Narcos: Rise of The Cartels – PC Review

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Genre: Action, Strategy
Developer: Kuju
Publisher: Curve Digital
Franchise: Curve Digital
Release Date: Nov 19, 2019
Edited by Thorstag

Narcos: Rise of The Cartels is a turn-based tactical game based on the show Narcos on Netflix. The gameplay is very similar to games like the X-COM series as you play one of two campaigns. One side being the DEA and those trying to stop the cocaine trade in Columbia, and the other one being the Narcos, the cartel creating and shipping the drugs. Both sides use content from the show, including characters, locations, events, and some footage to better give fans more to the series and help those seeing it for the first time enough info to enjoy the story and want to give the show a try. 

The start of Narcos: Rise of The Cartels is relatively simple as you play the starting missions of the DEA side before being given the option to do the Narcos’ Campaign. Both run side by side at the same time as you get to see both sides of the conflict, and the game allows you to swap between them as they are shared on the same save file. Besides story and aesthetics, both sides carry the same units that only vary by name. Main characters are considered leaders, and only one per mission can be used at a time. These are just more powerful versions of the units with more upgrades then one of equal value and include additional health. These units include a rifle user that is more accurate over a long-range, a close-range SMG unit, a close-range shotgunner, a grenade launcher unit, and lastly, a unit that only uses a pistol but has more movement and support skills. Upgrading and leveling your units are the same, as skills are tied to the number of bullets they fire, which in turn makes them do more damage. Narcos level caps units and how many you can have till your through certain parts of the story. 

Narcos: Rise of The Cartels does a great job creating a story from the show and creating maps, sounds, and the world the game takes place. The gameplay seems to take a unique take on how it does turn-based tactical combat, but at the same time, this is where it lacks the most, and sadly, it is the core of its problem. One unique spin is you only command one unit at a time, and after you use that unit, it goes to the enemy’s turn. The issue comes about when you fight, and the game feels less and less as if you are commanding a squad but instead only one or two of your units the entire match. Many of these times I would have two of them still in spawn by the time the mission was over and unable to do anything as moving or using them would have killed others on my team. You don’t feel you are playing a squad-based tactical game. The A.I. seemed to have two modes of combat. They would either run to the back of the map and do nothing but pass their turn or rush right at you point blank and shoot. Many times it is ignoring most cover.

Though the cover system in the game isn’t that polished, as you are given half cover and full cover throughout the maps. Cover comes in forms of buildings, tables, trees, and almost everything on the map. They tend not to be as useful tactfully as the best coverage doesn’t allow you to shoot from it. This includes next to open doors, sides of buildings, and most forms of cover you would expect to use in a firefight. The other confusing part that makes it seem more unpolished is many spots seem to miss having a cover value, and there are times the enemy can shoot you from cover, but if you use the same cover, you can not shoot from it. Through skills or not doing any actions, you are given points to shoot the enemy when they move into range. You control this to shoot the enemy in slow motion. It can only happen once per enemy turn, which is very annoying when you have a line of troops that can counter, but only one of all your units can’t shoot them. Many times units in cover you can’t shoot from can trigger a counter you can shoot from, which is very annoying. Some missions tend to not work well with the gameplay setup as missions that have more units spawn around your units in groups, and only using one unit at a time mostly makes one of your units a random sacrifice. The money you gain in the missions is rarely used outside just buying more units, and no upgrade equipment mechanics outside skills gives a feeling you are not becoming better than your enemy. As I progressed through the game, the difficulty and tactics I had to use to clear them did not change. The sense of progression doesn’t feel rewarding for progressing other than gaining another leader unit.

Overall I can not recommend Narcos: Rise of The Cartels as it is, as it feels like a half-done game or one in early beta rather than a full release. Fans of the show may get some joy from the game as Narcos: Rise of The Cartels does a great job on everything but the gameplay. It was a bit of a let down as the intro and opening does draw you into the story and even made me want to watch the show. Lack-luster mechanics at the core of the game that include poor execution of moving of one unit at a time each turn drag the game down very hard. The issues with the game are just at the core mechanics and gameplay, but everything else was done very well.


  • Close to Source Material
  • Good Tie-in to Show
  • The Story, Audio, and Design Fit Perfect


  • Gameplay Falls Short
  • Game Mechanics Not Consistent
  • No Sense of Rewarding Progression 

FoxieEXE gives Narcos: Rise of the Cartels a Drastik Measure of 6.2 out of 10 (62)  

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is available on Steam for $29.99