Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics – Xbox One Review
The Second World War is drawing to its conclusion but although the Nazis are facing defeat, they have something very sinister they are ready to unleash in their enemies. Two secret groups from inside the Third Reich are channelling the powers of the occult in a bid to turn the course of the war, but when the allies get wind of this, they send out their own team of mystical troops. You play this team of four heroic soldiers in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, a turn-based combat game from Ripstone and Auroch Digital. Its based on a tabletop game, which makes sense with the action taking place in close grid like environments. The gameplay is fairly typical of the genre, and the developers seem to have taken a lot of inspiration from XCOM, as its easy to spot similarities. The story draws on the gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and while mixing this with the Nazis is hardly original, it’s popular because it’s a good mix in terms of creating an even more evil enemy.
For Lovecraft fans, you may be disappointed by the characters that are brought out of the Cthulhu Mythos. More could’ve been done to involve some of the more fantastical beasts as nearly all of them seemed to be humanoid Nazi-demon hybrids or Shoggoths, which are just slow lumbering beasts that rarely do any damage to you anyway.
The plot involves your troop going on missions into enemy territory, moving towards objectives until you encounter enemies, then the combat action kicks in. A nice feature is you having to set which direction your characters are looking in, as the detail on the map is only revealed in the cone of their line of sight. Enemies are only a dark blur until you catch sight of them, so you only roughly know where they are and have no idea what kind of unit they are until spotted. This gives a penalty on the accuracy of your shot as you’re effectively firing blindly with the hope of a lucky hit.
You make the moves of your characters as a group when not in combat, but once you get into a gunfight they are moved one by one, and you can do as many actions as you can until you run out of Action Points, which is standard mechanic for this type of game. If you don’t move great distances you can usually get in two shots with your main weapon but you need to take into account what type of weapon your have poised when making sure you’re the right distance away from the enemy. I realised this early on after a few battle being frustrated by missing the target despite standing next to them, then realising it was because I was shooting a gun that was designed to long range action. A more unique feature is Momentum, which fills a meter when you get good shots or kills, and as long as you keep doing well in battle will give an extra advantage on your performance. Momentum can prolong your turn for example, if you take a double shot with the pistol, which will cost one action point per shot, but if you hit with both shots, your Momentum boost will give you an action point, meaning another shot for you!
Its not all about going in gung-ho however, as when your faced with multiple enemies its best to find a decent position of cover, camp in for a bit, and use the action points to revive teammates or to put your gun on its stand to make for a more stable shot later. A favourite for me was to set my character to Overwatch mode. This involves setting a cone for his line of sight, and standing poised on watch, so as soon as any enemy moves into the cone, your character will attempt to shoot them down.
There is a skill tree for each of the four characters, in the form of a target, where you start in the middle, and unlock skills as you move out in one of three directions. As your party increases in level after each mission, you use these skill points to upgrade your individual skills, making sure to get a nice diverse spread of specialities within a team. Some of these skills worked well, especially those that increase your range and efficiency in combat, but for others like Leadership barely registered a difference for me. The skill tree for me was a good idea not particularly well executed, and either more should have been done with it, or just omit it altogether.
Each character is given a different back story and look at them written down and it’s a diverse group, but that’s all wasted when in the game and you have to pay attention or they turn into similar generic troops. The fact that the audio has to have them say little phrases when they are involved in a piece of combat as a way to remind you who they are, says plenty about the failure to raise the protagonists above the bland and generic. Much more could have been done to distinguish the character development and take each in a different direction with a more varied use of the weapons each can use, or putting more emphasis on the supernatural powers. Its not much better when it comes to the enemies either, as on the whole apart from the odd special ability, the only difference between most of the enemies is how long it takes to kill them.
The graphics by and large are quite good if a little functional with limited amount of variation between different missions. They give a good impression of dark and foreboding environments but it could have done with a bit more variety to stop the missions looking monotonous. Gameplay was smooth however, with only the odd bit of lag when shooting in Overwatch mode, but as the game goes into slo-mo at that point, its not much of an issue.
The lack of variation is the mine gripe I have with Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, as although it’s gameplay mechanics are solid enough, theres just not much to it, and it soon becomes a bit of a grind. You have 10 story missions and on top of that associated side missions, but theres very much of a sameness about them. You explore as a group, encounter the enemy and go into combat mode, defeat the enemy, explore more, fight again, rinse and repeat. Each story mission was taking me about half an hour to complete, but it all turned into a bit of a grind as the pattern of gameplay stretched out before me.
The control system was easy to pick up and the tutorial mission was a boon to get you straight into the action but once you’ve mastered it there was a lack of complexity that meant you didn’t really feel like you were getting any better as you got deeper into the story. As for the story, it was OK if unspectacular, told in snippets of narrative as missions were loading. And thanks got for the audio narrative as the text on the screen was so small I had to get about 5 feet from the screen to avoid eye strain while reading it.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics presents itself as competent with solid gameplay, but is very much lacking in character or depth to keep you playing beyond one playthrough. The framework is there but its crying out for more in the way of variety that could be fixed with some decent DLC content.
Developer: Auroch Digital
Many thanks to Plan of Attack for the review copy.