The Cold War was a fascinating time in our world's history yet there aren't many games focused on this era of espionage and intrigue. Phantom Doctrine is a brand new tactical turn-based stealth RPG so let's send our spies into action.
Phantom Doctrine has you command a base of operations where you can manage and recruit a team of spies then fly them to points of interest across the globe; primarily, in the Middle East and Europe. You can choose to play as the CIA or KGB but why would anyone choose the latter? Unless, of course, you hate our God-given freedom! Anyway, the missions themselves have you command a small group of agents within a turn-based stage set on a grid which is played a lot like XCOM. However, unlike XCOM; you have to move your units around stealthily in order to avoid conflict which not only can result in your team being killed but your base may be compromised, too. This high stakes dynamic will make you critically think about every single move before executing it and it all comes together to form a very well done stealth SRPG formula. Now that I think about it, Phantom Doctrine is a lot like Klei Entertainment's fantastic Invisible, Inc. so if this piques your interest then you should definitely check that game out, too.
Back to the game at hand; Phantom Doctrine has a very rewarding gameplay loop where you carry out a mission then return to your base in order to manage it. While there, you'll be researching new aspects, sending agents to various areas of the world, and piecing together documents with a very cool interactive string theory board. I found that last element to be the most rewarding as solving these boards grants you cool bonuses like new agents that you can hire. Speaking of which, you earn additional weapons and skills for your agents that you can equip before sending them off to battle so optimizing your team becomes a rather involving yet satisfying task.
Considering you can play Phantom Doctrine from different perspectives and the fact that many things are procedurally generated means that it's a rather open-ended campaign. It'll likely take you over 40 hours to complete which is impressively lengthy, too. When you look at the different perspectives, randomness of events, and overall length, there's definitely a decent amount of replay value.
All of that being said, the missions themselves become fairly tedious and repetitive after you complete just a few of them. This is due to the fact that once you master how to carefully sneak around, doing so becomes incredibly easy and uneventful. Also, there's a ton of waiting to be done. After all of your agents performed their moves, you have to wait for the enemy to move which can take an exceptionally long time. Heck, the enemy's move meter sometimes gets stuck so you'll have to reload a save state to continue playing. This happened to me about a dozen times which is absolutely ridiculous and downright irritating.
Speaking of bugs, there are some weird ones in Phantom Doctrine. For starters, enemies seem to be able to shoot wherever they want, even if it's through a wall. Meanwhile, you can't shoot through walls. Of course, if you're stealthy then you won't have to resort to gunfights but that's beside the point. Finally, the controls and menus are extremely unintuitive. I didn't even realise the scope of what each agent is capable of until a few hours into the campaign because of this. Even if there was a comprehensive tutorial instead of the generic rundown that you get, merely figuring out how to navigate the menus would still be super-cumbersome.
Even with its multiple problems, I can't deny that Phantom Doctrine presents a unique and enjoyable take on turn-based SRPGs. Its stealth mechanics and rewarding campaign make for a very satisfying yet currently flawed game.
- + Fantastically implemented stealth-based tactical RPG missions
- + Rewarding gameplay loop
- + Lengthy open-ended campaign
- - Missions get repetitive after a short while and can be too drawn-out
- - Unintuitive controls and menus
- - Plenty of weird bugs