Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review

Ah, there’s nothing quite like those winter nights. You know – when the deathly cold sets in and the chilling realization that we haven’t seen anything on Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Wargroove is still not on Switch yet crosses your mind. What better way to endure this eternal cycle of suffering than by losing your mind to the Deep Ones? Achtung! Cthulu Tactics hopes to satisfy your insatiable hunger for turn-based strategy, but does it manage to do so without driving you crazy? Listen, cut me some slack- I just reviewed The Shrouded Isle a few weeks ago, my sanity jokes are in low reserve.

Gameplay

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics puts players in command of four unique units as they carve a path through Nazi-occupied territory during World War II. The movement is your standard grid-based affair, however, movement and actions are both tied to an Action Point system. Movement from square to square will cost the player a set amount of action points, so managing each character’s AP in order to deal damage consistently is key. Scoring critical hits, possessing higher leadership, and killing enemies will net players Momentum Points, an additional resource that can be used to initiate Overwatch – attacks that occur during the enemy’s turn – or other special abilities. As each individual unit levels up, the player can grant them skills that will boost stats or allow access to new attack types, often possessing their own unique cost of AP, MP, or a combination of the two.

Every map in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is entirely accessible during combat, although this comes with a caveat: when the player has defeated all of the enemies in a specific area, they’ll have to move their squad one “turn” at a time, limited only to how far their characters can usually walk. You won’t have to cycle through each character in order to get to the next turn, but the game’s point-and-click nature does necessitate this somewhat sluggish movement system. This also means that enemy units can bleed over from one skirmish to the next or even run far away from where the player has positioned their units. Luckily, the game is a mixture of ranged and melee attacks, with melee often consisting of knife thrusts only. The cast has a mixed bag of tricks for their loadout, consisting of their primary weapon, a primary modification, such as scope, ammo clip, or otherwise, and an additional customization slot, which can hold expendable items or unit-enhancing equipment.

Skirmishes are often comprised of finding cover and scouting enemy types before engaging in combat. After each move, every unit can adjust their cone of vision, which allows them to pierce the Shroud, or fog of war, in order to get a good look at the enemy. If hidden within the Shroud or out of range, enemies can be difficult to hit, so maintaining a good range is crucial. Weapons have better efficiency depending on their proximity to their target, with shotguns being more accurate and deadly up close, while others excel at range. Keeping this No Man’s Land consistent can be difficult, however, as some enemy units are entirely melee-based, while others can grant massive health buffs that take a great deal of time to whittle away. Dealing or taking melee damage inflicts a Stagger debuff that halves AP during the next turn, a useful strategy for when enemies are particularly well-equipped or right up in your face. It can also be a cruel punishment that stops player progress when swarmed by melee-based enemies, however. Despite this, the game manages to balance its missions fairly well thanks to a Luck mechanic, which acts as a secondary health bar akin to a shield and replenishes between skirmishes.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cthulhu game without some sanity mechanic, and as players take damage, they will also accrue Stress. Although one or two of the characters can level-up into a Stress-buff skill, players want to keep this meter low, as high levels will cause characters to act… irrationally. Really, I only saw this materialize as an accuracy debuff, but perhaps it has other effects.

Aesthetics

Each of the four playable units in the game have their own distinct appearance and voice clips, though there aren’t enough to make combat feel predestined. Player units and enemies alike will bark the same lines over and over with little variation, which can grow a bit annoying after a few missions. While the art style isn’t particularly dynamic, the game captures a gritty wartime feel with most of its environments and music, of which there are also only a few tracks. What is nice is that the radio will cycle through a much healthier variety of 40’s music in order to punctuate down time with a bit of character, though the songs loop fairly frequently. There’s a bit of map reuse here that re-purposes skirmishes from different directions, and the occasional dream sequence allows the biomes to take on a bluish tone.

Despite a nice selection of enemy types, the Nazi soldiers don’t vary enough to be distinguishable on first sight. It usually takes a scroll over in order to check their health and see what buffs they provide to one another. Luckily, it’s Cthulhu’s minions that are truly distinct, with some appearing as monstrous blobs of tentacles, while others are sharp-clawed berserkers. Seeing what horrors the game throws at you as the difficulty slowly progresses is where the real fun lies. Outside of this, however, there’s nothing all that remarkable to note about the game’s presentation.

Impressions and Conclusion

Although the game offers a side-mission per each of its eleven main missions, there’s little reason to opt out of them, as they grant beneficial equipment that can prove useful in later missions. Not only this, but side-content is locked out once the main mission is completed, meaning there’s a rather consistent method of approach to progression. Speaking of which, as the player levels each unit up, they’ll see that it takes more and more experience in order to boost their party further, which makes this optional content more or less mandatory.

The game does offer several levels of difficulty in order to keep players coming back, and as far as each individual skirmish goes, there’s enough variety in terrain – from tight canyons to open cliff sides, bunkers and dense forests – to keep missions feeling different. But Achtung! does little to set the world on fire, and its partially because of its rather bland presentation value. The strategy elements are very well implemented and the game is far from unplayable, but it needs a bit more escalation earlier on to truly capture the attention. This escalation shouldn’t come in the form of health buffs, mind you, which is the case around the third or fourth mission of the game. There’s some light exploration to be done, as some missions will contain some side-objectives that can net bonus EXP or items, but it’s nothing too extreme and can often be a chore if it boils down to scouring the corners of the map. If you should find the battle spiraling out of control, you’d better hope you saved before you entered combat, because the game has no exit options other than reloading a save file or returning to the title screen, which means you’ll have to watch what little remains of your squad get torn to pieces if you want to restart things.

There’s a whole lot worse you could do when it comes to strategy, but with more vibrant and varied fare on the Switch, Achtung! fails to make a big splash. I can see why it’s a successful board game- the mechanics seem like they would be much more fun if each player had to cooperate in order to use their abilities – but commanding a squadron of four grows tiresome quickly. These four will gain new skills as the campaign progresses, but they fall into their roles a bit too comfortably, and rarely at any level below its higher difficulties (mind you, my initial playthrough was on hard difficulty) will you find yourself switching up your primary weapons all that much. All in all, if you’re a big fan of the source material, whether Lovecraft or the board game, there’s something to appreciate in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, but for those looking for a bit more complexity or variety, your time is best spent elsewhere.

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