GameSpot — August 14, 2018

Phantom Doctrine GameSpot review - 9/10

by Edmond Tran

It's 1983. The Cold War is underway and there's a global conspiracy being perpetrated by a mysterious organization called Beholder. Fighting against Beholder are you and your rival organization, The Cabal. In Phantom Doctrine, you have the choice of playing as either an American CIA or a Russian KGB agent in charge of their own group of spies, but regardless of your alliance, every move you make needs to be carefully considered or there will be world-ending consequences. This feeling of high stakes strategic decision-making and a constant sense of urgency will become second nature as you progress through this engrossing campaign.

Tension and suspicion are ingrained throughout Phantom Doctrine to great effect. Its isometric turn-based combat system is rewardingly complex, steeped with the feeling of paranoia, where every variable decision and tactic needs to be carefully considered--even before a mission begins. The sprawling narrative is full of intriguing characters and plot twists befitting of a spy epic, with a distinct sense of distrust in voice performances (both Russian and English), and a noir soundtrack to perpetuate the overall atmosphere.

The isometric turn-based tactical combat system may look outwardly similar to other games in the same genre--action points, cover, and overwatch will be familiar concepts--but there are also many unique intricacies to internalize, and it will take some time to learn due to a large number of options available when it comes to completing objectives. Going in loud and hard is a viable option, and Phantom Doctrine even features an exciting room-breaching mechanic. But it is far more rewarding to use stealth tactics due to the wealth of strategies available. You can send in a couple of disguised spies and do everything underneath the enemy's nose; you can use your supports to help scout out an optimal path, snipe troublesome minions, or send in a smoke grenade as a distraction; you can silently eliminate everyone and hide the bodies before anyone notices; you can even send in sleeper agents to do your dirty work for you.

You can also choose to sacrifice some of your mission time to conduct a reconnaissance run, which will place you in a much better position during the subsequent mission since it opens up the options of strategically placed support agents and disguises. But if you find yourself in a time-sensitive position, then no support options will be available and the margins of error are much narrower. While you can still complete missions in whatever manner you see fit, a single false move can carry greater consequences to your campaign, compared to the relatively leniency that proper preparation and contingencies can give you. Should a mission go sideways, hard decisions must be made, such as whether to leave an agent behind and risk them getting captured, or trying to evacuate everyone at the risk of no one surviving. These field missions are exciting because Phantom Doctrine manages to balance many complex, variable mechanics with a welcome flexibility in tactical decision-making, making it satisfying to play, characteristically distinct, and thematically appropriate.

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