A colder war.
Developer Creative Forge games• Publisher good shepherd entertainment• Price$ Tbc • Available At steam good shepherd. games/ games/ phantom-doctrine
I like to imagine the elevator pitch for Phantom Doctrine was pretty simple. “It’s XCOM, but for spies!” and someone at Good Shepherd went “Heck yes!” But it’s also a pitch which doesn’t do the game any justice, because in a lot of ways it is far, far better.
Phantom Doctrine’s core loop is almost identical to XCOM’s – the game switches from managing the strategic picture of the Cold War during the 1980s, to the tactical stage of running operations across various global hotspots with your team of agents. But whereas XCOM is almost entirely about shooting aliens in the face, much of the missions in Phantom Doctrine revolve around a more deliberate approach, and ending a mission without a shot fired, or a single dead body, is often more important than lighting up those damn Russkies or Capitalist Pig Americans.
And yes, you can play either as a KGB agent, or a CIA agent, but… Well, I’ll leave some developments for you to find out on your own.
There’s all kinds of interesting twists to the base XCOM formula. When things do go loud, it’s pretty classic stuff – you can move and shoot, move twice, hug cover, set agents to Overwatch, and so on. But on top of Action Points, there’s a couple of other metrics to keep track of, which allow you to perform silent take-downs or perform lethal headshots. And while XCOM’s rather dubious random hit chances are bit of a sore point for many fans of such games, Phantom Doctrine’s does away with random values altogether – your agents are professionals, and will either do minimum or maximum damage with each shot, modified by dodges from aware opponents. This makes you feel that much more lethal on the ground; but, the badguys have the same ability.
Getting into a gunfight is very rarely a good idea, and doing so during the extraction phase of an operation – and you have call in your evac, making timing everything – is even worse, as your car, chopper, or whatever may well veer off if the landing zone is too hot.
Back at base, there are again similarities, as you can train up agents, allocate high-tech spy gear (and you research some real neat toys!), and expand base operations. But you can take control of much more, and the biggest innovation would have to be the Investigation Board. You know that great meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with the red string and photographs and general air of crazy desperation? That’s a whole mini-game in Phantom Doctrine, as you search out important key words, link up documents, uncover hidden plans, and finally unlock new clues to ongoing investigations.
Phantom Doctrine does have some flaws – line of sight can feel a little iffy at times (seriously, how could that guard have seen my damn sniper?!), for instance – but overall it comes across as the thinking gamer’s XCOM.
Your agents are professionals, and will either do minimum or maximum damage with each shot.