Thanks to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, we’ve spent the past week knee-deep in the cartel-ridden wilds of Bolivia. Immersing yourself in that kind of underworld is bound to have an effect on you. In our case, it’s got us hankering for more drug-related activities, regardless of what side of the law we’re on. Here are the greatest—if morally questionable—games that dig into the wide world of narcotics.
13. Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Call of Juarez: The Cartel failed to capture much of what made the original popular by modernizing from the 19th century wild west to the west after it was won. What Call of Juarez: The Cartel lacked in quality it made up for with the cartel itself... and plenty of powder to keep it interesting.
12. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel
An excellent co-op shooter, Army of Two is another game that took a winning formula to the south-of-the-border drug trade, and this time actually succeeded getting entangled with the ultra-violence of the coke trade.
11. Dope Wars
You may have played Dope Wars on your computer, your phone, or even your TI-83 calculator when you were pretending to learn trigonometry in middle school because it’s a text-based game that challenges you to channel your inner drug kingpin. That means borrowing capital from loan sharks to buy up and sling as many drugs as you can in a 30-day span. Highest profit after paying back the loans wins. It’s as simple game that was as addictive as the drugs we were selling in it.
10. Heavy Rain
Triptocain is a helluva drug. Or so we’re led to believe in Heavy Rain. Unlike most other games on this list, it’s Heavy Rain’s hero, Norman, who is indulging in the fictional Tripto’s habit. In many ways, Heavy Rain’s drug of choice actually sounds more like methadone, a drug to get you off harder drugs. No matter how it shakes down, Tripto fucks with Norman like one of those before/after meth pictures.
9. Max Payne
When you’ve been entrenched in the underworld, spent years of your life chasing down a designer drug syndicate and seen as much violence and tragedy as Max Payne, there’s no real surprise that our hero started popping pills. Max is one of the few characters who straddles the line between narcotic user and crusader... which probably explains all that slo-mo bullet time in his games.
8. Raid 2020
Originally called “Drug Czar,” the entire point of Raid 2020 was to defeat drug dealers, straight up. It wasn’t the most original plot, but it was unique for its time and an interesting take back in the NES days. The fact that the ultimate goal of the game was to take down a drug kingpin named Pit Bull (no relation) makes it all the better.
7. True Crime: New York City
When you’re the son of a criminal kingpin making a go of it as an undercover detective in the PDNY (their similarities to the NYPD are astounding) then it’s not a matter of if you’ll encounter the underground drug trade of a major metropolis, it’s a matter of when. True Crime’s “high” points were its voice actors which included the likes of Mickey Rourke and Laurence Fishburne. We’ll never know why Activision pulled the plug on this series after two successful outings in LA and NYC.
6. LA Noire
LA Noire dealt with all the crime in LA in the '40s, so obviously you’re going to get mixed up with heroin. The Black Caesar mission, where U.S. Army-issued morphine plays a suspect role, brings us back to the glory days of narcotics, where an unsuspecting FDA was still in the process of realizing that opium-products needed at least a bit of regulation.
Two-man, arcade-style drugee killing was the hallmark of 1988’s Narc, followed shortly by public outcry against the game. The fact that you were intended to confiscate money from the drug-addicts you were tasked to arrest and/or kill only fueled that fire. The fact that the two heroes were named Max Force and Hit Man and were out to dethrone Mr. Big (yup, seriously) made Narc a standout for its time.
4. Dr. Mario
Would you really want a guy who’s been eating shrooms for years to prescribe you pills? Dr. Mario (we’d like to see where he got that medical degree) genuinely looks like he’s tripping balls throughout this classic Nintendo game, and we can only assume the creators of this game had gotten high on their own supply when they commit to this game.
3. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Quickly rising to the top of the narco-game game, Wildlands is the first Ghost Recon we’ve seen that entrenches you so heavily in the drug-trade. The sweeping Bolivian landscape is littered with every aspect of the cartel’s narcotic operation and the freedom that open-world affords you in your planning and executing of plans to take down those cartels is unparalleled on this list.
2. Scarface: The World is Yours
Comical piles of cocaine abound (just like in the movie!) when Scarface enters the room. Scarface: The World is Yours parlays the timelessness of Pacino’s title character, complete with tacky mansion and gaudy suits. Playing this game had us screaming “say hello to my little friend” over and over again which, we’re sure, wasn’t tiresome for anyone within earshot.
The mother of all contraband games, Grand Theft Auto has damn near become a drug for people itself. We wouldn’t try to pigeonhole a series that explores the wide world of criminality so entirely but to ignore GTA’s dives into drugs—buying, selling, stealing, peddling and using them—would be selling short the greatest narcotic games ever.