The phrase Colombian Drug Lord Pablo Escobar would use when dealing with someone. Silver or Lead? Which would it be? In Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, Kuju tried to emulate the War on Drugs in a few different ways.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, is at times, ham fisted in what it’s trying to do. I think that is on purpose though. After talking to someone at the PR company that provided the code to me, this became more clear. What I first thought was poor design, actually turned out to be planned. The goal was to mimic how the last three plus decades of the War on Drugs has went.

Throwing Money at the Problem

I played the DEA campaign. It is broken down into a series of smaller missions of which you need to complete four of before a major mission. After you complete the major mission, the cycle resets. Of the four minor missions, one is always free and the others will cost money. After completing the free mission, if you don’t have the necessary funds to conduct the next operation, the US Ambassador will give you a stern talking to. After your tongue lashing, she will then dump a large sum of money into your account.

At first, I thought this may have been a mobile game and money for operations were gated behind a micro-transaction. This model wouldn’t hold up on consoles. I figured the injection of cash was how Kuju got around micro-transactions on the console edition. However, I was wrong. This is meant to show that US government was willing to keep throwing money at the drug problem. What I thought had been a lazy attempt to eliminate something from a mobile version was actually by design. Historical authenticity was what Kuju was going for.

We Need More Recruits

Another area where Kuju may have went for authenticity was in the units for the DEA and Narcos. You have a squad of up to five units at a time and can hold more on your inactive roster. One of your five spots can hold a leader. The four remaining spots are filled with Colombian police or military forces. You can choose from Police, Search Bloc, Grenadiers or Special Forces. With the exception of the grenadiers, these units die very easily. In fact, these units should be seen as expendable. It makes one wonder, is this how the Colombian forces were seen? On the other side, the Narcos seem to always outnumber the DEA and Colombian forces. Is this an allusion to the number of Colombians that were willing participants on the side of the Narcos?

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels has some serious gameplay issues

You can hit me, but I can’t hit you.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels does some interesting things with the gameplay. However, these interesting mechanics don’t always work and sometimes feel chintzy. The line of sight seems to favor the enemies and hinder the friendly units. For example, I was unable to shoot at an enemy unit from where I had moved to. However, the same unit at was able to shoot at without moving (see image above). Unfortunately, this was pretty typical of my experience with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels.

There is also a third person shooter option that comes into play when a unit moves in front of one of your waiting units. Throwing the third person shooter mechanics into the mix of the turn by turn strategy game seems like a fun idea. However, your weapons tend to be horribly inaccurate. In addition, your moving target is hidden behind several barriers. This makes your chance to counterattack to be little more than a tease. When you do get a clear shot, it doesn’t often matter since your weapons are grossly inaccurate. Early on, combat is really hard in Narcos: Rise of the Cartels to the point you only seem to succeed by trying missions repeatedly. It’s like banging your head against a wall early on.

Things Get Easier as You Go

Early on, combat is rough and you get destroyed often. Things change when you unlock Colonel Corrilla as a Leader. He has decent mobility and accuracy. In addition, he gets two attacks per turn as opposed to the regular one. Depending on what you choose as you level him up, you can get a third attack. In short, Colonel Corrillo is broken. Once he was on my team, I rarely failed a mission. He made things too easy. In general, I didn’t care for the combat in Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. During your turn, you can move and act with one unit. Thankfully, the enemies are held to that as well. Personally, I prefer to be able to move my whole team in one turn and let the enemies do the same. It makes setting up moves easier.

Colonel Corrillo is a game changer. He makes combat too easy.

The Verdict

Overall, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels does an ok job as a turn based strategy game. The gameplay can be very unforgiving due to units being killed easily. There are also some things that didn’t make the game harder but also contributed to the lack of immersion. For example, if you send a unit to move to the foot of a staircase, they may not take the straight line there. Instead, they will often jump on a porch, run across it and down the stairs to the bottom. No one would do this in real life.

What Narcos: Rise of the Cartels does do well, is follow the story of the DEA hunting Pablo Escobar. I found it odd that none of the criminals real names were used, but their likenesses from the Netflix Series were. If you are looking for turn based strategy game, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels could be a good choice. It is based on historical events and follows them pretty accurately. The gameplay has it’s issues though. I played it on Xbox One, so it is definitely part of a lacking genre on consoles which is nice. I give it a 3/5 for trying some new mechanics but falling short with them and for historical accuracy.

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