Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is like a stalemate between entertainment and a drag. It’s stimulating to plan out your next move. Unfortunately, waiting for your enemy to finish their turn—sometimes out-of-sight where it’s not only meaningless to you, but boring—slows things down beyond a contemplative break in action. It becomes something more tiresome. Still, the game has a solid combat experience, if not the most spectacular one out there.
Developed by Auroch Digital and published by Ripstone, the turn-based strategy RPG is largely named after Modiphius Entertainment‘s Achtung! Cthulhu, the tabletop game. Its story takes place in a Lovecraftian-fueled alternate timeline. Here, Nazis meddled with supernatural forces in the background of World War II. Think of the worldbuilding in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, but not as strangely vibrant.
Fighting With a Plan
The main focus of Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics ultimately revolves around combat. Players are given a squad of four with which to fight. Maneuvering the battlefield is engaging and requires various actions and decisions; like deciding a good position for your soldiers, or identifying the status of enemies.
The game relies on system of points that decide how long you can act and how long you can move. This became a new and interesting point of strategy for me. I could not remember a video game making me consider a detail like that before. It pleasantly reminded me of playing a board game, in which you may only have so many moves per turn. A nice way to emphasize the game’s tabletop roots.
But combat in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics can feel a little repetitive after a while. The look of the environments and the music constantly surrounding the battlefield did not help.
Flat Landscape, Unmemorable Soundscape
On one hand, the grayish, drab backgrounds of dark forests fit the game’s gritty vision of World War II, but on the other hand, the drab backgrounds were just that—drab and monotonous after a while. There was some variety later with the introduction of industrial factory settings and supernatural elements, but they also eventually fell into a monotonous pattern.
While the music could be a little unsettling, it was more forgettable than anything else, and it fell into a similar monotonous pattern. With that mix of a slight creep factor and a repetitive sound that lacked personal appeal, I largely turned the audio all the way down, and listened to something else to keep my head into combat and my motivation up.
The only piece of music I actually liked appeared in the game’s hub zone—or the squad’s base of operations—where it seemed like vintage radio music was playing. I could also imagine it as something the squad might have listened to while regrouping in an alternate World War II timeline, and I thought that was a nice touch.
Low on Character and Plot
I rarely missed relevant dialogue when turning the audio down. While there’s a neat plot mechanic that has mission introductions delivered through narrated intelligence reports that feature some appealing voice acting, there isn’t actually that much dialogue anywhere else in the game. There’s no interesting chatter between your squad members. All they say are very limited lines over and over again, something that only further adds to what can feel like an undercurrent of monotony in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics.
The game actually doesn’t do a lot in terms of significant character engagement. There are separate individual profiles that can be read in the hub menu between battles, but they have little relevance in the actual game and can be easily ignored, even forgotten. The approach to characterization is virtually nonexistent.
Plot development is similarly lacking. While the narrated intelligence reports are decent, they don’t have a lasting impact, and they’re about as far as the game goes in terms of story. It’s more about shuffling off to the next battle, with little attention paid to making the story and cast interesting. And while playing through a working combat system was enough most of the time, some depth in the plot and the characters would’ve made the experience more engaging.
Attachment and Empowerment
In spite of all that, I felt some fondness build up for my squad purely through combat. I was pleased when one character gained the upper hand against an enemy after he had been cornered during the previous turns. It was shocking and mildly disappointing whenever one of my characters got temporarily eliminated. After all, they were following my orders.
I felt a nice sense of power as the game progressed, especially after all my squad leveling started to really pay off. Each member gained access to more imaginative and powerful techniques.
For instance, Ariane Dubois—the only visible female character in the entire game and essentially your party mage—can get a technique where the very sight of her can stagger foes, reducing their ability to act and move.
Mostly Bored of the Dark
An additional detail to fighting in Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics made for another mix of interest, frustration, and eventual boredom. Enemies can hide in a dark shroud. Here your squad can’t hit them with high accuracy or identify their status (such as the length of their health bars, or if they have any unique traits). This added another strategic element, compelling me to order members of my squad to go ahead and scout the enemy out.
This shroud also sometimes fostered a slight sense of unease during enemy turns, when your squad can’t act but you can tell that Nazis are creeping around on the fringe of shadows without fully revealing themselves.
But this wasn’t always the case. Often enough, the wait during enemy turns was more boring than suspenseful. Plenty of enemies weren’t on the edge of the shroud where snatches of their movement could be seen. Since enemies could move anywhere within the shroud and were often deeper inside it, absolutely nothing of their movements could be seen. Players are instead treated to a motionless black expanse.
Often I was left with what looked like an empty stage of a level with nothing going on. Moving the in-game camera rarely helped. Occasionally, it even felt like there was a noticeable lag during enemy turns.
- Solid combat.
- Interesting and unique techniques become available as you level up.
- Some nice voice acting from narrators.
- Combat can get a little repetitive.
- Drab environments and music.
- Lacking in story and character.
The solid combat alongside some neat details like a point system for movement and actions, unique high-level techniques, and the dark shroud make Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics a decent time for people who appreciate offense-focused games. Sadly, with monotony in environmental design and music, lack of development for the story and characters, and combat that can get a tad stale, it’s not a fantastic experience. It’s an average game overall.
Even the final battle felt just as average as the rest of the game. The last boss was a little different from the majority of combat that came before—something that I appreciated. Unfortunately, the ending was anticlimactic.
But I also wondered if the ending was supposed to lead into stories from the original tabletop version of Achtung! Cthulhu, something that I have grown more interested in after playing its digital adaptation. Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics definitely feels like a good entry point to a wider gaming universe.
(Note: Nintendo Switch review copy provided by developer.)