The fact that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics has you moving a squad around grid-based environments and engaging in turn-based combat might make you think that it's some kind of Xcom-clone, but that's not actually the case, despite a fair few superficial similarities. Auroch Digital's Kickstarter-funded title launched a few days ago on Steam and we spent the weekend taking turns with and shooting at Lovecraftian Nazis, jumping in and out of cover, and leveling up our squad of soldiers in between battles.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (or ACT as we're going to refer to it henceforth) is a fairly linear affair that has you exploring woodland areas and Nazi bases in search of the occult. When you're not in direct combat, you're moving the four-strong squad through corridors in search of the next encounter. These encounters begin as soon as you stumble upon an enemy unit, at which point you stop moving the team as one and take individual control of your four soldiers, moving them into cover and looking for flanking opportunities and environmental bottlenecks.
Each of your four soldiers has a different skill-web that you can unlock using points earned over campaign and side missions. It's a slow burn but over time you unlock new abilities that give you different tactical options. Some of them are pretty cool, such as one that lets you drain life from an opponent using your own character's mystical powers. When it came to defining our tactics the main difference maker was, however, the weapons that each character carries because they determine the range at which they're most effective. Weapons can also be upgraded with add-ons earned during side missions, and there are additional items that can further boost each character's potency on the battlefield or help turn the tide of battle (such as health packs and grenades).
Characters have a set amount of action points that can be split between movement, firing, and special abilities. There's also a communal supply of momentum points that can be spent on additional actions such as a few extra steps or firing off a couple of rounds with a sidearm. The most potent abilities tend to use both action points and momentum. Careful use of your action points in tandem with your momentum ensures that your squad is deadly, and we had no problems dealing with every threat that was thrown at us in the first half of the game, and in the back half, it was still pretty straightforward thanks to this generous system.
Ultimately, we felt over-powered when playing through the bulk of the campaign, and whether it was the more generic side missions or the more authored campaign missions, the enemies we encountered were more often than not mere friction on our path to victory. With that being the case, ACT felt a bit too easy, especially once we figured out how to play efficiently. There just weren't enough interesting decisions to make along the way, and even the odd surprise that was thrown at us wasn't enough to bring about the terror that the theme otherwise implies.
The enemy units offer up some variety to spice up combat, but if your tactics are "deal with the biggest threat first" then you're pretty much good to go and the rest tended to take care of themselves. There's an interesting stress mechanic at work, whereby your units get spooked by certain enemy types or when taking a lot of fire, and this was surely intended to add threat to the combat, but we rarely had to worry about this under-utilised mechanic. One feature we did like was the shroud that covered enemy units and made them harder to hit until they had been spotted by your short-sighted soldiers; it added a little danger to chasing down enemy units because you never knew what you were about to walk into.
Despite some action-packed sequences, after a few hours the combat got a little monotonous, and even the injection of new enemy units wasn't enough to rescue the situation, which is a shame because the overall presentation is pretty solid. Your squad is characterful, the enemy designs are decent (although the Cthulhu-theme could have been explored more deeply), and the levelling between missions added a dash of strategy to this otherwise tactical adventure. However, despite a number of positives, after four or five hours we were simply going through the motions (for the most part, at least), smashing through enemy patrols as we waited for each mission to end, a feeling that wasn't helped by the sometimes long distances between battles.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is an entirely playable, at times mildly enjoyable tactics game, but it lacks the sort of depth required to make a mark in this most cerebral of genres. If you're a fan of the theme and you're after a linear tactics game, there's enough here to keep you busy for a dozen or so hours, but some shallow systems and a lack of meaningful gameplay variety makes it a hard sell for anyone else.
A second opinionOn the PS4, it was quite evident that the controls were designed with the PC in mind. That's not to say they were counter-intuitive, and indeed after playing a few times, it became more natural. The main thing was that with the number of different attacks and actions, it felt a little clumsy at first scrolling through your options after opening up the menu with R2. It would have been much more at home with a mouse or keyboard.
There were quite a few things we liked about it; the four different characters, each with options to level them up and learn new abilities; the visuals and sound effects were well-suited; the variety of enemies worked well. That said, it felt a little like missed opportunity to challenge Xcom's dominance over console based tactics games.
The missions were varied, but the story never really obviously enforced why or what we were doing it all for. If the characters became incapacitated, they risked capture. The rescue missions were in the form of side missions. If you had a missing character, you were forced to take them on, if not you could just skip them. This felt almost like a punishment, rather than a fun addition to the experience.
All in all, along with the controls, it felt a little clunky and an overall shallower experience than we had hoped for. It's not a bad title, with fun to be had, but it just missed the mark it aimed for. 6/10