World War II based Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics marks the third turn-based tactical combat game I’ve reviewed in a short time. Post-apocalyptic Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden featured a gorgeous presentation and a tight gameplay while the loose and creative gameplay counterweighted shabby graphics in the budget title Jagged Alliance: Rage!. What does Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics has in its sleeve, then? It turns out that apart from mixing paranormal activity in form of Lovecraftian mythos to the war, not much.
A small allied strike team is sent behind enemy lines to uncover what Germans have been digging up in something the locals call the Forest of Fear. Rumors of ungodly sights and experiments turns to reality when the fearless foursome faces not only German elite and paranormal troops but also ancient Eldritch horrors, harnessed by Nazis to turn the tide of war in their favor. Short, written mission briefings are the only narrative the game has to offer, so it’s up to the imagination to fill the gaps. Not that the action in the field is exactly exciting, either.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics plays similarly to most games of its genre. You have an isometric view of the playing area that is marked out by the fog of war, here literally so. There are four characters in your team, and each has a set of action points to spend on moving, shooting and special actions, such as rapid fire or throwing grenades. The characters have two health bars. The first is luck, and only when it’s depleted by enemy attacks, the health points are decreased. Losing luck causes stress that can lead to unwanted actions of panic and confusion.
In practice, it’s hard for enemy troops, be they men or monsters, to present much inconvenience because the squad has a secret gameplay weapon: momentum points (MP). They are gained by performing well in combat, like killing enemies and getting critical hits. Momentum points are used to additional attacks with characters’ sidearms, and for some special activities, like doubling the field of vision to recognize enemies for a better chance to hit them. Momentum also allows extra movement outside action points. Momentum points are independent from action points, and each turn is started with a bunch of MP at your disposal. It almost feels like a cheat mode; one character can kill multiple targets during one turn with a combination of AP and MP attacks. No matter how overwhelming the odds might appear, the heroes are rarely in real danger.
Successful missions are rewarded with experience points that grant level ups. The skill points are distributed very generously. The higher the character level is, the more points he or she will get. They unlock bonuses to damage and attacks, and to willpower (better stress resilience) and leadership (more MP points!). There are also some additional attacks to gain, like a melee rush to an enemy. As long as you do side missions alongside the main assignments, it doesn’t take long for the team to become a force to be reckoned with. Even battling Eldritch horrors feels like tucking carpets in the backyard!
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics feels, looks and sounds like something that’s been developed with a really tight budget. The game has certain old-fashioned charm to it, and the close quarters turn-based action evokes amusing vibes of gentleman’s rules. The way characters, enemies and heroes alike, brush each other while moving, it’s as if they’re saying “I let you run there right under my nose, and only then I will shoot you”. Still, even though the gameplay works within its rules and there are no flaws to speak of, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is just too bare-bones. It isn’t fleshed out in any way to make it jazzier. Every mission, no matter what briefings might say, play out similarly in exactly the same settings with exactly the same enemies and exactly the same set pieces laid out.
There’s absolutely no variety, not even when the lurking horrors start to crawl in and the characters are taken into a dream world once in a while. They, too, play out painfully similar to everything else in the game. As a reviewer, I’m obliged to play games throughout so that I can give an objective view of them. But I have a hunch that if I had purchased Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics for my own pleasure, I would have played it only for a couple of missions and then moved onto something more exciting. When the Cthulhu mythos is left largely untapped in the tepid action, the game is yet another addition to the long list of unsatisfactory takes on the subject.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.