Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (PS4) Review

H.P. Lovecraft fans are getting double the fan service at this time of year! First, we had the creepy and atmospheric Call of Cthulu from Cyanide Studios and now we have Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics from developer Auroch Digital and publisher Ripstone. However, Call of Cthulu was set in the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ universe and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is surprisingly set in the ‘Achtung! Cthulhu’ universe. That’s right, expect to see a lot of Nazis as you embark on an adventure against an immortal evil (although, hopefully not ‘too’ immortal)! 

With a combination of turn-based tactics and real-time exploration, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics will test your skills as well as your character’s sanity as you delve deeper into the strange goings-on during this secret war.

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This should be a familiar sight to fans fo the genre

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics takes place in Europe as our team of elite soldiers come together to venture through the Forest of Fear in order to take down the Nazis and whatever creatures which emerge from the Cthulhu Mythos. That’s right, not only will you be tasked with tactically and strategically taking down the Nazi scum, but you’ll also be pitted against strange beings who walk on two legs with tentacles on their face and giant blobs of evil darkness who just want to hug you… to death!

With a playtime of around 15 hours in order to complete the main story, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics has plenty of content to keep you busy with both it’s main story missions as well as optional side missions. Side missions which will earn you new weapons, accessories, and experience points so you can level up your team. I’m up to the tenth set of missions and it’s taken me probably longer than 15 hours so far due to the difficulty spikes, which I’ll talk about later. Just because this is based on Cthulhu Mythos, don’t expect to be scared or for there to be any horrific or disturbing scenes, this is all about tactical warfare, if you want an immersive and creepy Cthulhu game then you should take a look at Call of Cthulu instead.

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Exploration mode – unlimited movements within your walking distance.

How it works:
2018 has delivered a few great tactical games so far from This is the Police 2 and Phantom Doctrine to the upcoming Mutant Year Zero and new Jagged Alliance. Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a game which I would also put up there as one of the ones I’ve had the most fun with this generation, although maybe not as much as Xcom, the grandaddy of tactical RPG franchises. What threw me off, yet also impressed me, was the way the actual missions play out. Instead of throwing you into a mission and you have a singular tactical event to play through, or the ability to move around based on your movement limits before the fight begins, if it ever does (like in the brilliant Phantom Doctrine), Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does things a little differently.

When you first appear in a mission, you have unlimited movement – you pick a spot to move to and all four of your team members walk over to that spot. This is the exploration mode. There are usually hidden objects or items to interact with, this is done whilst you’re freely walking about. Sure, you’re still limited to the walking distance like you are in a tactical event, but you never run out of AP and everyone moves together. The game has really thick ‘fog of War’ which is why you can’t move an unlimited amount of spaces into the unknown. 

Once you stumble into an area which has some Nazis or creatures within it, the Combat event starts. It always begins with you seeing shadows moving around you, so you know roughly where they are based, then you take your turn to get your team behind cover and into position for the main event! Once combat is over, the team regenerate their ‘Luck’ meter and any incapacitated member is woken up with minimal health. Then, it’s back to the exploration mode where you can freely move around and explore until you bump into the next combat area or discover the evacuation pad.

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Pew Pew

Combat events:
Combat is quite solid in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, yet it seems to follow a ruleset which Phantom Doctrine had in place which some people wasn’t a massive fan of. If you’ve played that game, you’ll know that when it initially came out, there was a lot of questions around why enemies could shoot you through walls and why you could be seen when you’re hiding behind a wall – this is the same here, only I now know why. Thank’s to the devs explaining things with Phantom Doctrine, the mechanics in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics also begin to make more sense.

A character, ally or foe, is placed in square 5 of 9 (if looking at it as a keypad). technically, and by random chance, the character could step into any of the adjacent squares both when shooting and being shot at. That’s why, based on your hit percentage and the character’s defence, you’ll sometimes see people willfully step into the line of sight from behind cover – because it’s based on them stepping there via RNG. At least that’s what I understood from the Phantom Doctrine developers. 

As such, some people may think the combat is a little too random, but I liked it – all ‘100%’ chance shots hit fine and high percentages were hit or miss, as you’d expect. In terms of combat itself, everyone has 12AP to play with each round – certain attacks use up more AP and moving also costs AP, so you have to balance what you’re doing accordingly. You can also end up being restricted with your AP if you’re fear level is high or you’ve been hit by some Miasma damage. What makes a Cthulhu game? Fear, stress, evil magic and strange beings – Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics ticks all of those boxes as your characters become terrified if they come into contact with the creatures and thus begin to act without guidance or loses their motivation and accuracy.

