REVIEW / Narcos: Rise of the Cartels (PC)


“Everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out what it is.” This is the guiding principle of Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is based on the first season of Netflix’s popular crime drama. You can play as agent Murphy and lead your squad into hostile territory against drug kingpin Pablo Escobar or complete some campaigns for the DEA and then work for El Padron in the Medellin Cartel.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels plunges you into the gritty narcotics trade of the 1980’s with footage and narration from the actual Netflix series. The graphics are created with Unreal Engine and the locations are also realistically recreated from the series with Rodrigo Amarante’s bolero “Tuyo,” as the theme music. There is very little detective work in this game, no surveillance or interrogation you let your gun do the talking, shoot first then ask questions later.

Sometimes you will need to collect documents about key figures in the Medellin Cartel or target DEA officials depending on which side you choose, but the main focus is on RTS style gameplay which feels very similar to XCOM’s combat mechanics. In fact, I expected an alien scout ship to appear at some point and drop a couple of Sectoids on to the grid as light infantry.



When you’re on a mission there are shield symbols displayed on grid squares that show protection from enemy fire, also your view changes to a first-person perspective when you can either take a “kill shot” or “counteract” your opponent; not too dissimilar to another videogame which I won’t mention. When squad members are killed they are dead, no rejuvenation — “Vaya con Dios”. This means you have to ask for more funding to recruit members for your squad.

As you complete more missions your individual players can be promoted with more skill points, alternately you can retire your entire squad and recruit new ones, such as special Ops which have higher health and better weapons; your squad also receives a bonus every time your mission is successful and the roster capacity increases allowing a larger choice of recruits.



If the leader of your squad is killed then you lose the mission, so agent Murphy and Primo are generally confined to the backbenches skulking safely behind a bush or bin. The game’s A.I doesn’t force you to move each squad member. Therefore, tactically you’re encouraged to leave valuable recruits in protected positions while using one unfortunate squad member as bait to entice the other side to move.

The dumbass A.I would normally dispense a couple of Narcos wearing shorts and gold chains into an ambush or some rookie DEA agents. This is a shame because it really does take the edge off the real-time strategy element as it feels like your playing against an A.I with zero tactical awareness. Sometimes opposition members just walk up to you and offload several rounds reducing your HP by two, then you simply shoot them dead at point-blank range – “Adios Amigo.”



You can change weapons using the pyramid button on your controller but make sure you reload and regenerate your HP regularly because sometimes enemy bullets will get you when you least expect it leading to some frustrating one-shot kills. The locations are created with nice lighting effects and details but the characters could do with better rendering, specifically those 80’s stashes which look quite pixelated.

The voice acting is very good and adds a certain level of realism to the gameplay but it’s a shame that Curve Digital didn’t focus more on detective work and surveillance and perhaps the ability to arrest suspects for interrogation which would have set it apart from other games. Instead, it feels like a game that borrows heavily from others.



If you like slow real-time strategy games then Narcos isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a brilliant one either. The lack of variety in the missions gets boring after a while and although the missions are challenging at times the A.I mechanics are repetitive and need more refinement. Game progress doesn’t really offer any substantial perks in my opinion and the developers should have focused on a more police-centric plot instead of an XCOM ripoff.

Real-time strategy with XCOM style mechanics
  • 7/10
    Graphics - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Audio - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Gameplay - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Replay Value - 7/10


The developers should have focused on a more police-centric plot instead of an XCOM ripoff.