Cartel Tycoon Review – Micromanaging Your Illegal Empire (PC)

Cartel Tycoon has a complex management system that operates in real-time, having you manage and defend your empire at the same time. The game’s simple stories and gameplay quirks drag the game down, and it is noticeable enough that it will interfere with your enjoyment.

Cartel Tycoon Review - Micromanaging Your Illegal Empire

Managing a large illegal enterprise isn’t as easy as it looks, with Cartel Tycoon giving players a hands-on experience. As a survival business simulator, you will be running your narcotics empire from the ground up while trying to survive as long as possible. Unlike other business simulators, you have a unique challenge of not only trying to make profits, but also avoid getting killed. Death can come in a variety of forms, even among your most trusted allies.

Managing your empire has a lot of complexity, and it is hands-on. It’s fun to be able to take control of the chaos and emerge as one of the undisputed crime bosses in the region. You can also play as a crime boss at different points in their career to get started. Unfortunately, the stories aren’t anything unique, the gameplay has a few quirks, and the interface can be inconvenient. These drawbacks are noticeable enough that getting to the top, while enjoyable, can be a frustrating struggle.

Cartel Tycoon is currently available on PC for USD 24.99.

Cartel Tycoon - Official Trailer | Summer of Gaming 2020

Story – Making Your Way To The Top

While most simulators don’t have a powerful story, Cartel Tycoon goes out of its way to cover a few characters. Whether you are a man looking for a job, or a young son of an existing leader, there’s scenarios for you to explore. Each character has their own reason for making their way into the business, and they all have different stories as they make their way to the top.

Unfortunately, these stories aren’t too different from each other. While they will involve different themes, you are still making your way to the top as a criminal drug lord. You are still achieving objectives and doing your best to earn money. You will start attacking other towns and start taking control of regions for your own objectives, but these aren’t wildly different.

You're a crime boss building your empire every single time.

You’re a crime boss building your empire every single time.

Creating a story mode feels pointless, as it is just examining different characters entering the drug trade for various reasons. While none of the stories are the same, it is just dressing up the same gameplay with different objectives and names. You don’t have objectives that are different like a strategy game might have, or goals that are anything other than making a lot of money.

Thankfully, Cartel Tycoon isn’t relying on the stories for its strengths, instead choosing to focus on its complex gameplay to show players the depths of managing an illegal enterprise. On that front, the game succeeds brilliantly.

Gameplay – Managing Multiple Business Fronts At Once

Cartel Tycoon’s take on the narcotics trade is in-depth and complicated, as you would expect the enterprise to be. Its inspiration from the narcotics trade in the 80s and 90s shows through, and there are a lot of tasks to do. Even some of the mundane tasks are necessary, and you are constantly looking over your shoulder to ensure things don’t get out of hand.

You must first build up your products to trade, which involves building the infrastructure needed to create, move and store your products. You must also invest in transport to take your goods to ports of trade, which can be through land, air, or sea. Money laundering is another part to consider, as you have dirty and clean money to manage, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Police will also crack down on suspicious activity, threatening to endanger your income streams.

You must ensure goods are properly transported to their destinations.

You must ensure goods are properly transported to their destinations.

Research projects will be essential for staying ahead of the competition, getting new products to sell or facilities to assist you. Market economics will also come into play, as selling one product repeatedly will eventually lower its demand since you are flooding the market. Diversification is necessary if you want to keep earning money, as being a specialist won’t keep you afloat for long.

Expanding your empire will eventually happen when you hit capacity, and that involves making deals with mayors in charge of regions as well as battling rival gangs. These gangs can also try to take your newly acquired territory, and you need to protect them with lieutenants. Lieutenants are able to carry out special operations of their own and replace you if you get killed, but they might also be aiming for your position.

Cartel Tycoon’s depth works to its advantage, as it shows you the complexities of running an illegal operation. The stakes are higher compared to games such as Urbek City Builder or Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, with your plans going awry if you forget something important. The narcotics trade is naturally more complex than other simulators, which makes it much more rewarding when you manage to succeed.

The game doesn’t throw all of this at you in a trial-by-fire. They have a helpful tutorial which slowly walks you through the basics without overwhelming you. It makes it easier to not only grasp the complexities of the operation, but truly understand what you are doing before you move on to the next concept. The tutorial will be long, with an expected length of 3-5 hours which isn’t great for those looking to drop right into the action. But if you are willing to learn slowly, you won’t quickly forget the basics and can jump back in even after taking a break.

Success is tough, but a worthwhile challenge.

Success is tough, but a worthwhile challenge.

As fun as it is to manage everything, Cartel Tycoon does hinder itself at times. Some mechanics are more complicated than they need to be, making seemingly obvious actions frustrating. For example, building roads needs to be done to connect each facility together, instead of building one main road for all facilities to use. This can force you to build roads over valuable land, wasting precious resources and time.

These hindrances can be annoying to deal with, especially because delays cost you time and suck out the enjoyment. In a survival simulator where decisions can cost you greatly, shooting yourself in the foot feels like a forced error which you have to work around.

Audio & Visuals – Soothing Music With Semi-Solid Graphics

While there will be combat in Cartel Tycoon, you aren’t going to see any direct actions of your results. The graphics are simple and effective; it fits with the theme of the undercover operation as you aren’t building anything gaudy or outrageous. Your operations blend in with the natural environment, paired with soothing music. The overall mood and imagery make you feel that you are engaging in normal behaviour, even if your actions aren’t legal.

It's hard to tell suspicious activity is taking place all around you.

It’s hard to tell suspicious activity is taking place all around you.

The interface fits with the crime theme, with gritty and dark colours making up the visuals when you talk with others or go into operations. The interface isn’t the most descriptive, and you will have to jump around to understand why some projects need researching, or learning what a facility will do. Despite that, the graphics keep with the theme of your illegal activity and make you feel like you are becoming a crime boss.

There are some noticeable screen blurring issues as you move around the map quickly. While it isn’t game-breaking or permanent, you will notice the blurring as you quickly move around locations, and it does affect your enjoyment of the graphics.

This review for Cartel Tycoon was played on Steam with a key provided by MoonMoose.

Cartel Tycoon provides a complex business simulator with many moving parts. It is a challenge to learn, but the game provides everything you need to know in an easily digestible way. There are enough obstacles that you can constantly challenge yourself and be entertained by your success in the narcotics trade. Unfortunately, some mechanics are too complex for their own good and the game isn’t always clear on what some things can do. It’s a good survival simulator, but dragged down by its own preventable flaws.
  • Complex management is great for simulator lovers
  • Easy to learn thanks to in-depth tutorial
  • Becoming successful is a proper challenge
  • Stories aren’t too different from each other
  • Some mechanics are more complicated than necessary
  • Not everything is as obvious as it should be

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