The XCOM series was introduced to me back in 2013, and since then I’ve been thoroughly hooked on the turn-based strategy formula. Between Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within, XCOM 2, and a number of similar titles, I’ve played hundreds of hours of the genre. When I heard that Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics was coming to the Switch, then, I jumped at the chance to review it.
To summarise briefly, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a turn-based strategy that depicts a World War 2 where the Nazis had powerful inhuman allies. It’s a spin-off from the Achtung! Cthulhu series of guides for Call of Cthulhu, a pen and paper RPG that’s been around since 1981, which itself is based on H. P. Lovecraft’s novel from the 1920s. This is where the descriptor ‘Lovecraftian’ comes from, as H. P. Lovecraft is credited with pioneering the ‘cosmic unknown’ horror genre.
Set in late 1944, following the successful D Day landings, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics centers around the Nazi’s occult forces: The Black Sun and the Nachtwolfe. You take control of Charlie Company, who will take the fight back to the evil forces in the Ardennes forest. The story is certainly intriguing, but outside of the opening cutscene is told mostly through spoken debriefs before missions and written snippets during gameplay. It’s not the strongest story ever told, but there’s a deep lore behind the Third Reich and Lovecraftian monsters that you can dig into if you want.
Similar to another game in the genre, Mutant Year Zero, missions are split up into free movement sections and close quarters engagements. You start by directing your troops around freely, but as soon as you encounter enemies it will switch to the traditional turn-based tactical combat. Unfortunately, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics doesn’t pull this off quite as well as Mutant Year Zero, as that game allows you to take a stealthy approach and surprise your foes. Here, engagements will begin as soon as you walk into line of sight of the enemy, which is significantly further than you can see in the fog of war.
This regularly led to me triggering battles when I was in no man’s land, far away from any usable cover. As a result, my first turn was invariably spent dashing to cover, which was frustrating, due to the AP system in place. On the surface, the AP system is great. You get 12 points per turn for each of your soldiers to spend however you like. This could be shooting multiple times, running for cover, reloading, or a combination of all 3. The system shows its flaws, however, when you look at the cost of actions. Shooting with anything except a pistol costs 6AP, so you can only fire once and make a short sprint to cover in one turn. Reloading will cost 4AP, so you normally can’t reload, shoot, and move anywhere useful.
To XCOM veterans, this might not sound that bad. Usually, your soldiers can only shoot and move once there, what’s the big deal? Well, as I mentioned, you’ll almost always be out of cover for your first turn, so you need to spend most of your AP to get behind cover. Couple this with the fact that the enemy AI like to run away when you whittle down their forces, and battles can become this tedious cycle of moving forwards slightly and taking pot shots from a distance. Finally, you’re incredibly outnumbered in the later missions. One had about 16 soldiers for me to fight in the same engagement, all in line of sight at the same time. When that happens, 1 shot per turn just isn’t enough for your soldiers.
Luckily, the excellent Momentum system is here to help. Think of Momentum, or MP, like the Action Points from Valkyria Chronicles; they allow your units to take additional actions each turn. These can range from firing their secondary pistol at enemies to going on overwatch for the next turn or performing special skills that can be unlocked. You can gain extra MP by landing critical hits and killing enemies, so these actions often pay for themselves. By the time I’d upgraded my squad, I was able to earn up to 15 MP in a turn and quickly dispatch large squads of Nazis with Ariane, your pistol specialist.
The distinction between your 4 squad members is what makes them so enjoyable to use. Each has their own set of skills that can be upgraded as you complete missions, and you can equip them with different weapon mods and items that they will take into battle with them. Ariane was my favourite, due to her pistol dominance, but Corporal Singh had an entirely different playstyle. He’s a melee specialist who can deal devastating damage up close. Combining the different playstyles and strengths of your squad leads to some truly rewarding gameplay.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does feature voice acting, though it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Before each mission, you’ll be debriefed by your commanding officer, and these are done quite well. In-game, however, the dialogue lines are very quiet and emotionless, getting lost behind the sounds of battle and the intense music and often overlapping awkwardly.
The rest of the audio is fitting, with 1940’s-themed cafe jazz playing in the background between missions and a mysterious, war-appropriate battle anthem pounding during combat. The sound effects, too, are what you’d expect from a Lovecraft-meets-WW2 setting; a mixture between the familiar Tommy gun and M1911, and energy-based weapons that fire steam and sonic waves. As a package, it doesn’t exactly blow other games in the turn-based strategy genre out of the water, but it obviously received a decent amount of care and attention.
Visuals & Performance
Visually, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics isn’t the most impressive game on the Switch, nor is it the best in its genre. I am, however, glad that it doesn’t try to be too fancy, as I have a feeling the frame rate would have suffered if they attempted to up the visual fidelity.
There were a number of graphical issues that held it back in terms of performance, though. There were very significant slowdown and frame rate stuttering during the final mission, and the game seemed to play much better in handheld than in docked mode, generally. The camera often chose the wrong area to focus on, as well, which made the battle hard to follow. It’s disconcerting to have the focus switch to a close up of your soldier who is making a long distance shot, leaving you unsure whether their hits landed or not.
On top of this, the controls are somewhat clunky. Though they mostly did a good job of mapping important actions to hotkeys on a controller, it was frustrating having to painstakingly scroll through to the ‘fire secondary weapon’ option multiple times in a turn.
Coming in at £19.99 GBP or $24.99 USD, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is somewhere between your triple-A blockbusters and your cheap and cheerful indies. It’s a hard price point to market because 25 bucks can get you 1 or 2 of the best indie titles, or you can throw in a bit more and get yourself a top-shelf release. Personally, I think Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics should be a bit cheaper, as you can complete the game in about 10 hours. I strongly recommend playing all of the side missions, though, as this will almost double your playtime.
On the plus side, this is the same price as the PS4, Xbox, and Steam versions of the game, so it’s good to see that there’s no price hike for the Switch version. To an XCOM enthusiast like myself, the portability of the Switch version definitely bumps the value up a notch, but casual fans of the turn-based strategy genre might want to wait for a sale.
Best XCOM feeling on the Switch
Unique feeling combat, thanks to MP
A tad pricey