There were a lot of great games at PAX 2017 in Seattle. Both of my cohorts detailed many of them last week. However, the one game that really stood out during the show was Phantom Doctrine. While looking like another XCOM derivative, Phantom Doctrine trades aliens with spies and operatives in a slickly, designed 1980s Cold War alternate reality.
The tactical combat resembles XCOM down to the “Enemy Turn” label when the opposing force is taking turns, but much of Phantom Doctrine is a great iteration and evolution of concepts from past games in this genre. Phantom Doctrine has an overwatch ability that these games all have. But, the added wrinkle is that overwatch here is directed in a particular direction in a cone shape. This allows for more tactical realism and control while adding some difficulty. I was even told that the player could assign target priority in overwatch, so a operative could keep watch on a single enemy, which is valuable in situations with high value, mission critical targets. There are also support units like spotters and snipers from off the tactical map that give more options for tackling every situation.
The most impressive combat tactic that I saw was the breaching ability. The player can set up several operatives at entry points to a room and make them breach and clear the room at the same exact time. If the operatives have a view into the room, you can even assign targets for them to focus on.
Like XCOM, enemies can be captured, but in Phantom Doctrine, you can bring them over to your side then release them back to the enemy as a mole. There is a Manchurian Candidate-ish form of brainwashing that lets you make the mole turn on its friends. The greatest thing about this feature is that all of this can be used against you by the AI. You can receive agents into your group that will turn traitor at inconvenient times.
Successful missions reward you with clues to the global conspiracy at the heart of the game. Linking these clues together to progress the story is accomplished by “highlighting” key words and linking documents via a cork-board and string just like every movie and TV show about spies and espionage. These details showcase the effort Phantom Doctrine expends to truly bring home the Cold War.
Phantom Doctrine feels like it has the potential to be a real big winner. In an indie market that is churning out tactical RPGs by the handful, it puts forth a innovative entry with a great setting. Keep a very close eye on this one.