ACHTUNG! Cthulhu Tactics Review
Based on the successful tabletop role-playing game of the same name, ACHTUNG! Cthulhu Tactics seeks to bring the tense stories of adventure and heroism of the allies of World War 2 against the (even more) evil secret cults of The Black Sun and Nachtwolfe nestled within the Nazi ranks. You take the role and command of Charlie Squad, an elite group of soldiers and resistance members sent out to the Ardennes forest to investigate and put a halt to these evil(er) groups of tentacle hugging nasties. A resounding shame then that instead of fighting off exciting (yes, I’m standing by that adjective) numbers of tentacles at every turn, you instead end up with just plates of overcooked, chewy, calamari -- that is to say a consistently disappointing affair.
Now, I’ve had the fortune of playing the tabletop RPG, but fully appreciate that such games’ success rely on playing with the right kind of people fully investing in the themes and characters which they play. My experience of it was joyous, but I also recall thinking that the setting was crafted with obvious love and care. Somewhere in the transition to the video game world, that zealous and captivating storytelling has been lost. It’s not that the setting doesn’t translate well to the video game world, it’s just that Auroch Digital have somehow managed to suck all the personality out of it. I fully understand that this a tactics game, but everything moves at such a snail’s pace with absolutely zero charm that you quickly lose all interest in what is actually happening on-screen.
The fact that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is so drab and lifeless nearly made me just ditch the game altogether with barely a backwards glance on several occasions. Far too many levels are based on the same bland forest map palette and lifeless warehouses that I honestly wondered if I was playing the same maps from a different angle. When I confirmed that this wasn’t the case and realised that the developers had just used the same scenery over and over again my heart sank even lower. Further into the game, the scenery did change into far more entertaining and suitably Lovecraftian fare — but it really was too little too late.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics doesn’t even have the decency to hide its gameplay influences within its own mechanics — this is a straight copy of XCOM, even down to the way the character action menus appear and behave during a level (and I could swear they use the same audio cues as well). Each character has a series of action points (AP) from which to shoot, move, throw grenades and so on. As a squad there are also bonus momentum points, too (MP) — where you can do some far more interesting things like trick shots, draining life Force and charging at the enemy with reckless abandon. It’s a good system that allows you to experiment and flavour your squad with whatever playstyle you prefer; that on its own merits, is deserving of praise — but as a straight rip-off, it garners no favours here.
So dull is the gameplay that I actually began to dread hearing the music cue for an enemy encounter. Everything just plods along at such a slow pace that, more often than not, I found myself on my phone while the enemy was taking its moves. Achtung! Cthulu Tactics just utterly failed to engage me as a player. There is some variety of enemies, from standard Nazi soldiers to the more monstrous shoggoths, but really the only variety that affects your game is just how much health they have. Because of this mechanic, combat can last an almost inappropriate length of time -- which again, wouldn’t be a problem if the game had some excitement and character. Instead it just becomes a slogging match between your four squaddies versus a giant pool of enemy hit points.
There’s no sense of consequence or permanence either. Unlike XCOM, if you fail a mission, you simply restart it. One of your squad can be captured and you do have to play a rescue mission to get him or her back, but it's not a permanent loss. If you fail that, you try again until you succeed. Without this level of danger you lose any sense of connection you may feel with a character that you’re levelling up and loading up to be the ultimate Nazi killer. It feels strange to state that the threat of permanent death is what keeps you on your toes in a game, but it really is applicable here.
You can also play side-missions that reward you with some extra gear and XP to level up your team, but they’re just more of the same. Wander round in the dark, bump into some uglies, shoot them, go home, level up. There really is no variety within the game as a whole.
There’s also no getting around how clunky and buggy the game feels under the hood either. Frequently throughout my playthrough I experienced screen tears, jumps in gameplay and broken objective markers that required a level restart to resolve. I also experienced more than a couple of levels where the same voice lines would be repeated over and over — I certainly hope this is a bug, because there are only so much campy, scenery chewing, German accents a man can take of the same line (“Zey Gott Me!”).
You can forgive a buggy or slightly broken game if its overall passion and mechanics (see: anything that Bethesda has ever made prior to Fallout 76) grabs you by the hair and pulls you along for the ride, warts and all. ACHTUNG! Cthulhu Tactics commits the most cardinal sin of gaming, however — it’s utterly boring. Instead I would just recommend you grab some friends, sit round the table, use the Nazis from Indiana Jones as reference material for over-the-top accents and just go play the tabletop game.
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