Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics review – a fun XCOM-alike that feels unfinished

Have you been participating in #DiscoverIndies? It’s a fun exercise on the first Friday of every month where you buy an indie game completely blind and then tweet about it. For February, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics caught my eye, primarily because it combines XCOM-style gameplay with the Cthulhu mythos in a World War 2 setting, and that to me seems like a delicious combination. It was £19.99, so a bit of a punt for a game I’d never heard of before, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

And it’s fun! It plays in a very similar way to XCOM, but with two major differences. First, you’re given action points rather than the simple option of moving or firing. This gives the game a bit more tactical depth in the sense that you can opt for, say, a pistol that only costs 4 AP to fire, meaning you can squeeze out three shots from your 12 AP on a single turn, albeit with lower damage. I liked the options that this system provided. For example, would it make more sense to move my machine gunner forward using 4 AP and then fire one round using 8 AP? Or ‘mount’ the machine gun using 4 AP, so that subsequent shots only cost 6 AP but are limited to a fixed range? The system leads to wonderfully meaty decisions like this, and I thoroughly approve.

Second, your squad of four has a pool of ‘Momentum Points’ that any of them can draw on in addition to using AP. The Momentum can be used for special abilities, like shots that do triple damage against Mythos creatures, and they can also be used to activate ‘overwatch’, so your characters can fire on baddies during the enemy’s turn. Your pool of Momentum is linked to whichever character has the highest ‘Leadership’ stat, but you can earn more Momentum by scoring critical hits or killing enemies. It’s a really clever idea, and judicious use of these points is the key to winning.

In short, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics has a brilliant, fun foundation – but it’s let down by its frankly bare-bones presentation. You begin by facing off against Nazis from the Nachtwulfe and Black Sun regiments, which have been dallying with the occult, and a few missions in you come across your first proper Cthulhu Mythos beast, the Shoggoth. And then that’s it. No more enemies are introduced after about mission three, and you find yourself fighting the same old things again and again. There are countless creatures in the Lovecraftian canon, so I have no idea why the game limits itself to the Shoggoth. And to be honest, this supposedly scary creature looks a bit naff – just a big purple slime ball with tentacles sticking out.

The lack of content extends throughout the game. There are 11 main missions and 10 optional side missions, but every one involves doing exactly the same thing – moving forward, killing all the enemies that pop up, then repeating exactly that over and over again. The final level changes things up slightly by presenting you with a powerful tank that can only be damaged using Panzerfausts that you search for in crates – and all the while, reinforcements appear from different sides of the map. This final battle is without doubt the game’s highlight, and I don’t know why ideas like this weren’t spread throughout the game. Why not have enemy reinforcements turning up from the rear on certain missions? Or missions to defuse a bomb against a tight time limit? Or enemy ambushes? Or levels where your troops are forcibly split up by the environment? Instead we have the same structure repeated ad infinitum.

This is an official screenshot from the PC version, as I realised I forgot to take any screenshots of the baddies when I was playing on PS4. Just look at that ugly tentacled Nazi fella.

It doesn’t help that every level looks the same. You start in a forest, then find a Nazi bunker… and then you’ll see that exact same bunker and that exact same forest throughout the campaign. Oh, except for the ‘dream’ levels – which are set in the same locations, just with a wibbly purple overlay. And although you can unlock items such as first aid kits and gun scopes as you progress, you’re limited to the same four characters and the same old guns all the way through the game. The level cap is also set at just 10, and I hit that when I was still two missions away from finishing the game. By that point I’d unlocked a game-breakingly powerful skill for one of my characters in the form of ‘infinite overwatch’, or the ability to fire whenever an enemy character moves rather than having overwatch expire after firing on one enemy. That made the last few levels a breeze.

And just like the rest of the game, the story is incredibly bare bones. The entirety of it consists of four elite soldiers parachuting into the Ardennes forest to stop occult Nazi experiments by, well, killing everyone. The End. This lack of plot seemed all the more surprising after I discovered that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is actually based on a tabletop RPG called Achtung! Cthulhu, which itself is a reworking of the classic RPG Call of Cthulhu. There’s clearly a lot of story to draw on, so it’s a mystery to me why all we get here in terms of plot are a few brief mission intros of little importance (although I must admit, the voiceover work is good).

But despite all these negative points, I did enjoy the tactical decisions afforded by AP and Momentum – there’s a solid base here, it’s just crying out for more content. I found out that this game originated on Kickstarter, and that gives me the strong suspicion that the developer or publisher simply ran out of money and had to put out something that’s basically half-finished. Which is a shame, because this could be a truly brilliant game with a bit more love and attention. I hold out hope that we’ll see a few updates down the line that add more varied weapons, enemies and missions. Fingers crossed.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics was developed by Auroch Digital and published by Ripstone Games. It’s available on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch. We reviewed the PS4 version.