There has been a severe lack of spy games in the past few years, but fortunately, Phantom Doctrine is here to address this issue. Set in the midst of the Cold War, and with the choice of being either KGB or CIA, the almost noir take on a real-time strategy that XCOM brought in its latest two installments carries a lot of unique features.
A word that came to mind during my playtime was personality. It’s true that the core game isn’t something we haven’t seen before, but there’s a lot of variety in how to approach each mission. You might start with a simple task, like recovering files or rescuing a group of kidnapped partners, but everything can change in a matter of seconds. Cameras and civilians can spot you in no time, blowing your cover and changing a quiet approach for full assault.
Right from the start, Phantom Doctrine can look a bit overwhelming. There are many elements that those familiar with the genre will recognize immediately, looking back at a rather traditional real-time strategy games. You are able to use your turn to move and trigger actions with each member of the group, and luckily, you can trace enemy routes to plan your movements ahead of time. But for the most part, one finds tweaks and different takes on otherwise familiar aspects, which is refreshing for veterans but can take a while to digest.
There’s a decent weapon variety and tools you can use, along with a huge customization system that goes from the very basic look of the characters to their abilities after coming back from successful missions. Both the preparation and your performance on each mission are almost equally important to continue on the story, which can take over 30 hours.
Most mission will offer additional tasks to complete, such as recovering files, which can then be used in the briefing room back on your crew’s hideout. There, you will have to manually connect evidence on a board, pinning vital information and trying to look for clues on the big fish to target later. It’s a really welcoming change of pace, and only one of the many moments in Phantom Doctrine in which you actually feel like a spy during this period in history.
The atmosphere around the game is perfectly captured, and it’s great to see a theme closer to home in terms of enemies and general people, rather than an alien invasion or a demonic presence. Still, Phantom Doctrine lets you mess with out of the ordinary tools, such as brainwashing, body engineering or chemical enhancements.
Scenarios are varied and detailed enough to always offer a different experience, even when most mission objectives follow a similar path. The recreation of this era, along with enough liberties from the developers offer engaging paths in which to dive in every time, even if you got your ass kicked and lost some of the best camaraderie. It happens.
It really feels like a huge leap forward for the studio after presenting Hard West, also a real-time strategy game that fell short in some aspects but managed to deliver a compelling set of ideas and, yet again, a unique atmosphere.
Phantom Doctrine is a large experience that will definitely be taking a lot of your time if you are patient enough to learn the basics, and that takes into account to the most hardcore players of the genre, offering different difficulty levels and ensuring enough replayability value with randomized elements (such as character backgrounds and spy objectives), along with the initial choice of which side to take.
The game offers enough incentives to be experimented over and over, and it feels a bit more fair than others in the genre. When the experience reminds you more of your time with Commandos 2 back in the day, you know you’re onto something special, granting a reward for experimentation and using the environment at your favor to succeed in each mission. Phantom Doctrine is a huge bet, but a really rewarding one throughout the process of learning to make the most out of each situation.
A code for PC of Phantom Doctrine was provided by Good Shepherd Entertainment for review purposes. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.