Some when considering a purchase of a new video game look at its graphics, the core plot, and in most instances the gameplay. But what most, if not all potential consumers pay attention to is the game’s setting. And that’s because we all have different tastes, and not all premises and/or time periods are universally beloved. Some people adore the Sci-fi games for their futuristic aesthetic, whereas others who favour more grounded experiences look at Sci-fi games with disdain. And because of that, incredible titles such as Alien: Isolation, and more relevantly the X-Com series, have failed to capture the attention of the mainstream consumer.

While many – including the developers behind the above titles – are completely content with how their games perform, it does not necessarily mean that all developers have the same outlook on the situation. And those who strive for commercial success, such as CreativeForge Games, transform and adapt their products in order to satisfy more than a limited clique of individuals. And after looking back at their previous title Hard West, which as the title suggests, is situated within the fantastical, late 19th century, Northern American Wild-lands, it has decided to move away from the land of fantasy, and adopt a much more realistic, if a little over the top setting, with their newest product, Phantom Doctrine.

Just like Hard WestPhantom Doctrine is a turn based, tactical strategy game, which puts you in control of numerous characters capable of wielding a wide variety of weapons, equipment, and unique skills. But unlike its indirect predecessor, Phantom Doctrine takes place in an age of Cold War espionage, which while being a work of fiction, is much more approachable than the aforementioned Hard West. And in truth, Phantom Doctrine‘s setting is one of its strongest points, as it does not just provide one with a premise, which has been far removed from the industry since the release of the original Black Ops, but it also reinvents the approach to the setting within the world of video games. Because unlike most titles, Phantom Doctrine takes place in the latter part of the Cold War, rather than it’s early, Vietnam and Space race filled early days.

While being based within a largely grounded setting, Phantom Doctrine does not take itself too seriously. And this is one of the best roads which the developer could have followed, as it negates all the negatives which the title’s plot could have otherwise been riddled with. As its self aware, tongue-in-cheek, borderline satirical approach to storytelling, creates for narrative which allows one to wave-off any potential inconsistencies, and cringe-inducing moments, as while playing one is constantly aware that he/she is experiencing an over-the-top spy thriller, and not a re-imagining of The Hunt For The Red October. And if you are a fan of films such as For Your Eyes Only, or A View to a Kill, then you are going to feel right at home with Phantom Doctrine.

The setting itself plays a huge part within this particular release, but as we all know, it is nothing more than the groundwork for the gameplay, which is usually regarded as the proverbial meat, of each and every video game. And those of you who have spent the last couple of years playing X-Com and X-Com 2, will surely be happy to hear that Phantom Doctrine’s combat does not revolve around fractions, and percentages, and while playing you will never have to kneel in front of an altar, and pray to the RNGesus, begging him to allow you to hit your shot. And while being able to hit each and every one of your strikes can be immensely satisfying, it does have its drawbacks.

While you can gun down all your foes with marksman’s precision, they can do the same, as the in game combat allows for both parties to deal damage, whenever they can maintain a stable line of sight. And sure, things such as complete and partial cover, as well as the level of one’s awareness can both decrease and increase the damage which one can both deal, and receive. But this does not change the fact that, that each and every in-game shot can be lethal, and while you can Rambo your way through the entirety of the title’s forty-plus hour single-player campaign, you are constantly remaindered that being subtle, can in most instances work to your benefit.

At the end of the day, Phantom Doctrine is a spy thriller, and while it does allow you to mow down guards, and spies alike at your whim, it does everything it possibly can to steer you towards stealth, and deception. However, at no point does it force you to play in any particular way, so if you want to be ‘sneaky-beaky’ like Mouz’s Snax, then you are welcome to do so, but if you want your agent, who’s in game alias is Deadpan, to be known for his ‘one taps’ just like SceaM, then you have a free hand to commit to that. And this is what makes Phantom Doctrine truly tick, as it serves you with a great and meaty campaign, which you can explore and complete in any way in which you desire. Because CreativeForge, unlike most developers understands that once you have paid for its product it is now yours, and you are welcome to do with it whatever you can possibly desire. And for that reason alone, CreativeForge has my unending respect.

Phantom Doctrine’s core combat can shine as bright as neon sign, but can also be as dim as an energy saving light bulb. But its spark only fades away when you happen to encounter any form of reinforcements in game. And at times, it feels like they’ve been added to the game simply to punish for your mistakes, and/or nonchalance. Because unlike standard enemies, they can’t be easily tracked, as they can appear from any nook and cranny, and if you happen to not have covered even from a one-degree angle, you are very likely to get shot. But that being said, reinforcement can be avoided, as it takes three turns or less for them to arrive, and even when they make their appearance, you can always manage to escape them before they have a chance to fire. And while most will frown upon waves of needles hostiles, they do ultimately add a layer of tension to the title, as whenever one triggers the reinforcements, he/she is swallowed whole by the feeling of impending doom which never quite dissipates.

Obviously, just like with other titles of the genre, there is more to Phantom Doctrine, than meets the eye. The in-game missions, and combat to take the center stage throughout, then they are not to only attractions of the Phantom Doctrine package. And just like the aforementioned X-Com, CreativeForge’s first class spy thriller features a hub in form of a hideout, which allows you to manage your crew of spies, upgrade them and quip them with the state of the art technology, and even delegate them to their own recon missions which unlock new scenarios for you to experience firsthand. And while Phantom Doctrine may not feature as many skill trees or upgrades paths as X-Com, then it does enough to keep you both engaged and entertained. And your hideouts strongest feature is arguably its investigative suite, which allows you to carry out large scale investigations using clues which you have discovered during missions, which upon completions unlock new branches within the title’s narrative. And this does not only add an incentive to finding quote-on-quote collectibles during your gameplay, but also adds a meaningful arch to all in-scenario side-quests.

When I’ve initially came across Phantom Doctrine, I did not expect much, as I’ve been disappointed many a time by titles which have appeared on the PlayStation Network out of nowhere. And after dissecting its numerous trailers, and gameplay videos, my enthusiasm sunk even deeper, as visually it was clearly not a AAA product, which judging by the trailers, it was clearly trying to imitate. But once my download has finished, and I closed down the trailers, I’ve been nothing but impressed by this rather superb game. And the further I got into it, the more I was blown away by not just how wrong I was, but by how incredible, and immense was the effort put into this product by CreativeForge. And once I had a chance to collect my thoughts, and look at Phantom Doctrine from the perspective of time, I was quite frankly lost for words, as I was now looking at title, which could be a steady game of the year contender, in its respective categories. And if not releases such as God of War, it could have easily challenged others for the biggest trophy of them all.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.