Ever since the days of Peter Pan I’ve always been fond of pirates. These guys and gals have a certain charisma that makes them very suitable for both movies and games. Most gamers with a few years of experience know how great the Monkey Island games are, for not to mention Pirates Gold... These games immersed you in the pirate way of life, but they didn’t let you control an entire island of pirates. Tropico 2 on the other hand does just that. This game, which is the sequel to one of 2001’s most popular game, adds some nice features to the island management genre, fixes some problems of the last game, and delivers a fun and believable game-world to manage.
The story, which isn’t exactly award winning, is basically about how you’ve escaped enslavement in a tobacco plantation and have made your way to a desolate Caribbean island. Since you’re obviously a very smart and skilled individual the inhabitants of the island choose you as their leader. Cooking corn and relaxing all day isn’t what you want from life, so you start building a pirate empire. Doing so requires quite a few things, so you’ll need a lot of workers, or captives, as they’re called in Tropico 2. Captives are usually people who you’ve kidnapped, people who drift to shore, or people who are delivered as prisoners by an allied nation. These men and women have certain skills, although at first they’re willing to work in any dump with an open slot. To keep the island up and running you’ll need gold, timber, food, entertainment, defense, and much more. At the beginning of the game it tends to be hard to actually make a profit, because the pesky pirates demand certain things like weapons and a decent ship, and providing this comes at a cost. Ships, which are built by skilled people in a boat or ship yard can be used to cruise the sea and plunder ships, to kidnap people who are skilled in a particular field, to explore and hopefully find a trading route, or to try starting a war. Acquiring more and more gold is what the game essentially is about, and that’s where cruising missions are about, as they can provide cannons, skilled / unskilled captives, wealthy captives that can be held random against, and obviously gold. You’ll have six ships to choose from, ranging from the tiny Snow, which should only be used for exploration, to the huge Galleon, which is excellent when a lot of firepower is needed. The Galleon, for example, can fit fifteen crew members, five officers, and a captain. These men and women obviously need things to successfully plunder kind and peaceful people, so you’ll need to produce sea rations, cutlasses, cannons, and muskets.
One of the things that actually make Tropico 2 a bit educational is the production of these things. To make a musket you’ll build an iron mine next to a spot that seems good. The iron is collected and moved to a blast furnace, where it is processed into pig iron. The pig iron is then moved to a gunsmith, where guns are made. A hauler then brings the guns to a dock, where they’re either stored for later use, or brought into a ship.
Although a pirate fan should have plenty of island management to keep track of there are a few things that tend to ruin the experience somewhat. The interface, which looks and works a lot like in Tropico 1, could use some major changes. Learning the basic operations doesn’t take too long, but some of the more advanced things tend to be a lot of mouse clicks away. In the lower bar you can choose between Build, Edict and Overlay, various options and shortcuts to this and that. You also have the Island Log, which is the most complete way to get information about practically every condition on the island. Do you want to see what the upper class pirates are complaining about? With relative ease you look it up and decide whether you’d like to mend the situation.
There are certain things that separate wimps from pirate masters though, and in Tropico 2 you can boost leadership by building a Hat Shop, their courage by building a Parrot Aviary, their notoriety by building a Carpenter Shop (pegleg), along with schools for marksmanship, gunnery, swordsmanship, navigation, and seamanship. There are plenty of other buildings to be made as well, but not everyone are equally important, just like the schools and shops.
The buildings that certainly do matter in the pirates and captives everyday life tend to be related to entertainment and housing. Pirates aren’t known to sit at home writing poems for their parents, so you’ll need to provide brothels, casinos, inns, bunkhouses, and more. As the pirates grow in level they’ll want to spend their money on a more exclusive casino or wench, so micromanaging the preferred pirate level in the buildings and pricing level are some of the things you can do.
Tropico 2 has both a campaign and a single game segment, which work very much like any other recent strategy game. The campaign puts you in charge of a certain island, with modest resources and limited buildings to choose from. You’re given an objective or two, and then have to figure out the best way to succeed. An example could be “earn 3000 gold in four years”, but as you progress you not only move to other islands and get more buildings to choose from, you also need to perform more difficult tasks, as you would expect. The single game mode is the most interesting, because here you can select a captain from a list of more or less known pirates, each with bonuses and penalties in certain categories. You can specify the size of the island, its fertility, its forest density and your relationship with England, France and Spain, and the length of the game. If you want the game to be really easy then that can easily be arranged, but that really is no fun, because as soon as you’ve built everything and things seem in order the game gets rather boring. Some angry neighbors spicy up the game, but at least you can scale the difficulty very well depending on your skill level.
Graphically Tropico 2 isn’t extremely impressive. The game offers several levels of zoom, and at the closest the buildings in particular look good. There are plenty of reasonably varied people walking around, along with cats and chimps, but there just isn’t enough animation to seem really realistic. People have actually commented on how Tropico 1 actually looked better than its sequel, and to some extent they’re right. Even though Tropico 2 doesn’t have as much “life” as Sim City it at least runs smoothly. Quite a lot can happen on-screen until you notice a performance drop. The resolution can be set quite high, although in my opinion anything above 1024x768 makes the people just too tiny.
Tropico 2’s strongest side is undoubtedly its music. Daniel Indart, who also produced and directed the music in Tropico 1 made some excellent tunes that really se the mood for Caribbean piracy. By all means, the artists who performed the music also deserve kudos, because the quality is so high that you actually get into a good mood because of it, and after several hours of listening to it you’re less likely to get annoyed by it than in most recent games. The sound effects and voice-overs are also fairly well done, but I do wish there was more voice narration.
There is no multiplayer support in Tropico 2, but if you get bored with the campaign, the pre-made scenarios and the single game mode you can always try the level editor and make some cool scenarios on your own, with scripts and about as much customization as you need.
Tropico 2’s setting is one I like a lot. Managing an island full of nasty pirates and their slaves is fun for a while, but you may find it to be a bit boring after you’ve fully explored the tech tree. The campaign is decent, but far from memorable. Graphically the game is nicely detailed, but again – far from memorable. I’d say the audio plays an important part in this game, because it’s one of the few things that really keep the player going.
This is a game that I can recommend to only certain people. If you liked Tropico 1 a lot, or the concept of isle management then you’ll most likely find this game to be an interesting alternative. Fans of pirates will probably find the game to be humorous and somewhat historically interesting, but in the long run this isn’t a game that’ll be remembered for a very long time.