Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, developed by Kuju, is based on the Netflix hit series Narcos. Set in Columbia, it’s a chance to delve into the ever present drug trade in the region. Time to pick my side and start a war. Time to get my shotgun, police badge on a chain round my neck and some cheap Aviators and take the first flight south into the troubles zone.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a turn-based strategy game where you take control of individuals involved in various scenarios. I decided to play as the DEA because I like the look of an 80s cop with a cliché tash (as opposed to a native Columbian with a cliché tash)
The tutorial will take you through the basics of moving, shooting and running away. Each player has skills which are either traits or actions. Traits are inherent whereas actions need to be performed. Get enough skill points and you can level up and get more skills or traits. In Narcos, as in life, everything costs money. Hire a team, heal the team, some missions have costs, but yield higher monetary returns. If you run out of money someone will probably bail you out. Look at the map and choose your mission, each success will yield more information about the main baddy, El Patrón.
Assemble your squad from your team roster. There are varying types of soldier that you can have, each with it’s own advantages. Grenades, long range rifles, shotguns etc… so choose wisely. You get a brief overview of the mission before choosing your squad, but you never see the details properly until you start the mission, so sometimes you will not pick the best team members. If your leader dies the mission is over. Restart it with a better team and nail it.
Spin the map round and find the good spots to get a tactical advantage. Positioning of your team is everything, expose them and they will just be executed in ruthless fashion.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels does a lot of things right, unfortunately these are the obvious things, there are also some things that just seem so unrealistic that it sucks the fun out of it. I’ll do my best to explain:
Narcos is turn-based on a single character. You move one guy, the opposition moves one guy and so on. One of my team moves 11, the other moves 6, so to keep these 2 guys together will take 3 rounds to move from one place to another, meanwhile my other 3 guys are just doing nothing. Get in range and take a shot at the bad guy, if you don’t kill him he will more than likely just walk straight up to you and shoot you from point blank range. Whilst this probably will not kill you it’s just not very realistic (both the not killing and the fact that they are just doing it). Injure a person and his animation will go from walking or running around to dragging his leg like he’s been shot, which to be fair is the most likely scenario, and he can still move the same distance as did before he was shot. If his animation is moving at half the speed, then surely he should go half the distance.
The enemies movements seem to be revealed without line of sight or any obvious intel coming in. This means that you can plan with information that you probably shouldn’t have. Locations of important objects are all on the map, there’s no real tactical searching going on to find things.
The AI has made some absolutely shocking decisions whilst I have been playing. This has made life a little easier for me I must admit, but when I think of realism, it’s just another shot in the foot. If I am attacking a bad guy, then when it’s the computer deciding what to do it’s a good idea to either fire back or run away, not let the guy hiding in the building nowhere near where the good guys are and in no danger at all have a rest. Whilst on the subject of resting and unrealistic. You can rest to regain a health point, this is an action, the rest of your squad will do nothing this turn, but that’s not the same as resting, to rest you have to make a rest action. After killing all the bad guys make sure you rest all your squad back to full health before collecting the incriminating evidence, this will save you money that would be wasted healing them.
For me the gameplay in Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is just cobbled together. No particular aspects are bad, but altogether it’s a bit of a mess. I like my food, pizza, gravy, chocolate, ice cream, ginger and pasta are particular favourites. I wouldn’t put them all in the same meal or it would just taste shocking. Not everything works well when combined.
There are a few things that help a little. There is an feature called counteract, this means that if anyone runs across your line of sight then you get to have a shot at them. This involves some skill as you have to get the target over the bad guy and time your shots. Also, both players have to play by the same rules, so an inconvenience for you is the same for the enemy. This doesn’t make the game more realistic, but it does make you appreciate that the playing field is actually level.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels has 2 sets of graphics that I will mention. The main gameplay and tactical view, and the shooting someone view. The tactical view is good as you can see where obstacles are and plan your routes carefully. There are a few instances where my squad member has climbed through a window that I haven’t seen, but to be fair, that just adds a little to the game when they do their own thing. The shooting view is pretty basic; the animations are not great and quite repetitive. Having said that, how many ways are there to run with a gun? The graphics don’t impede the gameplay, but they don’t really make you stand up and think ‘Wow! this is amazing’. They do the job that is required to play the game.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is doing some things right. Gun goes bang, grenade goes boom, cow goes moo, after all, how hard can it be. There is a little atmosphere created by the soundtrack, but I had to really concentrate hard to notice it. The voice acting is pretty average, but I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a humorous cliché or not, so it might be genius. Jury is out. The constant hustle and bustle of typewriters and shuffling papers did make me chuckle, seems like they are a lot more dynamic there than my squad.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a frustrating game, but once you take into consideration its faults and appreciate that they don’t really affect the gameplay that much it can be quite fun. You evolve as a player the more you play, and revisiting earlier missions with your new tactics can be quite rewarding. There’s no real desire to play and play, but the missions are quite short, so no reason not to pop the disk in and play it from time to time. You don’t need to remember the buttons, just the best plans.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a very playable game, there is a desire to get to the next level with as minimal casualties as possible and it does turn what should be a deadly shoot out into a bit of a sneak around to avoid dying. The unrealistic nature of the gameplay was a real downer for me, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels should have been right up my street, but it falls short of my expectations on so many levels it was disappointing. Without the Narcos endorsement, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels should probably retail for less than the £29.99 that is being asked.
I have awarded Narcos: Rise of the Cartels a Thumb culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.