What a Carré on

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - CONTEST -

Spy sto­ries are a rar­ity in gam­ing. If you want to live out your James Bond fan­tasies, you’ll find plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to fire a vir­tual Walther PPK or drive an As­ton Martin. Find­ing a sim­u­la­tion of proper spy­craft, though, is much more dif­fi­cult. Phan­tom Doc­trine is a wel­come ex­cep­tion to this rule, but also an un­for­tu­nate re­minder of why in­ter­ac­tive es­pi­onage is so hard to get right.

Ap­ply­ing the XCOM for­mula to a le Car­réesque Cold War spy story is a ge­nius idea. The tac­ti­cal mis­sions see your agents1 in­fil­trat­ing en­emy bases to snap blue­prints, res­cue al­lies, or as­sas­si­nate en­e­mies. Mean­while, the strate­gic layer has you shift­ing those agents around a world map, in­ves­ti­gat­ing leads, and piec­ing it all to­gether on one of those iconic string-and-pin boards.

When it works, Phan­tom Doc­trine al­lows you to tell some unique sto­ries. Agents have a wealth of ac­tions at their dis­posal, and enough gad­gets to make Q en­vi­ous. You can call on a spot­ter, who’ll peer through their te­le­scope into the win­dows of a nearby room, 2 then use that in­for­ma­tion to set up a care­ful am­bush, po­si­tion­ing agents at each door be­fore sweep­ing in and sur­gi­cally elim­i­nat­ing all en­e­mies.

Un­for­tu­nately, this leads to a game that is of­ten fid­dly. As well as ac­tion points, there are fire points – some ac­tions re­quire a mix of both – and an aware­ness bar, which can be spent on spe­cial abil­i­ties or held onto, be­cause it acts as a sec­ondary health bar. All of that’s a lot to keep track of, and with a squint-in­duc­ing UI, you of­ten end up feel­ing less like James Bond and more like the poor MI6 bod who has to do his pa­per­work. Alex Spencer

FOOTNOTES1 Each agent can be cus­tomised, in­clud­ing an op­tion for a corn­cob pipe. Bravo! 2 Calls from your han­dler play through the con­troller’s built-in speaker, com­plete with ra­dio static.


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