The guy from the Tropico box art has taken over a nation called Medici, which is either in the Mediterranean or in South America. I'm not sure. He rose to power by utilizing bavarium, which I think is either rocks or some kind of element or something and does whatever the cutscene needs it to do at any given time. Practically, it gives certain tanks and helicopters temporary holo-shields. The cutscenes make a point of saying that bavarium is extremely dangerous for anyone-- even nuclear powers such as the United States-- to have. I don't know why. You play as series mainstay Rico Rodriguez, and the bad guy has... something to do with your past. Spoiler warning: At the end of the game the bad guy jumps offscreen and the credits just start rolling. The implication is that he jumped to his death... I think?
The story isn't really important, but that fact that its implementation is so addled speaks to an odd lack of production value for a huge AAA open-world game. It also makes the game's main missions even more of a bummer. Most of those involve delivering a vehicle somewhere or defending something from waves of enemies. It feels like these missions are only in the game out of obligation. Open world games of a type have missions in them, so the game needs missions. Whether they're any good seems to be less of a concern. The most fun thing in the game (rather, the only fun thing in the game) is travelling around the map and "liberating" areas of interest by blowing up anything that has red paint on it. There are two flavors of liberation: military bases and towns. The bad guys in the towns will not shoot on sight, so you have the option to take out some objects somewhat stealthily before mounting an attack on the local policia station. This final push can have extra goals such as "free 3 prisoners". One common goal is the annoyingly vague "wreak havoc" with a little bar you have to fill up. It's not entirely clear how to fill it up and I've had town liberations stall out with the bar at 80%.
Liberating areas is the highlight of the game, but it's not as engaging as it ought to be. The enemy AI is ridiculously simple, and as a result the only way the game can make these liberations interesting or challenging is to constantly have enemies spawn in out of every nook and cranny, shooting at you from all directions with hitscan weaponry. The objects you are required to blow up do not reappear when you die, so death is consequence-free. But at the same time, nearly every death I took while playing felt bullshitty because of the haphazard enemy routines and the wild nature of the game's explosions and physics simulation. It's like they solved the problem of a volatile difficulty curve by introducing a lack of stakes as a replacement problem. The game gives you many tools to creatively destroy objects using a sophisticated physics engine and emergent behaviors, but it also suffers from a familiar problem whereupon simply shooting said objects with a gun or throwing a grenade is the de facto best and most efficient way to do everything. As a result of all these issues, ridding the map of these outposts and the red-painted objects they contain is satisfying in a zit-popping sort of way, but carrying out the task can be a numb and careless process.
There's a progression system in place, and it's one of the worst I've ever seen. To unlock new perks you must obtain gears. The only way to get these gears is to acquire high scores in "challenge missions." These are the sort of slight, awful minigames I always do my best to avoid in open world games. Time trials! Target practice! Flying through rings! Etc. These challenges are not fun or rewarding and are nakedly used to squeeze some cheap mileage out of existing terrain. If the perk system, and by extension the challenges, could be ignored it would be one thing. However, they've gone and locked some pretty asinine things inside this perk system. Things like aim-down-sights and better controls for the wingsuit are gated behind this game's equivalent of delivering pizzas in Vice City. It sucks so bad and I highly suggest you follow my lead and download a mod that unlocks every perk for free. Of course, that only works in the PC version, which has its own issues.
Controls can be problematic. The joysticks on a gamepad lack the precision needed for using the grappling hook, but the keyboard is useless for vehicles (especially airborne ones) making the game suitable for neither control method. A bug in the PC version makes the lock-on missiles for the fighter jet fail to work unless you disable a certain perk and restart the entire game (this makes one or two missions impossible to complete otherwise). Additonally, there's just weird technical stuff, like the fact that you can easily cancel out of the parachute but not the wingsuit, so if you want to do that you have to cancel into the parachute and then cancel that. It sounds less than serious, but after 20 hours of gliding around the map it becomes a continuous irritant.
Liberating areas the map can be fun in a lizard brained sort of way. The physics are well done for the most part. The destruction is fun, even if it still pales in comparison to Red Faction Guerrilla. The grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit make for some fun traversal when the control quirks aren't getting in the way. But man, so much of this game is busted or poorly implemented. I can't really recommend it.