If you told me a game about a violent but long deceased Colombian drug lord could be a pretty well done turn-based strategy game in 2019, I’d have said that you were on something. I’m sure the late drug lord (in his previously bullet-free state) would also be smirking as well before setting you up for a nice tire necklace fitting for suggesting such a thing. Then again, publicity being what it is these days, he might be even crowdfunding his own game like this if he were still alive, now that I think about it. “¿Qué? Estás loco … pero eso me gusta.” or something like that (but with a lot more colorful and a lot less rusty use of the language).
So, here we have Narcos: Rise of the Cartels ($29.99), from Kuju Games and publisher Curve Digital, a game I knew I’d like as soon as I realized it was a much more polished version of the now forgotten Falling Skies: The Game, which itself borrows its best parts from the XCOM reboot from a few years ago. While it has that entry level thing going for it, the game checks a few boxes on its way to being a solid buy if you like the genre. The more gritty trash-filled and alien free realistically rendered maps help a lot here in delivering the goods, and while turn-based, the combat can often be tense, especially when surprise enemies appear and you’re outflanked.
Yes, the AI is sometimes careless, at least in that it has foes that may put themselves in harm’s way (I consider those cases where a you’d see a real life reckless thug [or reckless DEA agent on the flip side] let out a yell and bum rushes someone), but the game is quite addictive once you get the combat and tactical stuff down. For those who wanted a boring GTA clone, the game might be surprising to play with its M-rated language, blood. permadeath, and high body count, but it’s hard to guess other than to suggest those folks give this a try and see what happens.
More or following the events of the first season of the TV series, the game drops you first into the shoes of a DEA Agent, gathering a team of assorted allies and taking on the cartel in a number of missions with varying objectives. You get the simple “search and destroy” missions, “collect the evidence” runs and a few other types. Cartel-based maps come after playing the DEA campaign, so if you wanted to play the bad guys here, the game forces you to do good first. As a turn based affair, it’s a case where you move one person first, then the enemy makes a move, rather than some turn-based games that let you set up and move an entire massive group per turn. This sort of play resembles chess, but with less pieces and all sorts of firearms and baddies or agents that can appear at certain points and mess up what was looking like an easy win.
In both campaigns, keeping your crew alive if you can is a good thing, as your mates will level up and gain new skills. Save for your lead guy, dead agents and cartel members are gone for good, which has the net result of making you play carefully (replacing the fallen isn’t cheap at all). But you can pay for extra troops if you like that cushion and can afford to (you can’t replace them mid-combat, though). Grinding those optional missions is the way to go here. Sure, you can play both campaigns straight through, My own style was to “farm” the unlimited play maps for extra cash and experience if I got into trouble in some of the harder maps.
On the visual side of things, the detailed no-frills but realistically rendered environments fare better than character looks. As with Falling Skies, the game was meant to be played in an isometric view as much as possible, but zooms in for close ups for certain actions. To be more precise, it looks fine overall, but character faces and the hair on heads are probably the weakest link here. You get used to it, but it does stick out in the game’s mix of live-action mixed with Unreal-powered cut scenes. Story wise, it’s more or less straightforward and you don’t need to know more than what the game you per mission.
While this is going to be a game some will overlook because it’s not visually flashy or a big deal AAA title, the game will appeal to genre fans, those who like the show who are curious and sure, players who want another solid turn-based strategy game that’s coming from the least expected of sources, M-rated content and all. Pick it up, I say. A certain very dead drug kingpin isn’t getting a cut of the profits as far as I know…
Score: B (80%)
-Review code provided by the publisher