Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics‘ title tells you exactly what you are getting with this game. This is a turn-based tactics game that focuses almost entirely on tactical combat set in World War II with a heavy dose of the occult thrown in for good measure. While it’s set in the world crafted for the Achtung! Cthulhu tabletop roleplaying game, the game is surprisingly light on storytelling and RPG elements.
If you’re an XCOM player expecting a deep strategy layer, you’ll probably find Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics wanting. Similarly, if you are a fan of the tabletop RPG, you’ll probably find the game light on drama, character customization, and narrative. Despite this, Cthulhu Tactics does a good job with what it sets out to do. This is a game that gives you just enough information in each mission to provide context for your actions with minimal bookkeeping. Tactical combat is what the game wants you to do, and thankfully it does tactical combat well.
Because of the narrow focus on combat, the game doesn’t hold up especially well to long play sessions. It can start to feel like a grind if you play mission after mission in rapid succession, but the game is quite fun when you dip in and out for a mission or two. Depending on how you like to consume games, this could be seen as a glaring negative. Based on how few long gaming sessions I personally get these days, I’ve had quite a bit of fun poking and prodding at it for an hour or so each day.
The combat system isn’t the deepest that I’ve played, but it does do some interesting things, especially where Momentum is concerned (I’ll come back to the Momentum system later). It has a bare-bones cover system that is easy to understand, and it places a huge emphasis on the vision cones of both your characters and the enemy. The vision cone system not only helps flesh out the tactical elements of the game; you need to be able to see an enemy to identify them, you have a better chance to hit them if you can see them and they are in your cone etc, but it also does a good job of selling the theme of the game.
In the missions, you’re able to explore the map in a quasi-real-time phase that switches to full-on turn based once you encounter an enemy. When moving around the map outside of combat, enemy vision cones are still in effect. You can see exactly what your characters see, and the parts of the map they can’t see hide in either impenetrable darkness or a murky fog of war. Enemies appear as vague wispy shadows when they’re far away or relatively close. The cartoonish art style prevents it from ever feeling scary, but the limitations placed on your vision really help to sell the occult atmosphere.
Your characters perform all the actions you’ve come to know and expect from turn-based tactics games. Movement, shooting, overwatch, and item usage are all well represented. Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics doesn’t separate movement from actions though. Rather, everything your character can do comes with an Action Point (AP) cost. I really like games that use an AP system as they make you consider your action economy when moving your troops. Decisions like choosing whether to take two shots with a low hit probability vs moving closer to an enemy and taking one more accurate shot really help the game feel more tactical and considered.
On top of the AP system, there is Momentum. This is a special pool of AP that your entire squad shares. Anyone can tap into the Momentum pool, and it’s often how you use your Momentum points that determines whether you make it out of an engagement unscathed, or by the skin of your teeth. Each character also has special abilities that can only be paid for with Momentum, meaning you have to balance your awesome abilities against your need to move juuuust a little bit further to get in to cover, take a shot with your secondary weapon, or go on overwatch. Momentum is earnable by doing well in combat, and it can also be expanded by increasing your characters’ leadership. The system is rewarding and limited enough to make you really think carefully about how to use it.
Acthung! Cthulhu Tactics only gives you four characters to work with. They gain Skill Points (SP) as your squad levels up, which lets you tailor them into specific roles. There aren’t a huge number of options for character customization, but it does feel good to customize them and watch them grow in power. They each have their own roles, and each is a badass in their own right.
The gameplay does a good job of making you feel like you’re in command of an elite squad, rather than 4 random soldiers. On top of the abilities that each troop has, they also have Luck, a temporary pool of hit points that refills after each battle. If you manage how many hits you take, you can get out of a battle without a scratch. The system also gives you a buffer for those times that you need to take a risk to take out the enemy.
The game is almost entirely linear, with the option of the main mission and a side mission being your only choices once you’ve completed a mission. It’s often worthwhile to complete side missions, as they grant you additional gear and items, and the side missions also serve as your way to rescue any of your squad that might have fallen during a mission, but they aren’t really varied much in terms of content from the main mission, so if you are a completionist you will be facing even more of a combat grind as you play.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics isn’t going to blow your socks off graphically, and the music is pleasant to forgettable, and I did notice quite a few framerate hitches during my time with the game. I hit bouts of frustration occasionally trying to line up one of my troop’s abilities. I couldn’t quite master the wonky controller inputs but that never caused problems. Chalk one up for turn-based combat! With that said, the framerate drops happened often enough to start to annoy me if I played for more than one mission per sitting. The voice acting is very well done, even if the rest of the sound effects are merely passable.
All told Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics provides just about what I’d expect for a new game at its scale. The tactical combat is fun, the Momentum system really helps you feel like you have choices in combat, and the vision cones really help sell the theme. If you enjoy turn-based tactics games primarily for the combat you may want to give it a serious look, but if you are expecting a deep strategy layer or a nuanced, engaging story you’ll want to look elsewhere.
TechRaptor covered Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.