The simulation is a funny genre in the world of video games to me. Both resource management and construction style simulation games have seen endless success on the PC platform with titles such as SimCity, the various Tycoon games, and the Tropico games. These games have almost always been well received and sold well on the PC platform. To this day though, game developers still struggle to successfully (reception-wise) port the genre over to the home consoles. This repeated failure is not for a lack of trying either. The source material and the ports themselves have been solid. The major roadblocks are the control interface(s) and the fast paced nature of the home console(s). It is these things specifically that keep Tropico 3 from succeeding on the Xbox 360 just as the previous games from the genre.
Tropico 3 is a combination construction / political simulation game. You will assume the role of the newly elected "el Presidente" and it is your job to bring prosperity to your island. The definition of prosperity though is open to your interpretation. You can either build an island with a booming economy that works for the people or you can rule with an iron fist in order to line the pockets of your personal Swiss bank account. Throughout either of the game's two modes, campaign or sandbox, you will have to make political decision and issue edicts that will ultimately effect your position as leader and the economy / well-being of your people. Not only will you need to set the laws and rules that will govern your island, but you will also need to construct everything required for the island to run. You will need to build structures to provide your people with work, schools / education, hospitals, factories, police stations... pretty much everything that you can think of. The game will start you off with the bare minimum as you will begin with a palace, two farms, a port, and a few other various buildings. It is up to you to provide everything else that is required for your island to survive.
Be warned though, as the eyes of the world are upon your every move. Both the United States and Russia, as well as various worldwide rights organizations are watching and criticizing your every move. You will ultimately have to worry about your standing with these groups as well as your people. While it is your people who ultimately decide your fate (re-election or rebellion), these organizations can have major effects on the economic standing of your island. Depending on your actions, they may or may not trade with you, provide tourists to your island, or provide you with financial assistance in your time(s) of need.
To be honest, Tropico 3 has almost all of the necessary parts to make it a successful game, but it just falls short. The game is a solid port of the PC original in almost every manner: graphics, sounds, features. That doesn't mean that the game does not have its issues though. Sound-wise, the game is flawless. The game has a great soundtrack that really concretes the island setting and the mood. Once built up, your island, in addition to the music, has all of the audible hustle and bustle you would expect. Cars are running all around, construction projects are everywhere, the port can get insanely busy. The island truly comes alive. Graphically however, the game can run into some issues.
While the game looks gorgeous at any given time, with lively, luscious and colorful, the frame rate takes some serious hits on an all-too regular basis. When it runs, it runs well, but every couple of minutes the island inhabitants will freeze in place, only to jump a couple of inches further along just a few seconds later. This happened, easily, every 5 minutes or so. The becomes very annoying as the game goes on but doesn't ultimately effect your ability to play the game. Thanks to the fact that the genre is one where you issue orders and wait, it keeps the game in the playable category... but if you were required to do anything in real-time than the game would be completely broken. As it is, it does not affect the ability to play the game, just your ability to truly enjoy it.
The place where the game truly does "break", if you will, is with the control interface. This game, and the genre in general, is not meant to be played with a controller. Moving around the island, selecting the various elements, and navigating the (action) selection screens is a downright pain. The menus their selves are pretty easy enough to access, using a combination of the trigger buttons and the face buttons, but once inside they are bulky, slow, and hard to read. There are far too many options for them to be accessed in this simplified, controller form. It is very easy to see that this game was designed for the keyboard and mouse interface, and it works fine with those tools. Simplifying it to a controller on the other hand pretty much breaks it. Many of the menus are nearly impossible to navigate, both in terms of the layout and the non-responsiveness of the controller.
For example, accessing the employment options of an establishment is done using the control pad. After you select the structure, and more between the different tabs listed using the bumpers, you have to use the directional pad to move down and make changes throughout the individual tabs. The game often fails to respond to your presses and I found myself pounding on the d-pad to get it to recognize. At first, I thought it was a dead battery in my controller and switched to a wired one to help eliminate the lag while my battery charged. I was greeted with the same response times with a dedicated, wired controller. The controls became a chore which is something that just cannot happen if a game is to be enjoyable.
Don't get me wrong though, this all does not mean that there is not a game here to enjoy. There is, you just have to overlook some major roadblocks in order to get to that enjoyment. When you get into the flow of things, and get on a role with your island running like a fine oiled machine, you will have some fun. There is a great feeling that you get when you sit back and watch your military squash a band of rebels reaping havoc on your farms or businesses. You just have to put up with some annoyances to get to that point, but when you do it is rewarding.
Long time fans of the genre looking to get their fix on the console(s) will find what they need here. Unfortunately, they are also going to find the things that hinder the genre on anything other than a PC. As I said, there is something here to be enjoyed, you just have to put up with and / or overlook some things in order to get there. Tropico 3 is a faithful port of the original PC game but is just out of its own element. It feels like you are playing the game through an emulator; the main game is there, but it does not feel like it belongs thanks to the control interface and graphical hiccups. True enjoyment of the game should be had with its original PC brethren, not a broken console representation.