This is an expansion. It costs less than the original, and has less new stuff, and less total game time, so I can make the review shorter, too. Right?
Well, okay then. Tropico 3: Absolute Power (or T3AP as it is known to its friends) continues the adventures of El Presidente (you) as you rule
a series of banana republics. All of the old favorites are here: islands, farms, industries, exports, factions, edicts and the rest are back with some new friends.
Of course, since this is an expansion, you can expect more stuff. To start, the tutorial is expanded. One might think that an expansion is not the place for an expanded tutorial, but at least Haemimont Games has their hearts in the right place. The tutorial isn't even needed all that much. If you played the original there isn't all that much in the new game in terms of mechanics. The rest of this review will just assume you played the original, or at least are familiar with a few standard city builder mechanics. This will allow us to get right to the good stuff.
Your avatar is also in for more options. There are more costumes, and some new traits. This reviewer outfitted himself in a snazzy admiral's outfit with a sharp goatee and a parrot. Islanders appreciate a sense of style in their rulers.
In fact, they appreciate it so much a new faction has arisen, the Loyalists. Loyalists like you for who you are. They are confused and angered by elections – who would not like El Presidente? They want to see more recognition of your awesomeness in the form of holidays and monuments. They are where your groupies come from. They are like Tea Partiers when Republicans are in power – bad behavior is ok if it's you.
A new faction means more problems making everybody happy. To this end you are provided with more edicts. “Free Houses” (no housing charges rent) is especially useful to this end. A favorite for returning players will be “Shoot Juanito”. Not only does it permanently silence that annoying DJ, it also guarantees there will be no Rebels or Rebel attacks for 3 years. Turns out Juanito wasn't as harmless as everybody thought. On the down side, Betty Boom (the new DJ) is possibly even more annoying.
But Tropicans do not live by edicts alone. Sometimes they need buildings. Most of the new buildings are straightforward and operate much like ordinary buildings. For example, a Ferris Wheel employs workers and provides entertainment. The welcome Garbage Dump reduces pollution in an area. Other buildings such as Marinas and Wind Turbines work similarly.There are some buildings that are a little different, however. They seem to be more like Wonders. Usually only one can be built, they don't employ anybody, and they have some sort of global effect. For example, the “Golden Statue” (exactly what it sounds like) must be unique, has no employees, and raises the entire island's tourist rating while changing some Tropicans into Loyalists. These are powerful and expensive buildings and add some strategic depth given their high cost-benefit tradeoff.
You will unleash these new powers on the unsuspecting 10-island campaign. The basic idea of the original campaign is preserved: each island has a problem, or at least a dream. As El Presidente your job is to run things so the problem is solved, or the dream realized. In the original the game set fairly broad goals: support 500 citizens, have $100,000 in the bank, maintain a 75% approval rating, or the like. Some criticism of the original centered around the goals being either too easy, too nebulous, or both. It was possible to feel adrift at time given the number of different ways to win some scenarios.
T3AP tightens the mission structure up. Goals are now more definite. Scenarios now call for a certain building to be built, or for a certain ability to be reached by a certain time, or a particular chain of events to be triggered. As an example, one island needs to boost its tourist industry by popularizing the local Chupacabra legend to visitors. The player needs not only to attract tourists and support the relevant buildings, but provide goat farms (for sightings to occur at) and make costly in-game decisions that support the spread of the legend.
The new missions can seem a bit strange at times. You have to fix a rift in time and space – really? The best thing is to relax and roll with it. Tropico 3 has always had a zany side to it and the new missions just add to it. There is a serious (and good) city simulator underneath all the island color and strange goings-on, but the developers keep the focus on having fun with it.
The nits to be picked are small. There is little if any new music and it gets really old, really quick. Also, Betty Boom is no better than Juanito, if not worse. School buses (or some other way for children to get around) would be nice. There are still no difficulty levels. Some users report instability issues. There is nothing here that really kills the game, just nagging issues.
In summary, Absolute Power does what a good expansion should do. It utilizes the core of the original game while providing more options without breaking anything. It should take about 20 hours of gameplay to get through the missions, though it is easy to extend that by trying out different ways to meet each goal.