It’s a very interesting mechanic and also a staple to all Cthulhu Mythos-based games these days. It does, however, cripple your team and severely puts you at a disadvantage as you get further into the game if you’ve not been playing the game smart and let your guard down. Also, I’ve mentioned ‘Fear’ above, this is basically the shield of your character. This is damaged first before your health and, unlike the health, it’s regenerated after each combat event – health is only refiled with medi-packs or upon completing the entire mission.

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Meet the team…

The Team:
So, who would stupidly sign up for this mission willingly? Also, why is it only four people who have been tasked with taking down this evil force rather than a whole army? I know it’s a secret war, so they obviously want to keep things ‘secret’, but these people must have a massive set of balls to go into the unknown alone!

First up we have Captain Eric Harris. He’s the one in charge of ‘Section M’, the name they call this group of unknown heroes. He is the only one who is equipt with an experimental weapon and is an overall bad-ass.

Next is Sergeant Carter, an officer on secondment to this secret team. Carter carries an Elder Sign with him so that his weapons fire mythos-fuelled bullets at their targets.

Now we get into the occult and unusual with Ariane DuBois (no relation to Allison DuBois, the famous medium and subject of the TV show ‘medium’ – or at least I don’t think she is…). Ariane is a member of the French revolution and is motivated by the death of her parents at the hands of the Black Sun, the organisation Section M are tasked with taking down. Not only does she carry a Luger for protection, but she also has a terrifying creature who befriended her in an earlier mission who sits upon her shoulder like a parrot.

Finally, we have Corporal Akhee Singh, a man who is feared just as much by the Axis as he is by the Allies – the team he is currently on! He came across a statue of a forgotten God and was rewarded with an amulet. This amulet grants him mystical powers such as generating dark clouds which damages his foes and inciting fear and dread into those who oppose him.

Throughout Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, as your players have their health drained and they become incapacitated, if you don’t revive them in time, they will get captured by the Axis and taken away from you until you complete a side mission and save them once again. As such, there are two other characters – Badger Commando and Demon Hunter – who will step in and take their place until you free them once more. These are strong allies who have a set skill tree and weapons which can’t be changed. Personally, I would have liked the ability to swap the characters freely, but at least we have these benchwarmers!

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Yeah, why wont this fat blob with tentacles die?!

Skills:
Each character has a skill tree, well, wheel. This allows you to spend your earnt Skill Points, which you obtain as the team levels up, on new abilities, boosts and passive enhancements. The further out of the circle you get, the more expensive the skills become. You can, however, ‘retrain’ your team member should you wish – this will remove all the set skills and it lets you purchase them again. Each character has a different set of skills and abilities and each character has a distinct role within this tactical adventure. 

The difficulty:
This is one of my biggest complaints, yet it could just be because I’m not very good at the game? Upon starting, you have a few difficulty levels to choose between – in this instance, I chose the ‘normal’ option. Up until around the 8th chapter, everything was fine – I had a few characters die in battle but I was always able to bring them back to life and carry on to the end. Chapter nine gave me a few issues with being surrounded by giant black blob creatures and elite guards who took me down within a few hits. Chapter ten, which I’m on now, is also offering a rather difficult set of missions and side missions. As your team gets more experience, their levels increase and so does there stats, but you don’t find a lot of new weapons or level up at the level the enemies do (in my opinion). Everything seems to get harder as you stay the same.

As such, some levels took numerous attempts to get through as well as rethinking my strategy and playing with all of the new abilities I had unlocked. Now, that doesn’t actually sound that bad as I type it – I’m being forced to use new abilities, experiment, and give it another go with a different mindset. However, if you’ve been playing for almost an hour then die with only the option to load the previous turn or the beginning of the mission, it kinda frustrates you. There are manual saves (yet you only get one manual save which overwrites itself each time) but I tend to forget as I’ve been spoilt in games like Phantom Doctrine where it would autosave the last five or six turns so you can experiment with ‘what if’ ventures.

The thing is, this is on Normal – I’d hate to see what the game is like on ‘Mythic’ difficulty, where the only description for the difficulty is “Madness Awaits”. I doubt I’ll be brave enough to try out that one, especially if Normal is causing me a few issues. Oh, and there is no way to lower the difficulty once you’ve started a game without starting a brand new campaign in one of the three provided save slots. 

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Your worst enemy in the game is the camera angles!

