Turn-based strategy is at its best when it throws in a good bit of sci-fi and/or horror. A fusion of alternate history also helps too it seems. The novelty of the concept Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics brings to the turn-based strategy genre is what really sells it.
A turn-based strategy title that heads to alternate-reality World War II doesn’t sound like too much of a leap, but how about you throw in a technologically-advanced Nazi war machine that’s in league with eldritch abominations?
That’s what you get here, and it serves as a delightful backdrop to a relatively limited strategic stage.
The Nazis are turning the tide of the war thanks to technological advances, and your elite squad of allied forces is deep behind enemy lines. There’s a secret war against the Cult of the Black Sun going on which might have something to do with the creeping death from underground that threatens to become the real problem at any moment. To put it simply, you’re up shit creek and the water’s filled with tentacle monsters and Nazis.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is part of Modiphius’ tabletop RPG universe of Achtung! Cthulhu, itself a heady blend of Lovecraft (rather popular in games at the moment) and World War II (Achtung! is an official canon part of the RPG’s lore). In this particular part of the world, your team has a particular set of skills that make them perfect for fighting back the dual threat of Nazis and the brood of Cthulhu. The focus is on managing that team rather than handling a whole organization a la XCOM. A turn-based strategy it may be, but its tactics by name, tactics by nature for Achtung!
What that means is there’s less tinkering behind the scenes between missions. Yes, you can upgrade your squad in RPG-lite style and change up their loadouts, but that’s pretty much the extent of it, and you have a set four characters throughout who could do with a bit more personality. The meat of the game is on the battlefield though, where the story unfolds from mission to mission, where you face escalating threats as your squad trudges deeper into enemy territory. The focus is on the story and the missions which mean Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is far more scripted and streamlined than XCOM or the recent Cold-War set Phantom Doctrine.
This is not necessarily a bad thing mind, for the tactical essence of the missions is deeper to compensate. When out of combat, your squad can move freely from point to point without any costs to Action Points (AP). Once you spot or are spotted by enemies, the game locks into combat mode, a familiar turn-based, and tile-based, strategy. Here you set the individual directions your four-person squad is to look in. This helps to reveal any foes in that line of sight as the map uses the typical ‘Fog of War’ effect as a more literal threat, always shrouding what isn’t in the eye-line of the squad. It adds a bit of tension to combat when you can’t be exactly sure what’s lurking, but know it’s there. It’s kind of fitting in fact, for a game taking in Lovecraft’s unknown entities. You can illuminate the fog with light sources too, so flares come in handy.
Beyond that it’s pretty much the XCOM set up. shot chance percentages, Overwatch, particular weapons, equipment, and abilities for each squad member. There are even status effects on your squad’s psychological state as the mere sight of the beastlier foes they come across can put them in a panic and eventually shred their sanity. The key difference is that when you kill enemies and complete objectives on a map, you gain momentum points that can be spent on extra moves during a turn. Having that one extra shot at a stubborn Shoggoth can be the difference between victory and failure so it’s a smart move to reward good tactical play this way.
As time goes on, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics begins to lose some of its shine. The map design, while solid, lacks inspiration, and having little in the way of anything to do outside missions only drives this home harder. Yes, it’s nice to see this format used to focus on characters rather than an overall organization, but the squad is found wanting for personality. Then there’s the enemy variety. You expect the ungodly horrors to escalate as you progress and for a while they do, but it’s a rather limited assortment and there’s not much variance in how they can be dealt with.
While we’re listing gripes, the presentation is a bit drab too. It’s not ugly, just fairly standard visuals both in the missions and on the menu screens with the only flair coming from the character design (which, even then, is nothing spectacular). It’s not the be all and end all, but with the game already feeling a little light in a multitude of ways, looking so ordinary doesn’t do it any favors either.
There’s been the odd technical hiccup, but nothing too major. The odd shuddery camera movement here and there and an occasional brief freeze. Also worth noting is that some enemy turns have taken far too long to be completed and that can boil into frustration. The developer has taken notice of this though and is looking into fixing it. Otherwise, Achtung! is fairly solid.
What Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does well is offer a fairly approachable turn-based strategy for fans of the tabletop RPG, and also act as a nice introduction to that RPG for the uninitiated. It lacks an extra bit of polish and a few more bells and whistles, but it’s still an enjoyable enough tactical adventure.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review Code provided by the publisher.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is out now on Steam PC, and at a later date on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.