Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review
Offers few spills but little thrills in the move from tabletop to PC.
Solid but unspectacular is probably the best way to describe Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. Indeed, I’d struggle to criticise almost any aspect of this game wholeheartedly, but there are very few creative risks anywhere and precious little innovation, meaning there’s little to be truly excited about.
Achtung! Cthulhu’s title tells you more or less everything you need to know about the game’s premise. The game is set in an alternate reality WWII with a Lovecraftian twist, pulling on the supernatural to spice up the enemies as well as your own tactical arsenal.
Like XCOM, there are two sides to Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. The majority of your time is spent on the ground in combat, whilst the interval between missions gives you the chance to upgrade your characters, and choose between side missions and story missions. Unlike XCOM, however, your core squad of four remains the same throughout. They can be incapacitated, which puts them on the ground until they are revived or captured by the enemy, in which case you must complete a side mission to recover them.
The overall experience outside of missions is a pretty streamlined affair. Upgrading your soldiers is straightforward as you go down three main routes, with some unique abilities for each individual. These abilities are extremely handy in battle, giving you a range of options outside of the otherwise rudimentary combat, and are crucial in helping you upset the odds when facing over thirty enemies with a squad of four.
You’ll spend a lot less time outside of missions than in some other turn-based strategies games, which helps the pacing and doesn’t give you too long to dwell on the general linearity and rigidity of the experience overall.
Combat, on the whole, is pretty much what you’d expect in a turn-based strategy game, heavily utilising cover mechanics and requiring you to play to the strengths of your individual soldiers. After a while, I came to enjoy missions: heavily biasing character attributes meant that my squad felt like a dynamic unit, and after an initial period of being useless in battle I felt powerful, reliable and imbued with plenty of tactical options.
The combat isn’t perfect, though. The cover system is pretty haphazard and without the visual aids of shields that inform you whether you’re in cover or flanked, it can be very hard to judge when an enemy has an angle on you or vice-versa. This is only a small issue as it does at least make it clear when you’re covered or flanked, but it does test your immersion and reduces how well you can judge your positioning unaided.
Additionally, the enemy AI is pretty poor, at least on the standard difficulty I played on. The clandestine, supernaturally enhanced warriors that you play against are extremely unaggressive, often pulling back into the game’s fog of war even when they outnumber you heavily and could gain an upper-hand. This is the case most notably for stronger enemies with more health, who often stand out in the open for extended periods, rendering the superiority bestowed on them by the game’s lore redundant. This means it isn’t very challenging; although, it does have the pleasant side-effect of meaning not much ground has to be retreaded.
There are a couple of important innovations, even if they’re not significant enough to make this a truly memorable experience. Of particular note is the momentum system, which gives you ‘momentum points’ for landing shots on enemies. These can be spent on a variety of special moves, such as firing one’s sidearm, activating the overwatch mechanic or using special moves. Acthung! rations these points enough so as not to make them overpowered, whilst still giving you enough to have a small reserve each turn.
The map design is very middle of the road, despite the maps being custom-made rather than randomly generated. Using the same assets to build the majority of the maps means that the game is able to maximise its length but makes environments feel dull and unimaginative, even in parts which are unique.
The plot, too, is very pedestrian despite having a lot of lore behind it, with books and board games propping up its narrative. The long length of missions and the relatively low amount spent between them makes it hard to follow, with the plot conveyed in text with some creaky voice-acting on loading screens between missions. There’s a lot of interesting material to work with here, and I can’t help but feel it was squandered.
The overall feel is a little wooden too. Even on my high-spec PC, Achtung! is prone to momentary freezes and becomes quite choppy between turns. The animations, too, are not particularly smooth and feel a bit clunky, adding to the uninteresting aesthetic of the game as a whole.
The aesthetic, which mainly consists of green-brown woods and dull-coloured bunkers, is helped by the design of some of the character models; unfortunately, this is undone somewhat by the repetition of enemies, and by the fact that characters do not really stand out, given that you’ll play most of the game zoomed quite far out.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a decent offering overall, and doesn’t do any harm to its small but burgeoning franchise. It’s a bit of a slow-burn, but once it gets going it provides a tightly-designed experience which does enough to ensure it doesn’t feel like time wasted. For beginners to the genre, it’s a pretty good place to start as it’s quite forgiving and rarely frustrates you, albeit at the expense of the eureka moments found elsewhere. However, for a game priced in the £20/$25 range, it rarely pushes the boat out to distinguish itself to more demanding players in a genre with some standout titles.