Technical:
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics isn’t as visually impressive as some of the other tactical games I’ve played this year. The main issue here is that the game’s camera is a major distraction from what’s going on. First of all, you can’t zoom in from the default distance, only zoom out – so you can’t get in close and actually look at the creatures you are up against. Secondly, the camera rotates on a fixed 90-degree isometric angle, this introduces a load of issues surrounding visibility. I’ve had trees pop up and block my view, walls being too high so you can’t see what’s going on, people stood in corners so you can’t even make them out, and buildings get it in the way with no auto-cut out in operation. If the developers mapped the camera to the Right stick and allowed us to zoom right in and out as well as freely turn, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics would be a lot better to play.

The environments are nice and detailed but a lot of them are re-used. You’ll be in the forest in one mission and then in the same forest – albeit from another starting point – in another. The interior segments are also from the same handful of maps. The fog of war does a good job of trying to obscure this fact, but once you’ve played for a good few hours, you begin to notice that you’re in the same place you were a few missions ago. I do like, from what I can see from the set distance, the enemy creatures and their ‘Davy Jones’-a-like faces as they run towards you and attack. I just wish we could get a better look at them, Phantom Doctrine had a brilliant auto zoom-in behind the shoulder camera when attacking.

Sound-wise, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics works really well. There is a lot of voice acting, random banter between characters, the music has a WW2 but creepy feeling about it and the creature screams are nice and satisfying. I can’t falter the sound design as everything sounds great. If only the camera was fixed!

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Some of the creatures are a bit strange.

Personal Opinion:
If we ignore the camera issues and the difficulty spikes, for now, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a really good tactical strategy game which takes inspiration from other various TRPG games and the Cthulhu Mythos. However, if you were to take away Cthulhu from the name and change the ‘Fear’ meter back into the ‘shield’, would I still know this game was actually about the Cthulhu universe? Honestly, other than the tentacle-faced beings, I would have to say no. I was hoping there would be bigger creatures, more emphasis on the madness traits, new mystical abilities and easily-recognisable experimental weapons which are used to fend off the creatures. But, I imagine it’s following the Table-top game, which I’ve not played.

That being said, as a tactical game, I enjoyed my time with it. Going back to my issues, yes, the game does appear to spike in difficulty but I believe that’s a design choice as it makes you think about things and act differently whilst experimenting with new weapons and tactics. However, the lack of a few extra manual saves per file, the poor auto-save, and the inability to drop the difficulty if you’re having issues all make me wish the game adapted to your playstyle and abilities rather than having a boost in difficulty for no reason. It’s not even like you can go and grind to get better as once you’ve completed a mission it’s gone for good! 

Finally, I would have enjoyed the game more had the camera been more accessible to use and not obstructed by random trees, walls, buildings and barriers. I can see that they have done it like this to mimic great games of the past like Xcom, but in Xcom the walls and other objects became transparent as they obstructed the camera, and you had the ability to zoom right in or out. Although, how it is now didn’t stop me from playing or make it impossible, it just made it a bit cumbersome at times.

Your mileage will vary but I thought that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, as a whole, is a good tactical game that TRPG fans should check out, just don’t expect it to be as heavy on the Cthulhu Mythos as Call of Cthulu was. 

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a great attempt at a Tactical RPG based within the Achtung! Cthulhu universe. Sure, the game has a few flaws in regards to its obstructive camera, lack of save options and spikes in difficulty, but it also has a lot of positives going for it as well. The combination of the realistic and the fantastical is very interesting and the various creatures who come to slaughter you are both interesting and exciting. Other than equipping your only four operatives, there is little to do between missions yet the fusion of exploration and numerous combat events within the missions helps make this game stand on its own in the genre.

If you’re a tactical RPG fan then Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is for you, it’s a bit simple in terms of the RPG side, yet the tactical side will challenge you, especially on the harder difficulties. If you’re a massive Cthulhu fan yet aren’t into TRPGs, maybe watch some footage first as the game is mechanics first, story and mythos second.

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics

£19.99
7.5

Final Score

7.5/10

The Good:

  • Solid tactical mechanics with lots of new abilities to unlock
  • Decent implementation of the Fear and Madness mechanics
  • Really good music and high quality voice acting
  • Over 15 hours of content in the main story
  • Will be a decent challenge for TRPG fans

The Bad:

  • The camera is on a fixed 90 degrees and can be obstructed with walls and tree branches
  • The difficulty spikes at points where you couldn't have levels up in order to adapt (can be a positive as it makes you change your strategies)
  • Only one manual save per file slot and autosave is only at the HQ, beginning of the mission, and the last round
  • The Cthulhu Mythos is used within the game but it's not as heavy as I would have hoped for
  • No way to zoom in further and look your enemies in their eyes!

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