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Narcos: Rise of the Cartels review

Losing the war.

Licensed games are usually pretty common these days, but not ones based on popular Netflix properties. True, there is a Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics game that’s sure to entertain once it arrives. But past that? Not much else. That is, until developer Kuju Entertainment decided to make a game based on the hit series Narcos.

Given the official name Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, the game gives the player the opportunity to take the war against drugs personally, starting off with several members of the DEA as they fight the Medellin Cartel run by El Patron. But, provided you can get through the campaign first, there’s also the option to play as the cartel itself, sticking it to “the man” as you try to keep business running.

Now, if the game had taken the typical shooter route, I would’ve been acceptable with that. But Kuju tries something different with XCOM-style strategy here, as you plan out the moves for each of your teammates as you take down enemies. Along the way, you’ll be treated to footage from the show’s first season, catching you up on certain events along the way.

Narcos may look exciting, but it’s not.

Now, a turn-based tactical game based on the hit show should be a winner, right? Well, you’d think. But the problem is that Narcos’ concept causes each mission to drag out slowly. It makes the war on drugs not only kind of pointless, but also boring. For instance, each move you make on the map is limited to one character, without being able to divide it up with other teammates. As a result, it can take quite a bit to get everyone positioned in the right place.

And even when you do, there’s very little challenge to the game itself. Narcos suffers from a very dull AI system. Even when you think they’ll pose any kind of threat, they run out into the open and easily get picked off. What’s more, unless they get off a lucky shot, your soldiers barely face any kind of threat. That makes things more lopsided than they should be. And, honestly, Narcos isn’t the kind of property you want to label as “boring.”

There are some interesting gameplay concepts here, like with Counteractions. These enable you to take control of your units in the middle of a turn to shoot at an enemy real-time. Alas, they’re seldom, mainly because you have to earn this ability before it’s used. And once it’s gone, it takes forever to get back. Kill Shots have their moments as well, as you can take out an enemy just when they think they’re in a good spot. It provides the small dose of satisfaction otherwise missing from the rest of the game.

There are different classes that you can play around with here; and each have their own level of strategy. But again, the game’s pacing is so off you may not get to the point of discovering what they’re all about. It just drags when it should clearly be more exciting — or, rather, getting anywhere.

It doesn’t help that the presentation is somewhat lacking as well. Even though the show clips are nice to have, the rest of the game appears unpolished. Some of the animations just look off when they should be clicking; and the environments do very little in terms of variety. What’s more, the fuzziness is a bit hard to notice, even on a high-end console like the Xbox One X. 

Bland environments don’t help the game any.

On top of that, Narcos doesn’t include any of the original voice actors. There are fill-ins here, and, unfortunately, they’re a mere shell to the regular performers on the show. The dialogue is a bit forgettable as well. The sound effects are good, at least, with the gun noises and all, but the rest of the audio package is just meh.

The big problem with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is that it just takes forever to progress. You need to work to unlock the Cartel side of the story, and that’s after spending a while getting through turns. And the game never really rises to the occasion on challenge either, just because the AI is so idiotic and mundane. There’s a blueprint here for a better strategy game, but this is one game that never Rise-s to the occasion.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels review
Is it good?
This war isn't worth winning.
Some neat elements, like the Counteraction and the Kill Shot.
Decent class variety.
Generally dull gameplay, backed by some truly idiotic AI.
It takes forever to make real progress or unlock the Cartel's side of the story.
4
Meh
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