Tropico 6 is a political strategy game that puts you in control of a tropical island nation, and asks you to maintain power by any and all means necessary. Assassinations, bribes, rigged elections - it's pretty much a Kim Jong-il simulator, only with an irritating-at-first-but-you'll-be-humming-it-later mambo soundtrack.
Perhaps you'll feel inclined to be a righteous politician, and you can kinda succeed for a while doing things by the book, but it becomes increasingly difficult as the odds are stacked against you. Inevitably, something will push you over the edge, and a political opponent will start shouting their filthy mouth off about you and you'll just have to have them killed to shut them up.
Before long you'll be siphoning money into your Swiss bank account, looking the other way when gangsters sell booze during prohibition, or allowing other nations to use your sovereign waters as a nuclear testing ground for a quick buck. You either die a hero, etc. etc.
The missions on offer here follow a loose story, and they're well designed in that they each show you something that you'll be able to use later in a fun way. An early quest tasks you with banning alcohol consumption on your island, and increasing the police presence so you can arrest drunkards and other ne'er-do-wells, throw them in prison, and then use prison labour to make money on the side. It's an amusing level, and you'll pick up valuable skills as you play.
As you progress through the game you'll also transition through different eras in Tropican history, with missions set in colonial times, during WWII, later the Cold War, and finally in modern times. While many missions take place in just one of these time periods, some of the more elaborate and challenging ones see you move from one era to the next with certain objectives needing to be completed in each as you go.
Thanks to the different island topography in each mission as well as the different time periods they're set in, it rarely feels like you're doing the same old thing again and again during the campaign. Some quests see you start with a ready made country and you'll be charged with changing it dramatically - either politically or infrastructurally. Others see you having to raise a certain amount of funds, or achieve a certain level of support from one of the factions, like the communists or the church.
The robust tutorial does its best to show you the ropes in Tropico 6, but if you're anything like us, by the time you've finished it you'll likely have forgotten some of the first things you learned. There's a lot to do here, and some of your early mission attempts may be marred by silly mistakes as you get to grips with the many, many systems to manage. There are a lot of plates to keep spinning here.
But there are times when the game perhaps doesn't explain itself as well as it could, and this can be a source of frustration. You'll likely find yourself in situations where you're given an objective and you might be confused about how to achieve it. Maybe you need to trade a certain resource but how you acquire it is never explained to you, or perhaps you'll have to use a tactic that wasn't featured in any tutorial and you're not sure how to proceed. A bit of trial and error, or hunting through the various menus will usually present the solution, but this confusion does tend to disrupt the pace a little.
Fortunately, these issues are few and far between and for the majority of the time it plays fair. It's to the credit of the game that at no point did we feel like throwing our hands up into the air dramatically and declaring Tropico 6 too confusing to persevere. There is a lot to learn, and there's a lot to keep track of, but when your government collapses or your economy crashes we could more often than not see what we did to send everything spiralling out of control.
Outside of the main missions, there's a sandbox mode which allows you to pick from a plethora of different island layouts and tinker with the amount of resources available to you, how forgiving your people or allies will be, and more, in order to create a playground for you to build your best Tropico. Free of set objectives, sandbox mode can be a lot of fun depending on how much you enjoy city builders.
There's also an online multiplayer mode which allows up to four players to take control of different portions of a map, and then either help or hinder each other en route to claiming victory. The host sets the rules for the game when setting up, and so the winning conditions can be different depending on what was chosen. Sandbox mode and the online multiplayer offer a lot of extra bang for your buck after the already satisfying campaign, and the varied options and island layouts mean that you can avoid any two games feeling identical.
Throwing political adversaries into the gulag or having whistle-blowers killed is all a bit heavy, so it's perhaps a relief that Tropico 6 has its tongue in cheek most of the time. As far as political satire goes this is pretty tame stuff, and the humour is perhaps more endearing than actually funny, but the lack of realism works to the game's benefit. One amusing feature of the game is the ability to steal famous landmarks from other countries using pirates or commandos. These heists take a lot of in-game time, as well as some resources, but once completed they offer bonuses that are usually worth the effort. Plus, it's just funny seeing the Statue of Liberty plonked next to a tropical communist island.
Tropico 6 is one of PlayStation 4's best strategy games, and also one of its most unique, putting you into the shoes of a dictator rather than the standard benevolent overseer that most of these titles offer. Taking your tropical island from shacks and farms to skyscrapers and space plans is a lot fun, and there's enough variety in map design and mission objectives to mean that you'll rarely feel like you're repeating the same beats. And honestly, the music really is pretty good.