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Narcos: Rise of the Cartels

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels Game Poster Image
Game based on Netflix show is full of guns, drugs, crime.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Both the illegal drug business and law enforcement are presented as deadly vocations. The message is that crime doesn't pay and is bound to get you killed, and that the same goes for being a DEA cop.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The officers and soldiers are dedicated to their missions, courageous, and willing to sacrifice themselves for their comrades. The Narcos are fixated on their drug business and willing to kill anyone who gets in the way of them making money. Players can play as both sides.

Ease of Play

Missions start fairly easy and gradually increase in difficulty. Combat is challenging, and the chances of making it out of most missions without losing at least one character (squad mates who die stay dead forever) are low.

Violence

Players engage in turn-based third-person combat viewed from a raised perspective. Characters use pistols, rifles, shotguns, and explosives to attack and kill enemies. Puffs of red mist appear when characters are hit, and bodies crumple to the ground when they are killed. Brief, slow-motion counterattack sequences put players in a first-person view in order to aim and fire their equipped weapon.

Sex
Language

Strong language appears infrequently in text and spoken dialogue, including the words "f--k" and "s--t."

Consumerism

This game is based on the popular Netflix TV show of the same name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Players see people making, packaging, and moving cocaine as part of the Narcos' business. Characters are also portrayed smoking and drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a turn-based strategy game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows Pcs inspired by the Netflix show Narcos. The game begins with players controlling federal agents tasked with taking down Colombian drug lords to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S. and American cash into South America, though players will also get the chance to play as the criminals. The action is presented from a raised perspective, with players given a third-person view of characters as they move and fire weapons at enemies. Successful hits result in sprays of blood, cries of pain, and bodies that crumple to the ground in heaps when they die. Players will also see cocaine being handled, packed, and prepared for shipment, and hear plenty of profanity, including the F-word.

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What's it about?

NARCOS: RISE OF THE CARTELS should prove familiar to fans of turn-based strategy games such as XCOM. Based on the Netflix show of the same name, players take on the role of federal agents working to take down Colombian drug lords in the 1980s. They're sent on a series of missions to recover evidence, block the shipment of drugs, and eradicate criminal elements. These missions take place on small, gridded three-dimensional maps, where characters take turns moving and firing their weapons. Caution is paramount, since wounded soldiers will be forced to recover before fighting in future missions, and soldiers who are killed stay dead forever. This formula should be recognizable to strategy veterans. But Narcos mixes things up a bit in some key ways, the most important of which is that players can only move one character per turn rather than the full squad. Second is a counterattack mechanic that triggers when enemies come near characters. Here, the game briefly switches to a first-person perspective, and players need to quickly target the enemy to try to hit them before they reach cover. Between missions, players are shown non-interactive narrative sequences -- some rendered in CGI, some live-action taken straight from the show -- that advances the game's war-on-drugs story.

Is it any good?

Everything about this game seems designed to play against the slow and steady pacing for which turn-based strategy games are famous. The most obvious change is Narcos: Rise of the Cartels' single-character turn structure, which was clearly implemented to speed up battles by keeping players from waiting through a long series of enemy movements and encouraging quick reactions to enemy tactics. Likewise, the first-person counterattack sequences are likely here to add a bit of reflexive real-time action to the mix. Plus, players are provided the locations of all enemies at mission start, meaning there's no reason to slowly skulk and hide in the shadows as foes are revealed one by one. And missions are often surprisingly short, ending after just a handful of enemies have been dispatched and secondary objectives -- such as collecting intel -- completed. It all works just as the designers planned: This is a turn-based game that's quick and reactive rather than slow and strategic.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that people drawn to turn-based strategy games typically enjoy the genre's methodical, tactical pacing. By switching turns after each individual character rather than each team, there's virtually no opportunity to develop a strategy more complex than attack or run. There's almost no chance for squad members to back each other up, provide covering fire, or come to the rescue of a teammate in trouble. For the most part, players simply respond to what the enemy does, because not responding tends to leave your character wide open to attack. And that means we often end up just moving one character at a time, leaving the rest of the team in the deployment zone until either the first soldier dies or finally finds someplace safe to hide while another character moves up. This style of play might lure a few new players to try this type of game, but genre veterans are bound to be a bit disappointed with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels' lack of strategic options.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence in the media. Is the impact of the violence in Narcos: Rise of the Cartels affected by the fact that the police and soldiers in Narcos: Rise of the Cartels feel they're justified in using violence to accomplish their objectives? When (if ever) should police be allowed to use lethal force?

  • Why do you think the government has outlawed certain types of drugs? What would you do if a friend offered you an illegal drug?

Game details

  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
  • Price: $29.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Available online? Available online
  • Developer: Curve Digital
  • Release date: November 18, 2019
  • Genre: Strategy
  • Topics: Adventures
  • ESRB rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Violence
  • Last updated: November 23, 2019

Themes & Topics

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