achtung! cthulhu tactics
Lovecraft? We’re not sure we even Likecraft
As videogame names go, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is the kind you’d expect to see in a sitcom script, made up because they can’t use the title of a real game. It’s a fairly ugly three-way collision of keywords – but in that, it’s actually reasonably descriptive. Achtung! Cthulhu was originally a tabletop role-playing game Kickstarted back in 2013, with a setting that posed the same question as Wolfenstein,
Captain America, Hellboy and many others before it: what if the Nazis’ interest in the occult actually summoned something? In this case, the tentacle-laden eldritch creatures introduced by the handily out-of-copyright books of HP Lovecraft.
That’s the first part of the title accounted for, then. The ‘Tactics’ suffix, meanwhile, is an indication that for its first foray into the digital world, Achtung! Cthulhu has decided to borrow the formula established by
XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A formula that developer Auroch Digital seems to have followed as closely as one of the game’s sorcerer-scientists poring over an ancient text.
In case you’re unfamiliar, that means turn-based battles where units are constantly dashing between cover strewn across the battlefield. You’re generally facing a larger and often more powerful enemy force, and trying to position your squad to find the vulnerable spots in, to put it in an appropriately Lovecraftian manner, the squamous hide of your cyclopean foe.
Helping even-up those odds are the special abilities of your units. It’s not just the Nazis who’ve got their hands on nameless magicks, it seems – your squad includes a French resistance fighter with a pet dragon; an Indian corporal who has bonded with a mysterious amulet; and a Brit whose only touch of the eldritch seems to be that he’s nicknamed ‘Badger’.
Rather than an XCOM- style rotating cast of customisable cannon fodder, Achtung! Cthulhu sticks with a single band of heroes throughout, as you slowly unlock their abilities. This is the game’s greatest strength, as each character develops into a unique role – whether it’s the shotgun-and-melee specialist Corporal Singh constantly rushing forward into enemy territory or Sergeant Carter, hanging back in a safe vantage point and mowing down monstrous foes with a braced machine gun.
The enemies evolve too, from the initial Nachtwolfe units – your common or garden Nazi troops, with a slight sci-fi spin – to the occultist Black Sun, and their blasphemous allies. This includes Lovecraft’s trademark Shoggoths, the being he described in At The Mountains Of Madness as “shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light”. In Achtung! Cthulhu, they’re big bullet-sponge blobs with a protruding tentacle, all the better to whip you with.
Which is to say, the game doesn’t really take full advantage of its setting. Beyond the odd dreamscape level, and a Stress meter that fills up as your units take hits, causing them to lose half a turn to panic or develop a shaky aiming hand, there’s not much done with the Lovecraftian themes of existential horror and madness. It can feel like a thin layer of decoration that has been wallpapered over the familiar structure beneath – which means there isn’t enough to differentiate it from other, similar games.
The inevitable comparison to XCOM isn’t a favourable one for Achtung!
Cthulhu. It’s missing the spark of magic which brings that game’s battles to life. Perhaps it’s the levels, which are all flat planes, and lack the destructible cover which could inject some dynamism. Perhaps it’s the relatively shonky animations and camera moves, which lack the cinematic flair required to really sell the stakes of turn-based combat. An attempt to mimic the slow-motion tension of enemies firing on your soldiers too often fails to capture the vital moment. At times, you can feel Achtung!
Cthulhu’s budget straining to keep up, whether in the blandly decorated levels, the amount of story that’s conveyed through plain text boxes, and the endlessly-repeating voice lines – classics like “I’ve got this!” and “They didn’t stand a chance!” can recur twice or more within a minute.
It’s a shame, because the setting has potential and Achtung! Cthulhu does have some interesting ideas – like using a shared pool of Momentum points to fuel the whole squad’s special abilities, or the Luck bar which drains before heroes take any permanent damage.
But these seeds never quite develop as far as you’d like, held back by too many limitations. That’s true of all three elements signalled in the title – they’re handled competently, but none of them manage to blossom into anything unique. Ultimately,
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does exactly what it says on the tin. Just don’t expect it to surprise you by ever doing more than that.
“At times, you can feel the game’s budget straining to keep up”
Left In awe at the size of this Shoggoth. Absolute indescribable accursed unit.
right Dream-set levels are a little visually disappointing.