Chtulhu is a big mainstay in videogames and pop culture these days (you know you made it when you get your very own line of plushies) whereas Nazis, both in real life and in other forms of media, have often been portrayed to dabble in the occult. In Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, the two worlds collide and the results are...quite boring, actually. The premise is interesting and the game starts off promisingly enough, so what happened? I’m not going to tell you here because then you’ll just skip the rest of the review mwahaha. So grab your favorite Nazi abomination-slaying gear and lets head on over to the Forest of Fear.
The game opens up to a little story introduction that feels like an old WW2 newsreel: just a few black and white pictures with a narrator explaining the current events. Months after D Day, the Nazis are planning a counterattack on the Allies called Operation Watch on the Rhine. The Allied forces catch wind of the plan when London receives a message from a leader of the resistance that the Nazis are working of a horrifying new weapon in a secret facility hidden in the remote depths of the Ardennes Forest. In response, Britain and the United States send in members of their special occult forces (Section M and Majestic, respectively), who promptly realize the whole thing was a trap and they get wiped out, with the exception of two members. The survivors call in for backup and so London sends in two more members to help them. Huh. I guess they aren’t too worried about the whole situation at hand. Did you enjoy this little blurb? I hope so because this is pretty much all the story that Achtung! offers.
After about thirty minutes of playing you will have experienced all Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics has to offer. The structure is very simple; customize your team at the headquarters screen, select the story mission or side mission, get a little paragraph or two detailing the reason you’re going there, fight your way through the level, return to headquarters. Each time you finish a story mission, you unlock a side mission. If you decide to ignore the side mission and continue the story, it disappears and is replaced by another side mission. Side missions are a good way to get extra exp, and the only way to get new items and weapon mods for your team. The missions themselves are very straightforward. You simply walk through the same reused environments, sometimes looking for an objective to interact with, other times simply wiping out a specific enemy group and then leaving. By chapter five I really felt like I was just going through the motions, finishing the game was a real slog.
Character progression and customization initially looks impressive, but after a getting to know it, it feels like, it’s a bit shallow. Each character has a branching skill tree and loadout to manage. The loadout consists of a weapon, a weapon mod, and an item. Each character has an alternative weapon they can equip (excluding Captain Harris, who only has one) but aside from that, there are no other weapons to be acquired over the course of the game. Items are typically consumables that give you helpful benefits during the mission (like medkits) while I’m sure you all know what weapon mods do. Instead of leveling each member individually, they share a party level. Each time the party level increases, their stats increase and you are awarded skill points. Each character has a small branching skill tree of nineteen skills to learn. Some are for passive bonuses like increasing health points, while active skills give them special abilities to be used in combat. A few of these skills are really useful but for the most part, the rest of them are just there to blandly fill out the list. On the plus side, while in headquarters the background music is great. There are a few jazzy, era-appropriate songs that sound like they’re bopping out of a lo-fi record player much like something you would hear in a Fallout game. The rest of the game’s soundtrack is good, but these really stand out.
The graphics are passable, but I normally don’t expect much in that area from strategy games and their ilk. However, since I’m reviewing this on Switch I also have to bring up the fact that it can be hard to see in handheld mode. It is much preferable to play in docked mode because some of the smaller details like the stats and numbers can be hard to see unless you are holding the console relatively close to your face. Take this with a grain of salt because not everyone minds, but I prefer not to have a screen jammed in my face for too long.
Now on to the combat! It is basic turn-based battles with a cover system and a few Lovecraftian twists. Each character has 12 AP in which they can spend to act. This includes movement, attacks, weapon reloading, and using items/special abilities. The party also shares a special meter called Momentum. This can be spent to move even when you have no AP left. More importantly, most of the crew’s powerful special abilities need Momentum points to activate. It adds a nice layer to the strategy side of things, utilizing it properly to give your characters that extra oomph when they need it really turns the tide in your favor. Taking cover is an important aspect of the battles because you can easily be killed out in the open. Each character has a luck bar which acts just like a shield to protect them from health damage when getting hit by enemy attacks. Luck refills completely after each battle but health only recovers between each mission unless you use a medkit. So don’t forget to take cover because the enemy will shred you up.
Mental health is usually an issue in the Cthulhu universe and here it is no different. The battle area is covered in a black shroud except for the direction your character’s cone of vision is aiming. Enemies outside your view are just shadowy figures with question marks for a name until you expose them. When a mysterious enemy attacks you, it increases that character’s stress level, which leads to debuffs and, eventually, a loss of control. Other situations can also increase stress, such as seeing an ally gravely injured, or fighting with ‘Mythos’ creatures like the Shoggoth or the Black Sun humanoid abominations. Since Cthulhu Tactics is not a scary game, the stress mechanic is an interesting way to drive home the fact that they are fighting horrors that the human mind can’t comprehend.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a game with an interesting concept that quickly degenerates into a bland gameplay routine with little to no story and absolutely no incentive for you to keep playing after the first few missions. As much as I would like to get to know about the cool backstories of characters like Dubois (What is that monster on her shoulder? Where the hell did she get it?), the game offers you nothing: the characters never talk about themselves or anything, really. I know this game is based off a tabletop pen and paper RPG called Achtung! Cthulhu, but I’ve never even heard about it until I reviewed this title. My verdict is that unless you are a big fan of the tabletop version or simply a diehard fan of SRPG gameplay, don’t waste your time with this.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5/10
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