Would be really fun if it worked.
The game has a very original setting and one that I think is severely underused in this industry. The player takes on the role of an island dictator during the Cold War and is tasked with raising cities on several poverty-stricken island nations. It's refreshing to say the least and the Cold War immediately gives the player two large factions to keep happy at the same time and a serious conflict (invasion from either the USSR or America) to want to avoid.
I have always said that a bad city-simulator only has buildings that provide a set number of revenue or give a bonus to your stats. A good city-simulator on the other hand has buildings that open up new and interesting features to the player to play around with. Tropico does the latter and I often found myself making more buildings that give you new options instead of the ones that just generate revenue. Even the buildings that just give you money are more complex than usual because they often require certain resources to function, so you have to either import those or have other buildings make that resource.
Besides building and keeping people happy, you will also have to truly delve into the political aspect of this game. There are several factions, both national and international, that you will have to keep happy. Keeping factions happy makes the people aligned with them happy and will mean more people will vote for you in the election. The trick however is that many factions have conflicting ideals, for example: banning gay marriage makes the church very happy, but the intellectuals will dislike it. This means you will have to balance your choices out and keep careful track of what you are doing.
There are several random events that can ruin all your plans very easily. One that is consistently present are the rebels building up a force large enough to overthrow you. There are also natural hazards, elections and military coups that can occur and all these have a negative effect on your standing. You might have carefully planned all your expenses for the coming year, when suddenly and out of nothing, a tsunami devastates your tourist-paradise on the beach and demands repair.
Just like with Roller Coaster Tycoon, you can check every random person on your island for his opinion on the situation. Tropico however takes it further and displays the person's entire family tree, thoughts and political opinion, all in one screen. It's pretty informative and intuitive as well. If you don't want to click on random people, then there is also the book which nicely displays the overall statistics of your island and the progress you have made over time.
All this may make it sound like Tropico 4 is a very good game and possibly an underrated gem, however there is one major problem that kind of sabotages it... namely that it doesn't freaking work. The game is so broken and glitchy that it borders on the unplayable. On one of my islands for example I had a problem with immigrants, they just kept coming and I had no room or work for them. I decided to build the building that allows me to regulate immigration and used it to shut off the entire island, but even then immigrants would come in like flies. Another huge problem was with the schools, where people would complaint about the lack of education, but I literally had two high schools and a grade school in my city center with their staff maxed out, that nobody EVER attended to.
This also relates to another problem with Tropico 4 and that's the lack of explanation you receive. At one point I had a very expensive cigar factory build, surrounded on all sides by employed farms that produced the resource needed for cigars. I was planning on making a killer income with it, but years later the factory was still not receiving the resource and therefore didn't produce anything. The resource literally vanished, the farms produced it, the teamsters picked it up and then nothing. Because of the cost of the buildings and the maintenance I also did irreparable damage to my island and had to throw away the save file, sounds like fun, doesn't it?!
Most of the variables that people demand (housing, environment, food, entertainment and etc.) also seem bugged and never increase. I could literally build the best houses available and set the rent to the minimum and I'd still get a lousy 50/100 for my housing quality. It didn't seem to matter what I build, people would always find an excuse to ignore it and claim that I am the one doing things wrong. I also build this gigantic sports center that everybody wanted from me, but despite it taking up 1/5 of my island, people still found a way to not notice it.
On yet another playthrough I had a problem with not receiving immigrants at all. I wanted my island to grow, but because of a high educational level and very good housing, most of my people had moved on to the jobs higher up, leaving my docks and wharves without basic workers. I wanted to have workers from abroad, but I simply didn't know how to pull that off, the game never once mentioned something along the lines off "Build X construction to regulate the immigration" or "Look under X to find such and such".
Basic strategy in city-simulators is to make sure that your people receive their basic needs first, but this brings along the problem that it takes very long for the first batch of food to come in from farms. In fact, everything takes very long to build. This was also the reason for why I hated Age of Empires 1, before you get your basic needs taken care of, you're already two days further. Another good example is building: when you start construction, you first have to wait for the workers to be arsed to go to the site, then they slowly start to work and maybe, just maybe, they'll finish it before getting bored and leaving again.
The Bottom Line
Tropico 4 is a game with a wonderful setup, but with such rocky execution that it becomes borderline unplayable. This would be alright for a first installment, not four main entries and several expansion packs into the series. I really wanted to like this game, it has an original setting and having to deal with multiple factions sounds fun, but thanks to the core-gameplay which flat-out refuses to work from time to time, it's impossible to enjoy this game for longer than ten minutes.
I know this game has a cult-following, but even to them I would recommend sticking with older entries in this franchise. I haven't tried any of them, but if they have fans, then they are already better than how Tropico 4 turned out.