In terms of “action movies”, the 80s gave us so much. By action, I am not talking about Jasons Statham or even Bourne. I am talking Arnie rippling his way through macho gun-fests like the peerless Commando, Steven Seagal laying down his near-flawless three-movie opening gambit, where he repeatedly threw people through glass cabinets, spoke impressive Italian, chopped people to pieces, and didn’t just lazily punch someone in the dick. Also, Jean Claude Van Damme. Videogames may look amazing these days, and deliver super-realistic, cinematic thrills better looking than those classic action flicks – but sometimes all you want to do is actually regress back to a simpler time, and chow down on some of the glorious action arcade games of your youth; a time when walking into an arcade meant a likely encounter with a Robocop coin-op, and not a crane-grab and a roulette machine.
Narco Terror is a glorious throwback to this time, albeit one that combines such mindless, gung-ho cobblers with twin-stick controls – a popular recent trend in downloadable action games that was of course born in the decade that gave us Maniac Cop and American Ninja. The plot is a knowing approximation of any number of Eighties film plots: your daughter has been kidknapped (Commando) by a drug cartel (Death Wish IV), so a lone one-man army (Commando, again) decides to take on the cartel in Central America (Predator) using an array of automatic weaponry (Lone Wolf McQuade).
This terribly enjoyable downloadable confection is exactly the sort of thing you need to let off some steam (sorry, channelling Commando again there) either as a solo mercy mission or in the fun local or online co-op mode. It plays just like any number of other blasters of its ilk, whether we are talking recent fare like Renegade Ops or O.G bangers like Mercs or Ikari Warriors. It looks really nice, there are a plethora of mindless one-liners, shouts and screams, and mental explosion sound effects. This is the gaming equivalent of spending an evening with your mates watching the Rambo Quadrilogy, pummeling down beers and eating something manly, like chili, with beer in it. Or drinking something manly, like beer. With chili in it.
Your job is to get from one end of the level to another, using a succession of increasingly powerful weapons to destroy the waves and waves of Hispanic narco-terrorists. There are different types of weapons that do different things – like setting people on fire, or blasting them with electricity. Oddly there is also a laser gun, which you wouldn’t have seen the Austrian Oak dead with – but what the hey? This isn’t a game that asks any serious questions of the player – you drop into the action with a splendid instruction that blowing things up will give you more cash. What is not to like about that statement?
There is no time limit, and the basic ammo you begin with is limitless. You are given carte blanche to walk through the cocaine-producing hinterlands of Latin America, and blow it to kingdom come. You get to destroy vehicles, drug dealers – drugs themselves! There are action tropes everywhere you look. Hey! An exploding barrel – time it right and it will take out that nearby car as well. A flatbed truck is handily abandoned in your path, and happens to have a gigantic gun mounted onto the back. Stuff like this happens all the time. You have a melee attack where you can have a ruddy good swing at the drugs guys, just to maintain a balance between hi-octane gunplay and bludgeoning physical violence.
Grenades! Yeah, there are loads of grenades. The mostly ground-based carnage is broken up by brief sojourns on boats or in the air (there is a gunship section which totally kicks ass), as you work your way through the jungles toward your inevitable confrontation with the man who has kidnapped your daughter. It isn’t particularly difficult, and even though there are twelve missions it will not last you very long. There are checkpoints, but even some of the more difficult sections (such as the annoying mortars which had me on many an occasion) can be plowed through without too much bother.
VERDICT: Ultimately, how much you like Narco Terror will be down to a few key factors: how sophisticated your taste in games really is, what decade you grew up in, and whether you would rather sit down in front of a Dolph Lundgren movie or a highbrow talkie indie movie fresh off the critics’ hot-list at the Sundance Festival. Because I won’t beat around the bush here – this is basic stuff, and some people will expect and want more. Sometimes there is slowdown, the music goes glitchy in places, and it occasionally saves the game as you are about to die, meaning the checkpoint becomes a cruel version of Groundhog Day. But as a sub-ten quid exercise in providing something that is actually a ton of fun to play locally and that repeatedly puts a smile on your face, this is like being a kid again.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.