Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a licensed game based on the Netflix Original Narcos series about Drug Enforcement Agency members in Columbia.
Developed by Kuju and published by Curve Digital, Narcos is fundamentally a licensed game and thus spends most of its time attempting to play out the TV show while not spending as much time on gameplay. Fans of the show will probably get more out of the game than people who have not watched it on Netflix.
The gameplay of Narcos is mixed together with heavy cinematic sets, so it runs a lot like the Netflix show. The game tells a strong, a long-winded story following the first season of the show, that is split apart by segments of combat. In a way, it brings the “War on Drugs” directly into the game.
Narcos first follows the efforts of the DEA to operate in Columbia and the activities of the cartels. In each case, the story is told from the point of view of each side, including rendered clips from the Netflix show in order to forward the narrative.
XCOM for the War on Drugs cut between cinematic elements to tell a longer story
Narcos operates like a turn-based strategy shooter using an isometric view where players move units around a battlefield with cover-based mechanics similar to XCOM, the game the popularized the turn-based cover-and-accuracy shooter genre (with aliens instead of drug dealers, of course).
However, unlike XCOM, only one character can be moved per round in Narcos. This means that it’s difficult to form any sort of squad-based strategy and players must rely heavily on position and think conservatively. However, the enemy AI often moves with abrupt recklessness and surprising speed. This creates a punishing kill-or-be-killed atmosphere.
This divergence from standard XCOM gameplay can make even the simplest missions feel tedious and difficult through the learning curve it forces.
Another way that it differs from XCOM gameplay is that there is a “counterattack” mode, which is a lot like XCOM’s Overwatch. Any time an enemy crosses into the line of fire with an agent, it triggers a minigame where it’s possible to shoot at them. This makes positioning important and calls for much more conservative approaches to strategy.
Playing out a Netflix story as a video game provides a different way to consume the media
Every map of the game presents something that could have been seen happening in the first season of the Netflix show. In fact, most of the missions tend to speak to the sort of activities taken by the DEA or the cartel, just with a combat-only twist. Some missions might be as simple as “Gather some evidence,” or “Assassinate a cartel leader,” and always pushes forward the narrative.
Although people who have actually seen Narcos on Netflix may get more out of the game, people who have not might want to play simply to find a reason to actually watch the show.