Those who have played Firaxis’ XCOM series will be familiar with those games’ random dice rolls. You can have an alien flanked, completely exposed and out of cover, and still miss the shot. The team at CreativeForge Games clearly hates that, so it built Phantom Doctrine to be different at its most basic level. When you pull the trigger, enemies die. This Cold War thriller is remarkably dense and, for both good and bad, absolutely demanding your attention.
Phantom Doctrine is a turn-based tactics game out now on Steam, GoG and PlayStation 4. Players take the role of either a CIA operative or a KGB spy trying to unravel a fictional global conspiracy on behalf of a secret organization known as the Cabal. Set in the 1980s, the events are loosely based on recent history. The tutorial mission takes place in Germany, while the second scripted mission happens inside a secret Pakistani nuclear testing facility.
Once you open fire, every shot you’re able to take will hit. There are no random dice rolls to speak of, which makes your agents feel powerful. The developers have been providing late-game save files to streamers, so folks can get a feel for how the complexity piles up. You can see a decent playthrough from ChristopherOdd below.
Once engaged, battles are fast and decisive, but also complex and time-consuming. Where the XCOM reboot used a simple action bar with just three or four options at first, Phantom Doctrine makes use of an elaborate, multilayered interface from mission one. Each of your agents’ possible actions is fairly nuanced as well. Overwatch works differently for sidearms than it does for long guns, for instance.
My favorite innovation is the breaching mechanic. It allows multiple agents in close proximity to enter a room at the same time, guns blazing. For the first time in a turn-based tactical game, it feels like the developers have embraced the special operators credo of “speed, surprise and violence of action.”
Outside of the tactical play, however, the immersion begins to break down. Phantom Doctrine is badly in need of documentation. There are so many different systems working in the background that I often found myself just hitting some buttons and sitting back to see how they reacted. Sometimes that meant waiting a few in-game days with lots of other things happening in the foreground. If things didn’t go as expected, that meant reverting to a saved game and losing progress.
Phantom Doctrine makes an able attempt at piecing together a narrative. The voiceover work is capable, if spread a bit too thin. Where things get a little awkward is with the game’s intelligence gathering system. At times, you’ll receive classified documents, sometimes collected off-screen by your agents and other times as actual items picked up during tactical missions. Once back at your base, you’ll need to read through them to discover the keywords buried inside. They could be the codenames for an enemy agent, an organization or a location.
Ultimately, Phantom Doctrine is a game that’s trying to do new and interesting things with turn-based tactics, but you have to put in a lot of effort to make sense of it all. I was confused enough at times that I’m not sure if I did something wrong, or if there was simply a weird bug.
date of release: TBA 2018
RPG genre describes my passion..likes to run…trying to be something like author