Economics are straightforward, with all of the commands and information screens accessible with just a couple of clicks. Key data isn't highlighted as well as it should be, and there aren't enough warnings about problems or hints concerning how to fix them. However, you will learn the lay of the land by the end of the first mission and can soon figure everything out on your own. There is very little micromanagement when it comes to operating islands. Apartments, farms, factories, offices, military bases, construction offices, and the like run on autopilot, with you only making a few decisions in key areas. Specific citizens can be fired from jobs, and you can even send your dictator to construction sites to goose production, although there doesn't seem much need to get this hands-on except when faced with a need to use the secret police against revolutionaries. You need to set wages for workplaces, along with rents for apartments. Professional buildings, such as schools and medical centers, may require more educated staffers than you can produce at home, so you occasionally need to recruit foreign specialists. Other facilities can be set to certain specifics. Military bases, for example, can be designated traditional army headquarters or selected as the home of special operations, while tenements can be given regular maintenance or a special roach-trap service that drops your costs at the expense of living standards.
Not every aspect of this game works smoothly, however. The interface is a little wonky when it comes to placing buildings. It's hard to understand why you can't build in certain areas, which makes it easy to put down a building that cannot be connected to a road. Economics are also a touch obtuse in spots. It takes a few years for farms to start producing, and they seem to go through fertile and fallow periods in later years of operation. Garages operate as public transit, sending out cars that get workers to and from jobs. These new wrinkles are just fine, though, because they add extra strategic depth that needs to be taken into account when planning cities. But, again, more detailed information about how these concepts work would have been appreciated in the tutorial.
A lot of time and attention has also been paid to making sure Tropico 3 is a full-featured package. In addition to the campaign, game modes are rounded out with sandbox options, as well as fan-made challenge missions that can be grabbed over the Net from within the game. An editor allows players to alter many aspects of the game, including historical events, so a fair number of these custom scenarios were available just days after the game was released. Scoring is tracked on online leaderboards, and you can also try to complete a lengthy series of Xbox 360-style achievements. The look of the game is colorful and detailed, sitting somewhere between a cartoonish send-up of a banana republic and gritty realism. Sound has also been given careful attention. Radio news updates from Juanito add a lot of personality to the game and serve as handy updates on the mood of your citizens. And the music is a constant Latin American rumba, with lots of happy brass. All but the most hardcore Tito Puente fans will find the tunes grating after a few hours, but they do establish an island atmosphere.
Even a fancy-shmancy presidential palace won't do you much good if the Russkies invade your island paradise.
"Viva Fidel!" is a touch out of step in today's climate, although such a sentiment feels perfectly apropos after spending some time with Tropico 3. A more thorough tutorial is needed to better allow you to understand the game's political concepts, but the reward of the captivating scenarios make it worth your while to ascend this learning curve.