Not to be confused with the recent release of Call of Cthulhu, the equally as hard to pronounce Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is an entirely different beast, in both practice and concept. The game is based upon the much loved tabletop game, but the big question here is whether or not it translates to a video game particularly well. I’ll save you some time, yes, despite its faults and its issues, ACT is a fairly decent game. One that centers around a team of four unlikely heroes that have been dropped into the war, late 1944, behind enemy lines.
The game takes place shortly after the D-Day landings, in which Cpt Eric ‘badger’ Harris leads you into deploying from a plane into the open skies. Upon jumping, a strange wind begins to blow and sends you off-course, ultimately forcing you to land in a place known only as the Forest of Fear. You’ll regroup and will then need to work diligently as you try to determine what this place of nightmares is all about. Outgunned and surrounded by man and beast, you press on to complete your task and find out what the Germans are planning next.
ACT houses a simple structure, being that it’s a top-down combat turn-based game that pits your team of four players against a growing army of enemies. The game’s simplicity is key here, and due to that, it makes for a surprisingly accessible experience. That said, ACT doesn’t step outside of its formula’s boundaries. You’ll kill, you’ll level-up, you’ll equip different weapons and items as you unlock them, and tackle heaps of main missions and side objectives throughout your time with the game. It’s really as simple as that sounds.
To the game’s credit, those that are brand new to the concept will be relieved to know that there’s a basic tutorial that will feed you into the swing of play. There’s a total of two main aspects in the game, per se. The first of which sees you exploring the world. Here, you’ll move freely at no cost as you seek out items and such in the immediate area. Once you do hit a specific area, however, the game’s main combat elements will intersect and it’s here in which you’ll spend the majority of your time as you trade moves with your opposition.
The enemies movement and attack phase is all taken in one turn, and after that, you’re up. This is unlike many other traditional turn-based games, given that you’re able to utilize quite a degree of freedom within. Fancy moving and then attacking? Why not. Perhaps you want to swap that around and attack before you move? You can do that. Maybe, should you have enough AP (action points) you’ll move, attack, and then move some more? Well, you can do that as well. There’s no shortage of ways to play, and like I said, it’s a surprisingly free trek.
The crux of each mission sees you moving across the map to locate nearby foes. There’s typically only one route that you can take as you travel to each point, and once you’ve completed its combat sequence, you’ll move on to the next. When you find that you’ve completed every fight, you’re free to move to the goal-point and finish the current level. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the general principle of play. Whilst that may indeed sound as though it’s really lacking in depth, the game’s actual combat picks up the slack overall.
As alluded to above, the game’s combat deals in AP. There’s a total of twelve to use for all four of your characters for use of movement, attack, and utilizing skills. The AP does recharge at each turn, but you’ll need to use some forward-thinking to spend what’s in the proverbial pot, wisely. Running alongside this is MP, which is earned through both landing critical blows and killing enemies. There’s a cap, much like the AP, so again, some careful planning is needed to bolster your chances of success. How does all of this work in unity?
It’s all about mixing and matching, in basic summary. Take for example, you want to use a secondary weapon such as a handgun, you can do so at the cost of just a single MP – leaving you with more room to play with your AP. There’s heaps of different attacks and moves to make use of, which can also be said about the weapons that will be dished out on a regular basis. Using the above pick-and-mix structure, you’ll find plenty of strategic opportunities should you play your cards right, ultimately making for a fairly robust and diverse experience.
Your characters have unique weapons, each specializing in different skills. Touching up on the weapons, these naturally have varying stats and ranges that you can use to your advantage under the right circumstances. Common sense will prevail nine times out of ten. Whipping out a shotgun on an enemy that’s far away wont do much good, but if you pull out your sniper, you can get some long range damage in and conserve that shotgun for the foes that are more in your face. Simply put? It’s turn-based combat 101 for the most part of play.
