When you hear H.P. Lovecraft you think hellscapes and beasts too grotesque and disturbed than humanly possible to imagine. You won’t be getting this with Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, instead its 80% Nazis, 10% Nazis with a tentacle kink, 10% underwhelming amorphous blobs, and 100% bland.
The story is a bog standard case of ‘WIN THE FUCKING WAR!’. Though here we have to stop the Cult of the Black Sun opening up a gateway using the unexplained technological leap they have acquired, and dive headfirst into a scorching tirade of Nazis, bullets, and abominations with nothing but an inexhaustible supply of ammunition, superpowers, and the fact that your on the Allies side so you can’t really lose. History is written by the winners yo!
The gameplay is instantly recognizable to those who have played what I believe to be the genres greatest entry, XCOM. It is a turn-based strategy game where you control the individual movements of your squad by placing them in cover and picking targets to aim and miss at… but instead of aliens we instead have globally hated Nazis, and the denizens of dimensional terror.
The gameplay of Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is the ultimate wet dream of any fan of table-top and video RPG games. The reason being that the game opts to use Action Points (AP) and Motivation Points (MP). This means that pulling the trigger on your pea-shooter sidearm can be more debilitating on your squad than taking a few steps but there are a greater number of options when conducting your turn.
Once you clear a section of enemies in a level of Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, you don’t immediately complete the mission as there are nefariously long corridor-esque sections to trudge your troupe of troopers through. These moments feel like the game is offering you a break from the grievously slow combat and feel like a way to pad out each level.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does employ the classic strategy trope of ‘Fog-of-War’, hence meaning that you need to physically use a units cone of vision to see what lies ahead. I will actually praise this as it doesn’t offer a dulled overview of the level and instead just leaves you purely blind to anything past a certain point unless you move to that area.
This forces you to weigh up the risk of moving too far ahead as you can approach an area you neglected to study. This forces you to make a decision on whether to go in all John Rambo or analyze every aspect to determine the most effective cover should you end up in a combat situation. See, I can say nice things too.
As well as this, you also have to manually pick a direction for each squad member to face. This means that abilities such as ‘Overwatch‘ will not target every enemy, only the ones in the current line of sight. This feature can also end up being a boon as units who get the drop on their enemy can get a stat boost over unaware enemies.
Outside of missions, however, the preparation stage comes in the form of a sheet of paper that looks about as much of a map as my angry, wrinkled brow. You also get to apply every squad members applicable skills when leveling up, this means making tactical decisions about how to build your squad is a futile task. You can also sort through your squad’s weaponry and equipment which consists of one of two guns each, an uninspired weapon mod and painfully generic equipment.
The squad you control are all very unique and have their own strengths when it comes to combat. Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics gives you supernaturally talented squad members to use. Despite this, you are limited to using the same four. Every. Single. Time. It’s tedious. There is so much more potential for diversity, especially with the game adopting the ‘apocalypse-by-cosmic-deity’ scenario.
The pacing of Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a slow and draining grind on the soul, the story plays out at the same pace old people wander down a high street and it fails to get Lovecraftian until three levels in. Saying this, once it finally does take the gloves of grotesque body horror off, its brief and feels like a tease. You fight off a few bubbles of mass and voila, level complete, back to some classic Nazi hunting.
The level design is pretty dull too. It features a variety of forests, forests, and Nazi encampments… in forests. Considering that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics takes place during World War II, I would have expected to be facing down octo-Nazis, terror blobs, and the eater of worlds: Cthulu himself in burnt-out cities, abandoned farms and scorched no-mans land. Instead, all we get is a menagerie of oak and willow trees.
I try not to think too hard about graphics when sweating myself into a coma whilst playing turn-based strat games. Though I did find myself internally complaining that everything felt unpolished and a little blurry. Though that could be down to the color pallet of the game coming down to garish greens and grim grays. This isn’t just limited to the level design however, the pre-planning screen is also lackluster in appeal meaning no visual aspect of this game is appealing unless you’re a fan of admiring colors more commonly associated with the flu.
Sound design is also a cause for concern as my experience with Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics only provided me with what felt like two backing tracks. One was for the menu and the other for combat, and the latter was far more annoying. Featuring the same few bars of music, it gets to the point where you have to say ‘fuck this’ and mute your television. Count your blessings when you do because the voice acting here is also unbearable. The lack of emotion in every line makes you feel like you are sitting through an interactive play which was written, directed, and starring a group of small children afraid of their own shadow.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is to XCOM what Dawn of the Dead (2004) is to Dawn of the Dead (1978). It is different in its own right, but it isn’t necessarily a good thing. The overall level of depth is fairly shallow, especially as I was expecting an experience similar to XCOM and I noticed the version I was playing stuttered quite frequently, especially when swapping units to control. If you were looking forward to this game, I say to you: ACHTUNG! Dieses spiel ist scheiße.