Phantom Doctrine Review PC
key review info
- Game: Phantom Doctrine
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
The Cold War is one of those complex historical periods where two powers, the Soviet Union and United States, have split the world in allies and enemies. It's the silent version of another World War where everyone supports one of the two powers just to feel safe. The state of geopolitical tension starts after World War II in 1947 and ends in 1989 when communism fell in Eastern Europe.
The folks at CreativeForge are trying to capture the spirit of those times in a game called Phantom Doctrine, featuring an isometric turn-based combat system made popular by the XCOM series. Despite what many of you might think, Phantom Doctrine isn't about CIA vs. KGB, or United States vs. Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, you'll be able to play as an agent of either of those factions and even customize your avatar's looks and clothing.
Phantom Doctrine draws inspiration from XCOM, something that you'll notice soon after the opening cut scenes. You'll be getting your own “underground” base of operations from where you can send your agents to execute various missions.
The main thing that differentiates Phantom Doctrine from most other XCOM-like games is the combat system that doesn't rely on RNG at all. Unfortunately, that's one of the reason that many of those who bought the game didn't really understand how the Phantom Doctrine's combat system is working and that's much different than XCOM.
The issues with the Line of Sight (LoS) where the AI was able to shoot your agents from the other side of the map even through walls didn't help either. About two weeks after the launch of Phantom Doctrine and two or three patches, it definitely feels like a very different game.
In Phantom Doctrine, you play as a CIA or KGB agent, who's part of an organization called The Cabal, fighting a rival agency – the Beholder. A game about the Cold War couldn't have started better than with a betrayal. In fact, the entire game is a roller-coaster of emotions full of intrigue, betrayals, plot twists, and unbelievable complexity.
Throughout the whole campaign, the corkboard will be your best friend and the place where you'll often return to refresh your memory about the latest developments in your case. As you send your agents to do reconnaissance and assault missions, you'll discover clues about the Beholder's plot, but also new gear like armors and weapons.
But you'll be spending most of the time on maps trying to disarm bombs, save your agents who have fallen in the enemy's hands, or trying to acquire sensitive information about the organization called the Beholder. Phantom Doctrine is first and foremost a stealth-oriented game. Unlike XCOM where you deploy your team of soldiers to eradicate the alien threat, in Phantom Doctrine you'll have to complete your objectives as stealthy as possible.
If one of your agents is recognized by an agent of a rival organization, an alarm will ring and a neverending wave of reinforcements will start pouring in until you evacuate. Since the combat system in Phantom Doctrine is ruthless, you'll have a very hard time not losing your agents unless you properly plan ahead.
Now let's talk a bit about why Phantom Doctrine is different than XCOM when it comes to combat. First off, there's no random chance to hit in Phantom Doctrine, which means that if an enemy sees you, it's a 100% hit. However, there are means to avoid being hit completely or take less damage. The most important is the so-called AWARENESS, which allows your agents to completely or partially dodge attacks. Once your agent dodges an attack, his awareness stat drastically decreases. However, as long as it's not close to zero, you'll continue to partially dodge attacks, but your agent will still take damage.
If your awareness depletes completely, you'll always take the maximum damage from a weapon. Basically, a dodged attack deals minimum damage, else you take maximum damage. Furthermore, damage is reduced by armor and cover. All these rules apply to both your agents and enemy agents. There's an exception when these rules don't apply, and that's when your target is at point blank range.
Another important aspect about Phantom Doctrine's combat system is the range at which each weapon is effective. For example, pistols and SMGs have the shortest range, while machine guns and sniper rifles have very long range.
As you progress in the game and complete various side missions, some of your agents will be compromised, so you'll have to forge new identities for them at the expense of money, the only important resource in the game (besides agents). If too many of your agents are compromised, you will be forced to move your base of operations or risk being ambushed by Beholder agents.
Because you'll be heavily outnumbered during your missions, it's important to strategically position your agents so that they won't be surprised in restricted areas or close to Beholder agents, the only ones who can see through your disguise. Obviously, as long as your “avatar” isn't killed, you can continue the campaign against the Beholder, so make sure he's well protected at all times.
Phantom Doctrine takes advantage of all the tricks and tools that such a massive theme, Cold War, has to offer. You can brainwash enemy agents or discover that one of your own is a mole, you can even chemically boost them, but above all else, you'll feel that your decisions really matter in the grand scheme of things.
- Compelling story
- Solid combat system
- Great recreation of Cold War atmosphere
- Interesting gameplay mechanics
- Good soundtrack and voice acting matching the theme
- Steep learning curve
- Pathfinding issues can ruin a mission
- Slightly outdated visuals
Despite some repetitive missions and cutscenes, there's a massive and complex plot waiting to be discovered in Phantom Doctrine. Although it might not feel that way at first, the game offers a mix of tactical and strategic decisions way more complex than any of the XCOM games.
I also think the game perfectly catches the Cold War atmosphere of the early 80s, and delivers it in the form of a tactical stealth turn-based formula. Phantom Doctrine tackles a sensible but fascinating subject, the Cold War, and does a damn good job at it.