6 is that it's buckling under the weight of its own history. There's a laundry list of features that are either very shallow or just don't gel together - the Greatest Hits compilation of sorts. This makes planning the progression through the game's four ages hard without plenty of experience under your belt. Tropico 6, in the end, is still an enjoyable dictator-em-up with a laid-back quirky attitude, but the next version must either reinvent the formula or give up on the theme. Six El Presidentes might be enough for the world, so maybe Haemimont went to survive on Mars because of it.