04th Dec2019

Digital Shorts: ‘Narcos – Rise of the Cartels’ Review

by Phil Wheat

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we takes a look at Narcos – Rise of the Cartels, a turn-based game based on the TV show of the same name, which is available now on the Nintendo Switch.


Welcome to Colombia, 1980’s – the fires of El Patrón’s empire have been lit, its influence spanning borders, and expansion unabated. Influence and corruption is rife; cops, guards, politicians and those in between are falling into the pocket of the Medellín Cartel, and after years of production, America is finally taking notice. Narcos – Rise of the Cartels tells the story of the hit Netflix TV series, of the rise and fall of El Patrón. Choose your side and ally with the DEA or conversely side with the Narcos. Explore recognisable locations from the show and take a role in pivotal world-altering events and battles that will define and shift the war on drugs…

Combining turn-based tactical strategy with brutal real-time combat, Narcos – Rise of the Cartels follows the first season of the award-winning TV series through two distinct campaigns that offer vastly different perspectives on the infamous 80s drug war. Each campaign has its own iconic locations taken directly from the show, from Colombia’s impenetrable sun-drenched jungles to the damp streets of Medellin itself. Recognisable characters from the series are ready and waiting to back you up – and each have their own unique perks to help turn the tide in battle… and just like the show itself, actions in Narcos – Rise of the Cartels have lasting consequences. For example, if you lose a member of your team during battle, they’ll be gone for good.

Billed as fast, brutal, and satisfying, the gameplay is your standard turn-based combat – moving one unit per turn – and it’s actually anything but fast, brutal, and satisfying. In fact the gameplay is ridiculously slow at times, with players making moves and being TOLD things are happening but never actually seeing anything. Which is the antithesis if the show, which provides action-a-plenty. The amount of times I was taking my turn and all I knew of the enemies was the on-screen message alerting me to possible danger but there were no enemies to be seen on screen! Which meant for a LOT of my time during this game I found the gameplay horribly mundane; and that seemingly applies whether you play as the DEA or the Narcos!

Maybe it’s because this game could’ve been a fantastic tie-in, after all Narcos has a huge mythos to pull from, however instead of that we’re subjected to a sub-par clone of XCom without any of that games flair or panache. Or, more importantly, the ability to move your entire DEA team in one turn (the games major downfall IMHO). Yes, there are some great ideas a play – I loved the counterattack FPS-style portions of the game for example – but everything seems wrapped up in a game that’s essentially a quick cash-in… and we ALL know how they turn out right?

Narcos – Rise of the Cartels is available on the Nintendo eShop now.


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