Deep and engaging, yes, but not overly taxing nor too difficult to suss out. The likes of pistols, shotguns, snipers, and LMGs will serve as just your basic weapon output. You’ll earn new mods and items as you make progress, allowing you to further enhance your capabilities and up your defenses. I found the bulletproof vest and the frag grenades especially handy. Nevertheless, and regardless as to where you lean, there’s a steady flow of rewards for the time and effort that you put in, collectively making you more formidable.
When a fight begins, you wont immediately know what enemies you’re going to be facing. Taking into account that enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and come with their own unique behavioral and attack patterns, it only adds a layer of tense uncertainty throughout. Your foes will only be unveiled from the shroud that obscures them when they’re in your line of sight. You’re free to attack them whilst they’re shrouded, but you’ll see no information of theirs (including when they’re going to attack) until you’re close to them.
Each of your characters operate on three components. First, there’s your health bar, which is pretty much self-explanatory. Then there’s your shield bar, which in ACT, is known as luck. This allows for less damage to be taken over the course of a fight, but once depleted, you’re going to be suffering from some devastating attacks. The third component is your stress. This will fill whenever you’re close to death, see a team mate take damage, or indeed, see a team mate die. Should you allow your stress to reach maximum capacity, you’ll go berserk.
No, I don’t mean in a good way. Firstly, you’ll have less AP to spend. Secondly, you’ll attack just about anything, anywhere. Thirdly, you run the risk of injuring yourself in the process. It’s a neat system, I’ll give it that. Thankfully, there’s enough aid in the game to tap into to keep you well away from going crazy and dying. You just need to find the correct balance and ensure that you’re playing ACT with a tactical outlook. Moving onto the game’s enemy variations, there’s quite a decent number of beasts that you’re going to be pit against.
The game’s source material leans on the experiments that Hitler was conducting during World War II. Only here, the game expands on that in a nonsensical sort of way; clearly as a tool for explaining why the game has a dark, fantastical theme. That in mind, expect enemies with highly advanced technology, mixed together with mythical beasts of varying designs. The end result makes for an army of pure evil, one that ensures that you’re always treated to new and interesting encounters within, keeping repetition firmly at bay.
There’s a decent blend of main and side missions throughout the game, both of which will offer up plenty of items for completion. The kicker, however, is that side missions rotate with main missions, meaning that if you don’t fulfill them when available, they’ll be recycled. Believe me, it pays off to nuke them when they’re readily available to capitalize on the game’s rewards. Successfully completing a mission will see you earning EXP, which is dished out to each member of your team. Leveling up naturally has its own set of rewards here too.
This includes the likes of upping your luck and your health, as well as granting you with an upgrade point. These points are then used to unlock new skills that will aid you in the midst of a battle, or alternatively, make you stronger and more durable in other aspects of the game. Each member has different skills to tap into, many of which will work towards their weapon-types. Outside of that, bumps in capability encompass the likes of better aiming and such, so it does some justice if you ensure that you keep on top of these systems.
Now, onto the gripes that I have with the game. There’s a completely unnecessary use of level recycling in ACT. The first handful of levels, for example, all take place in the same map. The game tries to convince you that this isn’t the case by altering your starting point, but the bottom line here is that there’s just not enough variation to get a pass from me. Oftentimes, several levels in, I would constantly see areas in which I had already cleared a number of levels beforehand. It’s distracting to say the least, and somewhat freakin’ lazy.
The other gripe I have is with the game’s grind. ACT can be quite a time consuming game if you’re looking to reap as many rewards as possible. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how slow this aspect of the game can be. Lastly, but far more easier to overlook, is the game’s German accent, which is terrible. Outside of that, ACT holds up well on its visual and audio front, giving off plenty of well designed details and some solid cues to tie the overall experience together in a neat package.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics achieves much of what it sets out to accomplish. Whilst the game excels as far as accessibility is concerned, those that relish an in-depth turn-based strategy game may be disheartened by the simplicity on show here. That said, and despite its recycled level design and its grind-like reward system, there’s a fairly compelling experience within that does more things right than it does wrong.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.