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Phantom Doctrine

Posted by GG Goblin On August - 30 - 2018

Watch out for moles.

 
The excitement of cold war-era espionage is something quite overlooked in video games. Dead drops and double agents, along with an overriding sense of paranoia and potential destruction of the world as we know it, would provide the perfect setting for a strategy game, something which CreativeForge Games obviously realised when they started work on Phantom Doctrine. With the promotional materials suggesting a similarity to the hugely popular XCOM, jumping back to 1983 to combat a global conspiracy looked incredibly appealing.

 
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The game begins by asking the player to choose between playing as a CIA or KGB agent. The choice doesn’t make a lot of difference, besides accents, as this is a global conspiracy that the player is facing. Still, after that there are a wealth of options for creating a character.

 
Phantom Doctrine is a game that combines turn-based strategic missions with a much more management-based meta game. After creating a character, the player is dropped straight into a tutorial mission so that they can learn the ropes of controlling agents on the ground. This tutorial doe a good job of explaining some things, such as the importance of stealth and awareness, and the explosive breach action. However, there are plenty of things that the game fails to explain, leaving the player to work them out for themselves as they play through later missions, which will inevitably lead to mistakes being made.

 
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The tactical play is turn-based, meaning that the player will get to move and take actions with their agents, followed by any enemy units making their movements and actions. Veterans of the genre will be familiar with many of the mechanics in Phantom Doctrine, such as the overwatch mechanic that allows an agent to wait and then take a shot at any enemy that moves into view on their turn. However, there are some substantial differences.

 
For starters, while player can send their agents in guns blazing, Phantom Doctrine is much more about taking the stealthy approach, as befits a world of spies, and gun fights will often lead to overwhelming opposition. The agents are well equipped for stealth, and players would do best to make use of this. Things like being able to use disguises to walk around in plain sight, as long as they don’t start acting suspiciously, or silent take downs can often lead to the largest part of a mission, such as gathering all important intel, being completed without a single shot being fired. Support can gather intel on the location, giving the player advance notice of any surprises, while they are also able to cause distraction or even remove threats. Hell, there is even the chance to have sleeper agents turn on the enemy. It can take a little time to switch from thinking like a soldier, but once in spy mode the game really opens up with its possibilities.

 
When the guns come out, which they inevitably will, players will have to get used to a new way of dealing with combat. Agents have an awareness bar which represents a variety of things. Firstly, awareness is used to perform certain special actions by the agent. Also, it represents the agents ability to dodge incoming fire. Phantom Doctrine takes an interesting approach to shooting in that the agents, and the enemy, will always hit their mark if they have line of sight, but the amount of damage done is dictated by things like cover, armour and the awareness stat, meaning that a player who has performed a special, awareness using move in their turn, will take the risk of taking more damage if they get shot on the enemies turn.

 
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Combat in Phantom Doctrine does take some getting used to. The overhead view can hamper things as well, due to identifying cover being more difficult than it should be. The AI seems competent enough, although on more than one occasion I had an agent shot through what I was fairly sure was a solid wall, so maybe some enemies have super powers, or maybe the game is a little buggy. Where possible though, playing the tactical side of Phantom Doctrine needs to be about the stealthy side of things, and the player taking their time.

 
Outside of the ground-based missions, there is a whole other side to the game. Players will have an ant farm style base to manage and build up, which will include making decisions on global operations as well as hiring and training agents for their team. The paranoia of the cold war is apparent even here, with some operations running the risk of exposing the base location to the enemy, and the ever-present risk of a mole, or a lost agent returning after having been brainwashed by the enemy, will keep the tensions high. Agents will need to be sent to investigate suspicious activity, and informants will need to be kept an eye on as the player gathers the intelligence needed to forward the complex story packed with twists and turns.

 
Perhaps the most interesting room within the players base is where all of the gathered intel comes together. Set up as a simple cork board with information the player has gathered connected by yarn, this is a great representation that will have the player looking for links and connections to further the story. Sure, it can feel a little out of place in a strategy game, but it’s a nice touch that adds some less tense thinking time.

 
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The stress and tension of cold war spy work is well represented in Phantom Doctrine. While there are some quirks and wrinkles in the formula, which will be especially apparent to veterans of the genre, and the difficulty is much higher, there is something appealing about the more stealth-based operations and the paranoia of the management. For turn-based strategy fans, Phantom Doctrine offers a very credible threat to the big name alternatives, and shouldn’t be underestimated. Watch your back, agent!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 



 

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