Out of all the games I saw at Gamescom this year, there was one that stood out. It was something I’d never seen before, never heard of before, and yet when people have asked me, “What is your favourite game you saw at GamesCom?” my answer is always the same: Phantom Doctrine. I have told so many people my reasons why this is the case and now I bestow those words upon you, dear reader.
The first thing of many that Phantom Doctrine does that’s so impressive is realise its theme with a surprising amount of confidence. This tactical RPG acts in a similar vein to XCOM, but my jaw dropped upon the realisation that one of my units was a spy in disguise, while two operatives waited outside for him to lower the laser security. He could walk in plain sight, dispatch enemies with ease, hide the bodies, and then disable the laser security when nobody was looking.
Shortly afterwards, I was shown another cool trick in the form of Support Abilities. With a guard roaming the windowed area near the target intel, I was able to call upon the support of a sniper in a nearby building who would easily snipe the guard for the cost of a few Support points. I could also call upon yet another person in another building to use his telescope to see what’s inside the room where the intel was.
After getting all my units close and checking once more that nothing had changed, I was then told I could “breach” the room, meaning all my units would move simultaneously into the room and shoot the people inside. It’s awesome when plans come together, so when I executed the order to breach the room and saw just how easily they took out the guards, there was a true sense of accomplishment.
Much like XCOM, the enemy can spot the agents and call in reinforcements, who will also descend upon you quickly if you happen to trigger a booby trap when picking up the intel. The aim now was to get the intel out, which was certainly a challenge as I had to go the long way. Luckily, I managed to escape and get the intel back to base.
In keeping with the spy theme, bases can move in order to not be discovered, taking time to discretely dismantle the base and reassemble it elsewhere. I also had the ability to upgrade my agents, equipment, and much more.
However, one area stood out to me: MKUltra. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it was a real project undertaken by the CIA from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. Reading up on it for this article was tough, given that they dealt with extensive use of drugs and other techniques in a broad effort to control minds. It was a far reaching project that affected many, complete with a conspiracy theory of an arcade game called Polybius being associated with the project.
I mention all of this because the use of drugs and techniques to influence, interrogate, and even control a person is exactly what players can do here. When an enemy agent is captured, players can spend resources to do just that. Agents can even be captured and return without notice, meaning nobody can be sure who’s a double agent or not, introducing a degree of paranoia to the game. Resources can be spent to determine if they are or not, which will obviously have its own consequences.
Yet the game didn’t stop there with realising its theme so well. Normally games such as this have a map where you can generally see the next story mission and some side missions. I still had those side missions, but the idea behind doing them is to gather enough intel that you can piece together on a cork board. Reading each one and clicking key words will reveal the connections that can be made with red thread.
All of these little touches on top of the solid gameplay found in the likes of XCOM are what make Phantom Doctrine a game to watch out for. The team behind it are no strangers to the genre, having made Hard West beforehand, but this is far more inspired in terms of just how well realised the theme is, even at this early stage of development. It’s out sometime in 2018 for PC, and I for one will be fascinated to see just how much this progresses beyond its already solid foundations.