Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a new game that seeks to tell a much more brutal and bloody story about the drug war that laid the foundations for the modern attitudes and tactics of organizations like the DEA. Steeped in political commentary about the USA’s “means to an end” approach to dominating Latin America, for all the chaos it brought, Narcos will tell its own version of events. And it’s up to you to figure what side you’re on.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is of course based on the popular Netflix TV show, Narcos, telling the story of legendary drug smuggler and kingpin Pablo Escobar. Being built around the theme of the 1980s cocaine epidemic, the show tells various stories through several different lenses. The rabid anti-communism of the Reagan era, the consistent interference in foreign nations by the United States, and of course the ins-and-outs of the drug trade are all on display in this dramatic retelling. The TV show is very much history as told by the victor, for all the injection of bias that brings, but at least the game lets you choose your own path. It will be very interesting to see how the game deals with the narrative being heavily influenced by the US governments version of events. Narcos as a whole is woven through with the reality of U.S.-backed militaries across the region using narcotics trafficking to finance the massacre of leftists, or the overthrow of governments — like the Bolivian Cocaine Coup of 1980 — I would be very surprised to see this approached in the game at all.
If you’ve watched a certain amount of the show, many of the character likenesses and locations will look very familiar to you, ripped straight from the series for the game. The gameplay itself doesn’t focus too much on storytelling though, more so on brutal domination. The game is built around a series of tactical encounters where the player takes on the role of either the DEA or or the cartels, making decisions that will affect the outcome of the malicious drug trade in Colombia.
Curve Digital and the developers at Kaju are looking to create an experience where gameplay decisions have an impact, so expect your choices on the battlefield against enemy agents to carry over to some degree. As you take down your enemies and grow your influence, expect the conflict to become more ruthless, as your opposition begins to send more effective forces against your. For example, the DEA may try to assassinate your leaders with a strike team sent in when you least expect it.
The combat plays very much like a simpler XCOM, offering a wide range of tactics to deal with each mission. Of course the biggest impact you can have is to bring an effective and well-equipped team to each fight. Each member of that team can utilize a number of class-specific roles, bringing their unique skills to the brawl. The actions your team can undertake will depend on the roles you bring, so don’t focus too much on a particular archetype. Actions in battle will have consequences though, so be very considerate of the moves you make.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is due to launch on PC on November 19th.