Another entry into the currently popular strategy genre, this time around the game in question is based on a popular series of RPG games from Modiphius Entertainment. The developers, Auroch Digital, have taken the source material and transformed it into a turn based strategy game – Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. Given the setting of an alternate WW2 universe, where a small team of Allied soldiers have to take on the might of Nazi occult research, does the game work, or should it have stayed in the realms of D20s and imagination?
As you may expect, the story is the strong point here. The Nazi organisations, Nachtwolfe and the Black Sun, are trying to tap into the power of the whole Cthulhu mythos creatures to summon them to Earth and get them to fight for the Nazis. Swastika Shoggoths? Not while our heroes have anything to say about it! So the scene is set, with an attack set to destroy the headquarters of the research. But something has gone wrong, seeing the entire attack force ambushed and wiped out, almost to a man. As the game opens, we find a brave female French resistance fighter and an Indian corporal with psychic powers being sent into the area to find any survivors. Luckily, they find an American GI and a British Captain who have managed to live through the ordeal – the four of them decide to team up and take the fight to the Nazis.
What this boils down to is action set across the usual 3D isometric viewpoint, with a camera that seems to be a little restrictive, as it can only be rotated around a fixed point in 90 degree increments. The camera can be moved using the right stick, but sometimes it is hard to get the right angle to see where the enemy fire is coming from, what with the rotational limitations. It’s not a game breaking issue by any means, but it does take some getting used to.
As you get into the game, there are two types of missions that can be undertaken – Story and Side missions. Quite obviously, the Story missions move the narrative along, and side missions are optional but can net you some nice equipment and extra XP to make your team stronger. One point to note: if you don’t do the side mission first, when the next story mission is unveiled, that side mission is gone and cannot be played. If you want to get the most out of your team, always do the optional quests first!
The gameplay itself is split into two distinct phases. As you enter a level, the terrain is covered by The Shroud, allowing enemies to hide in the darkness until you get close enough to see them. This is the exploration phase, where the group can move to wherever you want them to at the cost of no Action Points (AP); it is all about poking about into corners of the map to uncover secondary objectives on story missions. As you wander around, every now and then you will stumble across enemy patrols, and the game then moves into the combat phase. From here on out, until the last enemy falls, moving your characters, shooting, reloading and so on all cost AP, of which each character has 12 as they begin. There is also a momentum system in place, so as the characters perform attacks and kill enemies, they build momentum, which allows the use of signature skills, or the chance to go into overwatch mode or even perform attacks with their secondary weapon.
As you’d expect to find from a game with “Tactics” in its title, planning and patience will take you a long way. Taking cover, flanking enemies, and using overwatch to allow automatic attacks on enemies that move all will help your team survive. As you move into cover and wish to attack, you will be given a chance to hit the enemy. Missing has a penalty, as the guns each character carries has, as a default, enough ammo for only a couple of attacks before they have to reload. So as you can see, blazing away with only a 30% chance to hit can pay dividends, but is more likely to leave you needing to reload when you finally have a good bead on a target. This is only one facet of the gameplay, with positioning, use of special powers and making sure that characters aren’t left exposed all being important too. If a character falls, they don’t die but become incapacitated, and if they aren’t revived quickly, they will be captured. Captured characters can only be freed in side missions, so making sure everyone is healthy is a good idea.
Another facet of the gameplay is in regards combat stress, and if your guys are shot at a lot, or if they are in proximity to Mythos enemies, they suffer from stress that can degrade their performance. They can get the shakes, making their accuracy worse, or they can be forced to take cover and cower, firing wildly. Managing stress becomes more important the longer the fights go on.
The emphasis on the gameplay seems to be speed and excitement, with an all guns blazing approach being a valid tactic. Compared to a game like Phantom Doctrine, which is very much more serious, Achtung! is much faster paced. Standing in the open and shooting is still a good way to die, but the chances of someone dying in a single turn seems to be remote. This is partly down to the enemies seeming to have left their glasses back in the barracks, and also down to the way that a character’s health bar is constructed.
See, each character has a luck bar, which is depleted when they are shot, and it’s only when the luck has run out that damage is actually done to the character HP. The luck is replenished at the end of each combat encounter, so this again makes your life a bit easier. The whole flow of the combat is really nice, and with various special abilities that can be unlocked in each character’s skill tree, these can turn the tide. The French resistance fighter, for instance, can gain a “drain life” ability that can hit any enemy on the map with 100% accuracy, and with more skill points spent, can also heal her, making her in effect unkillable. Other characters gain other abilities, and the missions give extra equipment to issue to your troops. Each character can carry one weapon mod, like sights or extended magazines, and one consumable item; a med kit or a grenade. Using these items at the right time adds another layer to the strategy, and throwing a grenade at a cluster of enemies and taking them out is a real punch the air moment.
Graphically, and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics works absolutely fine. A nice visual touch is on enemies that you have no line of sight on, as they appear as shadowy figures wreathed in smoke; it’s only when you can look at them that their class is revealed. The enemies have different abilities, with some being all out melee fighters, to others with special weapons that can stagger your guys, to snipers that hit hard from afar. The sound is fine as well, with stirring music in the combat phases and all the gunshot, explosions and bestial snarls from Mythos enemies you would expect. Your characters’ quips as the enemies miss do start to grate after a few missions, and if the American guy says “Try aimin’ next time” once more I’m going to stand him in the middle of the battlefield alone…
All in all though and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics on Xbox One is an accomplished, fun entry into the tactics game market. It isn’t very hard, even on the Hard difficulty, and the gameplay seems to be set at the fast end of the scale, but I have had fun with this game, and it kept me playing to the end to see what happens. An engaging universe, decent back story, and being able to shoot Nazis in the face makes this a joy to play. With only 11 levels it isn’t the longest experience in the world, but if you are looking for an easy gateway into the strategy game world, this could well be the one you need.