Phan­tom Doc­trine

Phan­tom Doc­trine’s take on XCOM- style strat­egy man­ages to be ex­cit­ing, orig­i­nal, dull, and un­der­whelm­ing.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Evan Lahti

Phan­tom Doc­trine is a stranger XCOM with rougher edges. The com­bat doesn’t com­pare well to Fi­raxis’ cin­e­matic chess game, and it does lit­tle to ex­plain core sys­tems that dif­fer­en­ti­ate it, like stealth and de­tec­tion. As you ap­proach the end of its cam­paign, each mis­sion be­gins to feel like the last. It re­minds me a lot of Jagged Al­liance— oc­ca­sion­ally bril­liant mo­ments emerge from un­pre­dictable sys­tems and opaque rules, but more of­ten I just felt bored. At the be­gin­ning, you de­cide if your main char­ac­ter is ex-CIA or ex-KGB, and this choice sets up a dis­tinct in­tro to the bad guys, a con­spir­acy group called The Be­holder Ini­tia­tive. When you’re not play­ing the turn-based por­tion of Phan­tom Doc­trine, you’re en­gaged in a paus­able global board game against this shad­owy op­po­nent, mov­ing your agents be­tween cities like pawns, play­ing whack-a-mole as Be­holder agents try to lo­cate your base or deny ac­cess to NPC in­for­mants. The metagame por­tion be­comes a slight mess of alerts and mi­cro­manag­ing, but it adds ur­gency along the way.

A more pleas­ant non­com­bat task is the con­spir­acy board. Your ca­bal un­cov­ers doc­u­ments dur­ing mis­sions, and this in­tel takes the form of a cork­board where you have to drag yarn be­tween doc­u­ments. It’s a word-match­ing minigame, but a cap­ti­vat­ing one. It made me feel like a crazed Char­lie Day as co­de­names swirled around in my head.

When Phan­tom Doc­trine leans into its theme like this, it re­minds you of how much in­ter­est­ing un­ex­plored ter­ri­tory there is in the spy genre. It’s un­for­tu­nate that such a core com­po­nent—the spies them­selves— are un­derde­vel­oped. Be­cause agents pick from the same perks and can carry any weapon, I strug­gled to build fun spe­cial­ists. It also hurts that the agent hir­ing menu con­tin­u­ally serves up high-level, pow­er­ful spies, of­fer­ing in­stant up­grades over the agents I’ve in­vested hours into. A cou­ple of odd de­sign de­ci­sions make it even harder to cre­ate unique agents. Melee take­downs are pow­er­ful in Phan­tom Doc­trine: Any agent can ex­e­cute a one-hit kill as long as they have more HP than their tar­get. Perks that in­crease an agent’s HP or dam­age re­sis­tance be­come no-brain­ers. Pair this with the Ac­tor perk and a dis­guised agent is ef­fec­tively in­vis­i­ble to all en­e­mies. It feels like hav­ing a cheat code.

If an alarm is trig­gered, a squad of re­in­force­ments drop into the map. Things can go belly-up when four or five ex­tra en­e­mies ap­pear, es­pe­cially if one of your agents is in­ca­pac­i­tated. But around half the time, I was able to throw a sin­gle grenade that an­ni­hi­lated them all.

Spies like us

Although it’s a bit sparse, the story wrapped around these com­bat en­coun­ters kept my in­ter­est. CreativeForge el­e­gantly weaves a fic­tional con­spir­acy into Cold War his­tory, and the plot avoids get­ting bogged down in con­vo­luted geopol­i­tics. How­ever, my fa­vorite mo­ments are the choices Phan­tom Doc­trine sprin­kles through­out its cam­paign. When I got a no­ti­fi­ca­tion that Agent Wraith might not have been com­pletely hon­est about his ties to the NSA, I had to choose whether to spend money ver­i­fy­ing the truth, con­front him or ex­e­cute him.

These are de­light­ful twists. If Phan­tom Doc­trine had dou­bled-down on these mo­ments of fla­vor, my agents might have felt like gen­uine char­ac­ters with his­to­ries. The same is true of the twists that ac­ti­vate dur­ing com­bat, which des­per­ately need an ex­cit­ing layer of pre­sen­ta­tion around them. One of the big­gest pay­offs in the game should be ‘ac­ti­vat­ing’ an en­emy who you’ve brain­washed. But there’s no fan­fare, di­a­logue, or mu­si­cal sting to ac­com­pany their turn. You sim­ply gain in­stant con­trol of the en­emy, the game’s code coldly trans­fer­ring own­er­ship to the player.

It sucks that so many of Phan­tom Doc­trine’s good ideas are un­derde­vel­oped. Com­plet­ing mis­sions un­de­tected made me feel clever, but melee take­downs are a skele­ton key for com­bat. The ran­dom events that tar­get your agents present fun choices but are fleet­ing. Mind­con­trol­ling en­e­mies seems dark and in­ter­est­ing, but mostly amounts to but­tons and icons on menus.

In­tel takes the form of a cork­board where you have to drag yarn

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.