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Narcos: Rise of the Cartels Review

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is the latest Netflix original series to get a video game tie-in. Does it flop like Stranger Things 3: The Game or stand on its own?

Unlike a lot of movie and TV tie-ins, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels actually has pretty good production value. They occasionally use clips from the show to help advance the story, and the levels all look polished. Overall, it’s a fairly slick presentation.

The levels are grid-based, and the game allows you to move x number of squares each turn. Your options – besides moving spaces – are attacking, resting, reloading, and a variety of unique character-based abilities. One character might be able to regain extra health; another may have a lethal grenade that can only be used once every few turns.

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Assuming that your characters survive a level, they will gain experience, which you can use to unlock new abilities. Some abilities are passive; others require action points. And, by the way, your characters can die during a mission, which will leave you needing to hire a new recruit.

Characters injured during operations have to sit out the next mission in order to heal. Alternatively, you can pay to heal them instantly. That assumes that you earned enough cash during the various missions and don’t mind ponying up to speed up the healing process. Otherwise, you can go into the next mission with a new recruit or just start with a smaller crew.

All of this is fine and good. It makes sense to require injured players to sit out a mission, and more experienced players should have better abilities. It rewards players for keeping their characters alive, which presumably they were able to do through superior strategy.

The main problem that I have with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – and it’s a big one – is that it is a strategy game without much strategy. You can only move one player at a time in a given turn. This means that you can’t flank opponents or effectively provide covering fire.

Only being able to move one unit a turn completely ruins the experience. Not only does it slow things down to a snail’s pace but it also eliminates any tactics whatsoever. Basically, you’ll find yourself in a back and forth with enemies using your strongest character, killing one enemy at a time and retreating to heal when necessary.

Worse yet, the computer does not play by the same set of rules. While human players are restricted to moving one unit in a turn, the computer sometimes moves more than one, setting up their next move. And worse still, the AI has ridiculously accurate aim. They will literally shoot you from down the street, even if they had no reason to suspect your location.

It would have been highly preferable to have a system where each character has a bank of movement and action points to spend each turn. This would have allowed for more strategic play rather than the frustrating and cumbersome back-and-forth gunfights. Alas, it’s a missed opportunity.

It’s a shame, too. This could have been a good game tie-in for the Netflix show. It has source material to work with, high in-game production value, and a proven XCOM-style strategy concept. If only the game would actually let you execute some tactical strategy.

Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy for the purposes of this review.