While many look to Halloween as the time of year to indulge in cathartic fear and a time to revel in the spooky what-have-yous, there are those of us that know that it’s little more than a joke. True darkness and the depths of fear and evil that accompany it are not limited to a time of year, nor does it have a holiday. If you’ve had any experience with Lovecraftian lore, you know what I’m talking about. It is this lore, specifically the mythos of Cthulu, that Auroch Digital and Ripstone have drawn upon and brought to life for your deep, dark, adventuring needs. This is our Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics review.
The setting is WWII, and the Nazis have, of course, delved into the supernatural and straight up demonic. The initial strike force sent by the allies to investigate and eliminate the mounting threat was given faulty intel and subsequently decimated leaving only two officers and two added paranormal specialists deep within enemy lines to accomplish the task. This will be your team, get to know them and their skill sets so that you can use them efficiently to face the combined, living nightmares of ruthless and deplorable Nazi experiments mixed with the supernatural denizens of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
Experience is earned as a team, and as the team progresses in its level of efficiency all team members gain skill points; for example, after reaching team level 6, each team member will have 5 skill points added to their individual skill banks. The skill sheet, where the skill points are spent, illustrates a circular skill progression system, with several of the more advanced skills interdependent on skills in the main skill branches. Each character has its specialties and the skill chart is engineered to compliment this.
Momentum points are a shared group action point based on the leadership stat of the individual in your party with the highest leadership score. While they refresh every turn, like the action points, and certain actions and results can increase the standing total, many of the more useful abilities and actions require the use of them. They can also be used to supplement the movement of party members if necessary. Be careful, there is no warning when you are about to spend them on movement; however, the movement limit indicators are quite clear: within white is normal available moves and outside that up to the yellow line is how far you can go with the MP assistance. Also, watch how many action points you spend on movement or you will be left with none to act with once you reach your destination.
The shroud is their interpretation of the fog-of-war effect that is common with these games, and it also disguises the specifics of opponents on the edge of what you can currently see. You may know there is an enemy unit there, but the take on a shadowed effect that keeps you from determining exactly what they are. While this might decrease your chances of hitting the target, if you feel that moving toward them would leave your team members to exposed, you can still fire at them, and possibly hit them, though you won’t see how much damaged you’ve caused them until they come into full view, or they die. Seeing as convincing them to die is the whole point, hopefully your team’s weapons and skill add enough persuasiveness to your efforts.
While I enjoy it, I found the game to be wanting in several areas. These may or may not be game-breakers for anyone else, but I’ll mention the more obvious and what I consider to be the greatest offenders here. Some of the mechanics are awkward and non-intuitive. The graphics are pretty good, until it comes to certain monsters such as the shoggoth. When selected it gives a slightly adapted version of Lovecraftian characteristics in which it is formless with eyes and teeth, but lacks the characteristics that are given. Instead it presents as a rolling, dark glob (they got the formless part right) with an Astro Boy or Pompadourian hair swoop for a single tentacle.
The story is communicated through a series of intel briefs and officer reports regarding each mission. As such, the story is pretty thin leaving out any in depth plot any character evolution. For many that’s not an issue and in fact can be a distraction from the game. Personally, I am a story fanatic, and see a great gap of unused storytelling potential in the game; especially considering the inspirations and content derived from Lovecraftian lore. On top of that, the intro contains a great deal of expository information that I would have rather played through, such as the decimation of the original taskforce, and possibly reversing the perspective of the actual first level into a survival challenge wherein the two survivors had to hold their ground until their back up arrived. But perhaps I expect too much.
Then there is the music. On first observation, not bad. In between each mission while perusing the available dossiers, various period inspired tracks may play, but whichever one plays will remain playing until you’ve gone on another mission. This isn’t necessarily the bad part, that will come in a bit. In the missions plays a fittingly creepy arrangement, that switches to a more intense, yet still creepy ambiance. Normally I would think nothing of it, except that the music plays on very short loops. In between missions, if you spend any more than a few minutes on team prep, skill distribution, or if you have to walk away from the game for any amount of time, the period-themed music becomes an annoyingly broken record. While in a mission, I was able to easily spend an hour or more on some encounters, and the very short music loops went from fitting ambiance to headache inflicting noise more quickly than I would have liked; which can ever so quickly deteriorate you into the quivering mass of fear and insanity that a Cthulu title should… wait! Was that the intention? I see what they did there! Don’t despair, however: you can turn of the music in the options. Easy fix.
Ultimately, I felt the game had a lot going for it considering the price point, and if you are a turn-based tactics fan you may certainly find it enjoyable. I would certainly put it on par with X-Com: Enemy Unknown, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So dive into the Shroud with your weapons at the ready; there are forces here no one should have to face.