Phantom Doctrine is a stealth-heavy turn based tactical game from CreativeForge Games and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment. It oozes the style and atmosphere of 80’s espionage and delivers a tight, tactical gameplay loop that feels just as good as a bigger budget game like X-Com 2. The graphics are great, the music and sound effects fit the game well, and there is a lot of depth here for veterans of the genre.
The graphics aren’t going to win any awards, but there is something about the colour choice and textures that remind me of 80’s spy action movies. Everything has a smokey/foggy look that really adds to the atmosphere. The animations are good and you’re always able to tell what’s going on, though the game does have the common issue in many games of the genre where the camera will clip through objects while trying to line up for certain shots. The game’s music is fantastic, the score fits the methodical nature of the gameplay perfectly. The rest of the sound effects were well balanced, though I do prefer a little more bass in my gunshots.
The gameplay comes in three parts; the base, infiltration, and combat. The base is where you will manage agents, hire new agents, train agents, and use both the travel board and the yarn board. The yarn board is where you connect the various intelligence pieces you’ve gathered to discover the identity of various people of importance to your mission. It involves studying several redacted files and finding names of people and organizations and clicking them. You then connect the dots, stretching yarn from bit to bit and to an eventual picture which will then reward you with a completed file. The travel board is where you will send agents to various locations all over the world and will have them engage in missions. Some missions just take time, others will require you go into the game’s infiltration mode. There are various upgrades that can be bought for the base, making the rooms and facilities work better for a cost and some time.
Infiltration mode takes place on the various mission maps and is the point before your agents go hostile. As long as you avoid being seen, you can move around and complete mission objectives without the area going on alert. As soon as you are seen, or do something loud like fire an unsuppressed weapon, the area goes into combat mode and your agents become shoot-on-sight to the enemy. The gameplay of combat and infiltration will be familiar to fans of the genre; you have a given number of action points and fire points, you can use these to move and do other tasks like shooting or using gadgets. Unlike the more streamlined X-Com series, Phantom Doctrine allows a little more control in your shots and actions, allowing you to fire bursts, full-auto, or single shots and also forcing you to choose a field of fire for your overwatch. Combat is pretty deadly on normal difficult, enemies will easily hit your out of cover agents and will still usually graze your in cover agents. I saw very few full dodges of gunfire will playing. Reinforcements show up fast and other complications, like air strikes, can make full-blown combat a dangerous route. One nice addition is that your agents never seem to truly die, they just disappear for awhile and comeback with their cover blown. You can give them a new identity to fix this.
Phantom Doctrine is a great addition to a genre in a bit of a resurgence as of late. It has tight gameplay along with good visuals and sound. It’s really satisfying to finish missions without taking any casualties and the stealth and combat feel fair but challenging. I would suggest this for anyone with even a passing interest in the turn-based tactical genre.
~~S. W. Jackson~~