Two of my favorite video games of all time are Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Xcom: Enemy Within; so when I heard Phantom Doctrine was an Xcom style Tactical shooter set in The Cold War, I was beyond excited. While the game is fun, it’s last gen graphics and difficult gameplay make it a chore to get through.
One of the first things you notice about Phantom Doctrine is that it looks old. I’m not usually one to gripe about graphics but Phantom Doctrine looks like a PlayStation 3 game. This is never more evident than during the cutscenes at the beginning and end of each mission. The sometimes difficult camera angles make it difficult to plan out each turn exactly how you’d like.
The overall dark visuals of the game quickly become bland making the majority of the levels look annoyingly similar.
Probably the most annoying aspect of this game is the combat. I have no problem with the turn-based aspect of Phantom Doctrine; actually, I quite enjoy it. One of the most annoying things about the combat that you can shoot and be shot through SOLID WALLS. Much like the original Tomb Raider on PlayStation 1, you are able to be shot through solid brick walls; as if they weren’t even there. The game has a cover system; a full shield represents full cover and half cover is pictured with a half shield. More often than not it completely ignores this system. Another annoying factor is how heavily you are punished by breaking stealth. I understand the main objective of a spy game but sometimes combat is necessary. In these times of unavoidable conflict, you are almost always outmanned and outgunned.
The overall story of Phantom Doctrine is one of espionage and intrigue. You control a global spy network. Each operative has certain skills and equipment; which make them better suited for certain missions. You can manage each individual spy from your headquarters. The spy HQ itself is divided into several different rooms; each with its own purpose.
Throughout your missions, you can pick up project files which you can research on your investigation board back in your HQ. This is actually one of the most fun aspects of the entire game. You get different pieces of evidence each one has different clues that you must match up using keywords. When you correctly match a line of clues the string will turn red. By the time you’re done with a project file, it resembles the conspiracy theory scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Honestly completing these puzzles is one of the most rewarding parts of the entire game.
Another redeeming quality of Phantom Doctrine is the way you can manage all your agents and resources from the HQ area. You can always add and upgrade rooms throughout the game. Perhaps you need a larger infirmary or you need to add another investigation board. Assign an agent to do a little research and it will be done in no time. Maybe you need to hire a few more agents to get things done a little quicker; be careful because you may accidentally hire an enemy mole.
You can see exactly what every one of your operatives is doing from the map screen. You can see which spies are operating in which countries. If you leave an agent in the field to long; their cover could get blown. If this happens you will have to create a new identity for them before sending them out into the field again. Sometimes while an operative is in the field they may find an enemy agent. When this happens you are given a few different ways to take care of the problem. You can have your agents race against the clock and try to interrupt with the enemies task, or you can have them do a little recon and figure out exactly what your adversary is trying to do. Maybe you take a more direct route and choose to assault the enemy head-on; I don’t recommend this course of action. With all the resource management in this game, it made me think “If I could rename this game it would be Spy Network Tycoon.”
One saving grace for Phantom Doctrine is that if at any point I felt it was becoming too difficult I would take a step back and think about my course of actions. Every action you take directly affects the outcome of a mission. Any time I found something a bit too difficult I would load up an earlier save and try a different route.
If you would enjoy a slower style of Xcom gameplay then maybe give this one a try. If you’re a busy person who needs something quick to kill a little bit of time then I wouldn’t recommend this game. I may one day return to Phantom Doctrine, but that day is not in the near future. Phantom Doctrine is not a game for those of us with short attention spans. If you’re going to play this game then you’re going to want to give it all of your attention. In the words of Ron Swanson “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”