November 25, 2019

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels Review

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TL;DR: An average game about the drug cartels which makes you wonder if the developers were high on something when they were working on this game. 

don't medellin in my business

One of the biggest disappointments when reviewing a game is playing a good game that could have been so much better. Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a prime example of what I'm talking about. It displays so many questionable decisions, missed opportunities, and poor implementation that even while I was enjoying the game, the nagging voice in the back of my head kept picking up features that could have been better implemented.

The premise is based on the hit Netflix series, Narcos, which chronicles the rise of the Medellin Cartel during the 1980s. In a nutshell, The cartels have taken over and the people have appealed to the government for help, who in turn appeal to the US for assistance. Pretty soon everyone is involved in this all-out war. Whichever side you're on, you'll move through a series of linear campaigns covering the key locations and characters from the popular TV series.

The game has some AI issues. Here, an army soldier has a point blank shot of me...and misses.

Third, the AI is absurdly braindead as it attempts to hide and take cover while running past you right smack in the middle of danger. I've seen more intelligence from the local crackheads in my neighborhood

drug deal gone bad

The game is played from an overhead isometric perspective just like XCOM, minus the strategy and tactics of XCOM. The interface for controlling your character is extremely simple, intuitive, and quite effective. The game looks terrific as well, with stylish voiceovers, detailed environments, and nifty weapon effects. I especially like the animations and the blood splattering effects the characters leave behind and the way they limp away after taking too many shots adds a nice touch of realism.

So far so good, right? I'm zipping through the first few missions, shuffling my characters into a position to maximize their impact when I notice things start to break down. For one, the detailed tooltips aren't always correct. In one instance, it states to 'Raid/Attack a base' when in fact it was me that was being raided. Second, the guys throwing the grenade seem to have unlimited supplies, making it too easy to exploit them. Third, the AI is absurdly braindead as it attempts to hide and take cover while running past you right smack in the middle of danger. I've seen more intelligence from the local crackheads in my neighborhood.

And last, but certainly, the biggest letdown was the decision to only use one character per turn regardless of how many members you have on your squad. This wouldn't be so bad if the combat portion of the game was more engaging, but it's not. And because of these one-turn side shenanigans, it's almost useless to recruit any other team members to your squad. I mean why would you need anyone else if you got Rambo charging in doing all the damage himself?

Plan your assault well or you'll die a gruesome death.

It just doesn't make sense and doesn't embody the mechanics that were excellently done by the XCOM series. Maybe it's because XCOM set the bar too high or my expectations for this game were too high.

An offer you can refuse

Of course, there's the other tangible stuff that's lacking compared to most games of this niche. Most notably, there are really no skill points to level up your units or to buff them with any meaningful perks and it's instantly taken away once your unit leader dies. It just doesn't make sense and doesn't embody the mechanics that were excellently done by the XCOM series. Maybe it's because XCOM set the bar too high or my expectations for this game were too high.

Despite its shortcomings, the tactical gameplay still manages to be quite fun. Some of the missions were quite enjoyable to play and gives an indication of just how much better the game could have been if it just retained some of the core features most players are used to. As it stands now, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is merely another casualty of gaming's "Might have, Could have, and Should have" category.

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