Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review: Scratch the Strategy Itch
For one reason or another, games inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu have become in vogue again. October saw the release of Call of Cthulhu and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. The latter of the two – based on a tabletop game with the same name -- now makes its way to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 brings its unique strategic gameplay to the consoles.
Developed by UK-based Auroch Digital, Cthulhu Tactics has a similar squad-based gameplay made famous by the XCOM series. Devoted fans of that style of play and lovers of everything Lovecraft may squeeze out some extra enjoyment, but it simply doesn't have enough in the tank for everyone else.
In the Nazi-killin' Business
Cthulhu Tactics takes place during World War II. As most history buffs know, the Nazis delved into the occult to either prove their superiority over other races or seek supernatural weapons that would ensure their victory. Other games explored this fascination they had, but in this game, the Nazi found the power of Mythos and plan to make use of it.
To take on this new mystic power, the Allied forces formed a special unit called Charlie Company with orders to stop the Nazis from using the power. The team is made up of British Captain Eric "Badger" Harris, Arian Dubois from France, Corporal Akhee "The Eye" Singh, and Sergeant Brandon Carter from the US. Each soldier has their own set of abilities and equipment for combat.
As players make their way through the missions, bits of additional background for characters and the overall storyline will be revealed, but not much. The battlefield will see bits of lore here and there with most of the story coming from briefings before the start of a mission. For a game based on one of the most well-known wars in history along with an iconic fictional world written by Lovecraft, Cthulhu Tactics' story doesn't have much to sink your teeth into.
Missions place the squad on a 2.5D isometric map with a goal to reach a certain point on the map. Players will lead Charlie Company via a point-and-click interface called Explore Mode until the team comes within a certain distance of enemy units, which begins combat.
Enemies will not be revealed until they're within the sight of one of the team members. Until then, there will be no details about the opposition available such as the name of the unit or hit points.
When it's the player's turn, orders can be given to each character from taking a shot at enemies, reloading or using a special attack. Like XCOM and other similar strategy games, the number of actions available will be based on Action Points.
There are certain abilities that make use of Momentum Points, which are points based on the player with the highest leadership stat and can increase in number depending on how well the fight is going for the players. One of the special actions is called Overwatch that lets characters focus in a certain direction and if enemies move within that direction, the character will shoot at them.
Maps are based on a grid so players will have to move their characters in order to get the best shot on the enemy. There's plenty of cover in each area so it's a matter of deciding whether to do a hard push or to move slowly toward the enemy.
A battle will consist of several enemies and, once over, players will return to Explore Mode where they will continue moving toward their goal and investigate certain spots here and there until they come across another set of enemies. There are multiple battles in each mission, and after the mission, players will receive experience points that level up characters and in turn increase available skills. Weapon mods and other equipment will also be available after missions.
While the Cthulhu Tactics' gameplay sounds intriguing, its execution is a problem. The controls are clunky, which really says a lot when we're talking about a turn-based strategy game. You simply have to press too many buttons per action, which becomes cumbersome when you are swapping targets often.
The game also desperately needs is a fast forward option as some actions take a long time to perform, which turns much of your time with Achtung! Cthulhu into a waiting game.
There is also the issue of performance. This review was played on an original Xbox One and there were multiple instances of slowdown in situations where it didn't seem warranted. Cthulhu Tactics takes around 10 hours to beat, but with a fast-forward button that could easily drop down by a few hours.
Another problem is the transition between Explore Mode and combat. Since it's based on distance from an enemy, players can find themselves in combat with an enemy that is quite a distance away because of the barriers separating them. This means battles could start with multiple turns needed to get anywhere near the enemy.
War Is Ugly
Cthulhu Tactics is simply boring to look at. There's a real lack of detail in both the characters and the environments, which ultimately makes the game leave a minimal impression. Although the game's aesthetics are on par with a tabletop game, considering it's based on one, it simply comes off as unappealing to look at after awhile.
Add on top of that the few musical scores and the few, barely audible words from the game's characters. There is nothing in the presentation to impress the player.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics may appeal to gamers in love with strategy games like XCOM, but who have beaten all the games in that franchise and are all out of juice. This is a game for those people that need a little hit for their strategy habit.
For everyone else, Cthulhu Tactics offers nothing new or exceptional, It's like a video game version of junk food that has nothing but empty calories with no nutrition.
[Note: The developer provided a copy of Achtung: Cthulhu Tactics for the purpose of this review.]