What a Carré on
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.
FORMAT PS4 ETA OUT NOW PUB GOOD SHEPHERD ENTERTAINMENT DEV CREATIVEFORGE GAMES