There's sooo much I like about "Tropico 3," but ewww, it just misses being a really good game.
It's a strategy simulator that looks like a board game, where your job is to create an island nation almost from scratch.
You begin by choosing which dictator you want to portray. You can play as Castro, Che Guevara, Eva Peron or other historical figures.
Instead, I choose to play as a dictator named Voodoo Pizzaman, because his traits are a garden variety from Wall Street: "financial genius, well-traveled womanizer, religious zealot."
The setting is 1950. You have just taken over a barely populated island that's lacking infrastructure, industry, tourism, police stations and everything else that makes islands fun or civilized.
For the next 20 years (four or five hours in real time), you must erect buildings, lay down roads and decide what salaries to pay every type of laborer (factory workers, teachers, even waiters).
So, do you want to use your tiny national economy to build farms, so you can feed your citizens and export coffee?
Or would you rather build army bases and pubs?
Eventually, you're going to have to build all of that and much more, such as churches, schools and statues, to keep islanders happy.
But the challenge is obvious: You don't have enough money to build everything at once. If you don't build in the right order, your nation will sink in debt and you will get overthrown.
The best thing about "Tropico 3": It's a great political-science experiment. You can legalize gay marriage, ban birth control, enact Prohibition, or wiretap phones, and then wait to see if citizens revolt.
The answer: They will not revolt if your nation is healthy, wealthy and wise. So build up clinics, cash and colleges, and no one will care what you do.
It's pretty fun, making choices about what to farm (corn, bananas, etc.); what to erect (beach motels for tourists, or beach docks for exporting); and so on.
The game's problem is recurring: Your citizens are boring whiners and cheapskates. You erect apartment complexes and pay citizens big money, yet they still erect rent-free shanties behind your back.
You're constantly searching for their idiotic shanties to tear down so citizens will rent your stupid apartments. That gets very dull after a while.
And even though you can zoom the camera in on citizens, they're dreary. They just walk around or work on cars. You'd have to be the most patient voyeur in the world to find that compelling.
Plus, your island is always running low on money, because it's a crummy island.
My advice if you try "Tropico 3" is to Google-search for "cheat" codes so you can steal millions of dollars and run the island right. Yeah, that's cheating, but you're a politician.
("Tropico 3" by Take 2 retails for $40 for Xbox 360 and PC -- Plays mostly fun, except when boringly repetitive. Looks good. Very challenging. Rated "T" for alcohol and tobacco references, mild suggestive themes and violence. Three stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.