Turn based strategy games are few and far between when it comes to the console space. Sure we have XCOM as the most well known game in the genre and there is Invisible Inc. which I reviewed a couple years ago but the point is there isn’t as many as there probably should be. Well there may be a new one to add to your list as Good Shepard Entertainment and CreativeForge Games have been working on Phantom Doctrine, a turn based strategy game set in the Cold War. The premise is interesting but is the execution on point?
Upon starting the story mode of the game I was given the choice to pick between being a KGB or CIA agent and was then introduced as being the leader of an organization called The Cabal. My mission as leader is to take down another group in the world known as The Beholder Initiative. Over the course of the two campaigns (plus a third one unlocked afterwards) you’ll have to gather intel, locate enemy agent operatives, and recruit your own agents among other things. You’re given two different choices when it comes to the story as well with both Regular and Extended options available to you. Regular has it’s own story beats with plenty of backstabbing and such going on but if you want a more complete picture you’ll want to play on Extended. I really enjoyed the Cold War story in Metal Gear Solid 3 so anything set in this time period somewhat draws me in. While there are plenty of great moments in the story some things could be better such as the cutscene work.
As far as the gameplay goes you’ll undergo different types of missions while playing. Some missions will have you playing with the classic turn-based system where you and the opponent move your agents around the environment performing different actions. This is done by using your AP (action points) and then if you engage in combat you use your AP and FP (Fire points). Your ultimate goal in these missions is usually to capture enemy agents or recover some precious intel. While the option to engage in firefights is certainly here I found it better to try to be as stealthy as possible. Disguises for your characters and special weapon attachments help keep yourself hidden while perks for your characters can help with this as well. Mess up while trying to accomplish your mission though and things start to get a whole lot harder very quickly.
In these cases the game becomes more of a tactical shooter and this is also where some problems with the gameplay start to rear their head. First off it can be tough to get eyes on the enemy and this led to me taking a lot of damage that seemed a little unfair. It also doesn’t particularly feel great to play these sections. The game also has issues explaining stuff and can be quite intimidating for the first several hours. There is a tutorial early on but it doesn’t explain everything and instead the game kind of just wants you to figure things out on your own. For a lot of players I could see this turning them off and causing some frustration.
The game offers plenty of other things to do outside of the missions though. You can make new gear, upgrade your base, send operatives out to gather documents, check in on your soldiers and more. For a game about being the leader of The Cabal it does a great job of making you feel like the boss that’s for sure. There is also an Investigation Board that you’ll use to read some of that enemy intel your agents bring back. I’m a sucker for games that let me piece things together and again Phantom Doctrine does a great job here. It’s also fun to go in and interrogate enemy agents that you capture or try to find out who among your ranks may be looking to betray you.
When it comes to your agents you have a lot of control over them. You can change their appearance and will have to as eventually the enemy learns of their identity and you need to hide them from them once again. As you use them in missions they’ll gain XP and level up. You can also train them to get better at using certain weapons, improve stats, and gain new perks and abilities. The amount of depth here is quite impressive.
When it comes to visuals Phantom Doctrine isn’t the best looking game around. Levels are pretty much all dark and aren’t very impressive. Character models likewise could be a lot better. This is a $40 package so I kind of expected it to be a bit better in the looks department than what it is. The music is great though with a soundtrack that fits the mood and action on screen usually and the voice acting of the characters is pretty good too. While the visuals might not represent the price tag the amount of content sure does. That campaign can easily last you 40+ hours and there is other difficulties for extra playtime as well. Iron man mode for instance will force you to start over if you die and there is no saving either. The game is hard enough so you would have to really be in the mood to punish yourself if you decide to play on that. There is also a multiplayer mode with different maps and classes to test yourself against others around the world.
If you’re interested in trophies/achievements then this is going to be a tough completion. There are trophies for playing on different difficulties, killing so many enemies, crafting so many items and so on. A lot of them you’ll have to complete levels certain ways or accomplish certain tasks like killing so many people in a single turn. The last thing I want to mention, and this is only a console issue I’m sure, but the menus are a little difficult to navigate with a controller. Strategy games usually do have some awkward interfaces on console so this wasn’t too surprising to me.
So in the end would I recommend Phantom Doctrine to fans of tactical or strategy games? Absolutely. There are things here that could be better such as the overall feel of the gunplay, the presentation, and the lack of explanation on a lot of things. However, the historical setting and sheer amount of content in this package makes it worth it in my opinion and the game succeeds in making you actually feel like the leader of an organization with how much control you have over various things. With some improvement, CreativeForge Games could find themselves as one of the leaders in this genre.
*Phantom Doctrine is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by Good Shepard Entertainment and we thank them for that.