Cartel Tycoon is certainly a unique experience. On the one hand, it has this super sleek, colourful art style. It’s cartoonish while still having this edgy, adult quality. The soundscape is gorgeous – it’s got a wonderful 80s Latin America feel to it. The hand-drawn visuals for the cutscenes are top-notch. Aesthetically, it’s like a cross between This is the Police and Tropico.
On the other hand, actually playing Cartel Tycoon is a little bit like making love to a spreadsheet. It feels great, but some part of you can’t help but think “this isn’t quite as cool as I imagined”. It’s less Walter White, more Gustavo Fring – which is not in any way a bad thing. However, if you’re looking for an action-packed, drug-slinging Scarface homage, I’m afraid you may go home disappointed.
Cartel Tycoon: Spreadsheet Simulator?
What would you say is comes to mind when you hear the words Cartel Tycoon? Drugs? Power? Sure, it has those things. But what counts most of all in Cartel Tycoon is numbers. Big numbers, small numbers, important numbers, trivial numbers, sexy numbers; numbers, numbers, numbers. In the end, that’s what the game boils down to – moving numbers from one place to another, moving them up, and moving them down.
Don’t get me wrong. Developers Moon Moose (fabulous name, makes me giggle every time) have wrapped it in so much style, it’s impossible to dislike. Let’s get into what some of these numbers are.
As you may have guessed, Cartel Tycoon is all about growing & selling drugs in Latin America. You start with a small amount of seed cash to get going, and with that, you grow your criminal empire. The name of the game is moving your product to places where you can sell it, which produces dirty money, and then laundering that dirty money into clean money. To use dirty money, you have to physically move it using trucks or Lieutenants – characters you control directly – whereas clean money can be spent remotely. As you progress, you’re going to need clean money, and plenty of it.
You’ll spend almost all of your time perfecting logistics networks. Moving drugs, hiding them, selling them, and then moving cash. If you’re the kind of person who gets great satisfaction from weaving intricate logistical webs, this is the game for you.
Kingpinning Ain’t Easy
Narratively, you play the part of a brand new drug kingpin, financed by a mysterious benefactor. You can’t do everything yourself, which is why you need the help of loyal Lieutenants. These characters all have unique, powerful abilities that make them an indispensable part of your logistics network. They also draw a salary and need to be kept sweet with raises and promotions, or they’ll turn rogue. I have to say, my Lieutenants grew on me. When one of my first ever hires turned on me, I felt surprisingly hurt. While some of the narrative is pre-written, much of it is emergent – so it came as a great surprise, and won’t happen to everyone.
All in all, for an Early Access game, Cartel Tycoon is stellar. I got hours and hours of enjoyment from it, and I can’t wait for them to continue adding to it. The narrative-driven story mode is great, Sandbox Mode is wildly unforgiving – in the best way – and the in-progress “Survival Mode” sounds intriguing. You can get it now in Early Access on Steam.