Phantom Doctrine

Phantom Doctrine isn’t good. As a Cold War wonk and Sid Meier’s Covert Action aficionado, I wanted to like this game. I really did. So I purchased and played it. But it just isn’t good.
Now by far, the two most common criticisms of this game is that line of fire and visibility arcs are hard to decipher – especially when it comes to the enemy’s activities. But that actually didn’t bother me too much. A lot of people are also complaining that the game’s firefight dynamics aren’t like XCom’s, which is perhaps understandable, since the game uses the same engine as Xcom. But then again, it should be easy enough to understand that this game isn’t Xcom, and not punish the developers for their creativity in that regard.
Phantom Doctrine grabbed my attention as soon as I heard about it being a spy game set in the cold war. But it just doesn’t work. The main problems of the game relate to the turn-based mission engine, which isn’t smooth, to say the least. For one thing, moving six agents around in turn-based mode, even on the relatively small maps featured in the game, is cumbersome and boring. Another thing is that the game forces you to sit through all manner of trivial animations and cut scenes every mission; things that do not add anything to the gameplay. On top of that, the loading times, while engaged in missions, is drawn-out too. For any given mission, you’ll probably spend four or five as much time waiting for the enemy to calculate its moves or watching your own guys making standard, unimportant moves as you will spend time doing stuff that is actually exciting. Once you’re past the first couple of hours, the enemies and missions also start feeling horribly predictable, and the game turns into a grind.
The mission gameplay is what will take up most of your time in Phantom Doctrine. But even looking beyond that, the game still has problems. In trying to unravel enemy conspiracies, you’re confronted with an evidence board where you’ve gathered all of your intelligence. Piecing together different stands of evidence is almost like a minigame within the game, which again is akin to Covert Action. But the problem is that, while the game forces you to link up all the evidence, there are no choices for you to make in this regard. The game just forces you to do busywork and thus the minigame is barely even a game, as much as it is simply you having to do a chore that is set before you, and which is at times not far from doing the dishes or filling out tax reports.
Now, in spite of all of these problems, the game could perhaps have held my interest if the story were captivating and good. From the first missions, Phantom Doctrine sets you up to expect that the story certainly will be, but as you progress, it turns out that the story is mostly nonsensical, vague and underdeveloped.
Finally, the character progression in the game is off too. You don’t really build specialists, since many of the skills, weapons, and abilities of agents are poorly balance, and much of the progression is random. So your agents end up feeling more like carbon copies of each other – some better, some worse – but all are essentially the same type of character in your squad.
All in all, Phantom Doctrine is a wasted opportunity. The setting and genre are interesting, but just about every other aspect of the game is lacking in some regard. The final product is underdeveloped, rough around the edges, and offers little in the way of open-ended gameplay. It’s not so much a matter of how you will complete the different assignments as it is a matter of when. To put it simply, you feel as if you’re stuck in an overly linear grind, and in terms of gameplay, you never really feel excited. And that is why, though Phantom Doctrine may look promising at first glance, it really isn’t good.

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