Phantom Doctrine, developed by Creative Forge Games, is an isometric, turn-based role-playing game which is similar in vein to the Shadowrun games. The game has an interesting 80’s spy noir atmosphere that captivates players with the ability to alter the means by which the story is presented to the player. A historian’s ideal setting combined with intuitive controls is a recipe for a game to keep players entertained.

Ambient Espionage

Phantom Doctrine takes place during the Cold War in the 1980’s. Players can choose to play as the KGB or the CIA, which offers unique variations to the central storyline. An annoyance with playing the Kremlin agents is the characters speak Russian. When sub-titles are present, their location in the upper right corner of the screen (center bottom is ideal for reading while playing) makes it difficult for non-Russian speaking players to follow the story. Players take control of an organization known as ‘The Cabal’ consisting of various secret agents used to take on rival clandestine agencies. Phantom Doctrine’s Cold War setting is interesting; however, it lacks the charm of the dystopian cyberpunk future backdrop of the relatively recent Shadowrun trilogy.

Phantom Doctrine’s graphical options are surprisingly robust for PC players. Players have the option to modify the standard PC settings; anti-aliasing, textures, shadow and post-processing effects, but also effects detail, foliage detail, view distance and ambient occlusion where applicable in various areas of the game. The developers have also paid special attention to sound settings, as players have individual sliders allowing them to modify the master volume, music, sound effects, voices, the interface and cinematics, which is a heavily desired feature creeping into more games. Though Phantom Doctrine employs a bevy of options for players, the character models look as though they are from the Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 days and could most certainly be improved.

Be Discrete

Phantom Doctrine’s gameplay mechanics tend to steer the player toward a stealthy approach to each mission that can make the levels feel overly drawn out compared to the faster paced, turn-based games like Shadowrun or Xcom. As players progress via stealth, they will need to avoid civilians, disable security cameras, find secret documents and loot. Players can attempt to run and gun through each mission; however, once the enemy is alerted to the player, they will be inundated with enemy reinforcements until they are able to complete the mission or evacuate their agents out of the area. Despite the varying layouts of the mission areas, Phantom Doctrine can feel overly repetitive after 20+ hours of play.

Base of Operations

When players are not running around mission areas trying to extract agents or secret files, they can hang out in their hideout. At the hideout, players can upgrade the skills and change the loadout of their agents, craft items such as silencers, expose the identities of enemy agents, try to decipher secret documents, check up on agents in the infirmary or use the world map to find documents and new recruits. When the player sends out agents via the world map to points of interest, it is best to send agents in groups of two or more, otherwise, they could be ambushed and must fight their way to safety via a shootout with enemy combatants. Exploring the world map was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game, despite it simply being a little mini-game that requires the barest of button presses.

The level of detail regarding the more nuanced mechanics of gameplay are handled very well. Players will be able to move and expand their home base. The home base has a danger or heat meter that is affected by how the player proceeds on the map screen mini-missions. If the meter gets too high, then the player is at risk of the base being attacked or agent identities being revealed. Players will need to relocate their base, an expensive undertaking both monetarily and via the main campaign. Players will also need to keep an eye out because as they uncover clues, they may also uncover sleeper agents hidden among their ranks. Relationships with agents can be affected on how they are treated during main missions as rescuing an agent after they’ve lost their HP will net a positive influence while leaving a member behind will net a negative influence. Agents who have a negative attitude for the player may disappear, which can be a hindrance when players are trying to put together a decent team.

Mission Compromised

The control scheme for the Phantom Doctrine is intuitive and easy to use. Full 360-degree rotation of the map makes judging the viewable surroundings a breeze. Camera control, though important in any game, is crucial for isometric games to allow the player to comprise a strategy for the level. The mouse can be used to select weapons, skills, agents and to select forward positioning of the characters. Players can also use easy to remember keyboard shortcuts to perform most actions.

A major hindrance of Phantom Doctrine is the lack of instruction on the basics of the game prior to the most recent patch. The latest patch has updated the game to better inform players of basic functions such as how to navigate, level up characters and attempt to solve secret files in the home base. Overall, the latest patch has made it easier for players who may not be familiar with turn-based RPG games a greater foundation for understanding the mechanics and expanding the genre.

Mission Complete

Phantom Doctrine is a decent starting point, with the latest patch, for players who want to jump into isometric turn-based RPGs but has the depth for seasoned veterans of the genre. The Cold War-era storyline is entertaining but lacks the excitement when compared to the cyberpunk competitors. Phantom Doctrine offers players an accessibility that it easy to pick up but can keep players entertained and is a decent game to jump ship to the latest Shadowrun games, which will take equal time to enjoy, but triple the time to master.

Phantom Doctrine Review
The Good
  • Cold war setting
  • Gameplay depth
  • Fluid controls
The Bad
  • Punishing when stealth is broken
  • Gets repetitive
  • Character models
7.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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About The Author

Christopher T
Staff Writer

I'm an old timer that started in 1988 with Tempest at the Disney arcade; in 1989 I was given an NES with Contra and Super Contra, thus sealing my fate forever. I moved onto the Genesis, followed by the original PlayStation, PC (mainly just for DOOM) and the N64. I got a launch day PS2 settling for the PlayStation family of consoles until 2015 when I renewed my interest in the PC world. Outside of gaming, custom PC water cooling and car parts are life.