Narco Terror is a cheesy 1980s action movie squeezed into a pseudo-isometric twin stick shooter, full to the brim with stupid one-liners, massive explosions, and drug peddlers with machetes. It’s a game that’s based on simply having dumb fun – but how long does it take for the novelty to wear off?
As you may probably guess, the plot is only present to offer incentive to slaughter hundreds upon hundreds of bad guys. You play as an agent sent into South America to thwart a drug cartel’s shipment plans – and that’s really all there is to it. There’s a fair amount of clichéd, mildly humorous dialogue that’s all fully voiced, which typically accompanies short, awkwardly animated cutscenes that tend to follow the completion of each level.
Of course, the story won’t matter one bit as you’re happily mowing down wave after wave of goons with your favourite weapon. The death-dealers on offer aren’t particularly original, but from the lowly pistol to the relentless assault rifle, each gun certainly has its own feel. You can also upgrade your weaponry using in-game cash, which automatically adds bonuses to things like bullet speed and shot spread.
Mixing this simple progression system with responsive controls means gunplay rarely becomes a slog. However, to earn the cash necessary to add some muscle to your firepower, you’ll need to hunt down collectibles and take the time to blow up just about everything on the screen, which can start to feel like a bit of a chore, especially after you’ve already wiped out the foes that were blocking your path. Accentuating the issue further, each upgrade is extremely expensive to the point where you'll be lucky to fully promote anything in your arsenal during a single playthrough of the campaign.
Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about ammo, as you can fire all of your standard guns indefinitely. One-use weapons, however, like the flamethrower and the brilliantly satisfying laser rifle are lost after depleting their ammo reserves. Each bullet hits enemies with a rewarding ‘thunk’, while just a few shots will prompt even the sturdiest looking truck to explode into chunks of flaming metal.
Indeed, explosions play a major role in reaching the highest possible score on the leaderboards, and they’re also something of a necessity when you find yourself overrun by adversaries. You’ll often find that luring whole platoons of mindless grunts into the blast radius of flammable barrels, parked cars, or undetonated explosives is the most efficient route to success. While it’s satisfying to see your lethal plans pay off, the act of breaking away from gunfights and leading your foes to their fiery demise can become very repetitive.
Outside of ground missions, you’ll also have to take to the sea and sky in vehicle-based operations. Both are relatively brief when placed within the overall game, but they manage to provide a nice stopgap between the constant gun slinging. That said, the title is likely to only take a single afternoon to play through once, but it does provide some replay value thanks to the aforementioned weapons upgrade system and scoreboards.
The release is therefore best summed up as an afternoon of mindless entertainment, but unfortunately, the quick pace of the game is destroyed at times by ridiculously cheap difficulty spikes. Whether it’s due to a group of melee-based enemies that spawn right on top of you, or devastating mortar strikes that give you a split second to dive away from the impending blast, your patience is destined to be tested.
Things only get worse as the game progresses, too; the last few levels are an absolute mess due to the sheer number of foes cramped in tiny locations coupled with non-stop explosions, while the final boss is easily one of the worst in recent memory simply because of how difficult it is to see what’s on screen during the fight. Adding insult to injury, the checkpoint system has a nasty habit of saving your game at the very point where you were originally swarmed by enemies, potentially halting your progress permanently unless you've been saving manually every two minutes. Overall, attempting to run through the campaign alone is, sadly, a waste of your time.
Realistically, the only way to fully enjoy the title is to play with a partner, and even then you’ll both be turned into Swiss cheese on a regular basis thanks to the way that the camera follows the leading player, effectively boxing you into a corner if you happen to move too far in front. A local ally can join in at any time by pushing a button on a different controller, while selecting the online multiplayer campaign option will sync you up with friends or strangers. With a fellow agent, you can revive each other with a tap of the square button, which essentially becomes the sole mechanic responsible for ensuring that the game is beatable. To make matters worse, we had trouble finding anyone to connect with online, so if you’re determined to play, be sure that you have an equally masochistic associate on standby.
Aesthetically, Narco Terror is quite strange to behold. All of the character models and various environmental details are fully 3D, but the camera is always fixed above the area, creating a game that has the look of a standard third-person shooter, but is viewed from a completely different perspective. The environments themselves are nicely designed, if a little drab, and the nameless soldiers that you’ll be putting to the slaughter are varied just enough to narrowly avoid repetition. Overall, it’s a look that gets the job done, but even when it comes to the explosions that the game loves so much, nothing in particular stands out. Performance issues plague the title further, with screen-tearing and frame-rate hiccups a common occurrence.
With a friend, there’s certainly some mindless fun to be had with Narco Terror, especially during the opening hour or so – but even then the title misfires on a technical level, and shoots blanks when it comes to providing a truly addictive hook. As a single player game, though, this is the epitome of a bad trip, with an explosive difficulty curve that eventually detonates any sense of prior enjoyment into tiny little pieces.