Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Phantom Doctrine... Reviewed!


Phantom Doctrine will leave you feeling like you're... in between a rock and a hard place at times.


Before jumping into the review... check out this game trailer.


Phantom Doctrine is a strategic turn-based RPG... delivered to us in the form of an espionage spy thriller. It's set at the peak of the Cold War, following World War 2... so get ready to take the plunge into covert operations, conspiracy, counterintelligence, and historical events.

Where is your role in all this? Well... at the top. You are the leader of a secret organization known as... The Cabal. Your job is very simple and easy... just... take charge of a crucial counterintelligence operation, recruit agents with impeccable skill-sets (that may or may not be trustworthy), send/complete missions to gain Intel or take out a target, all the while... saving the world from some serious doom. Okay, maybe it's not that simple, but the controls are. You aren't just bouncing in and out of turn-based missions in this game... you're actually performing other tasks that make the game more interesting (something like a management SIM for spies).

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One of the other tasks includes investigations. You literally spend time going through images and documents making connections that you place on a classic pinboard. If you're into this sort of stuff, or you like shows that focus on investigations... little things like this will really grab your attention. Even if you aren't familiar with these aspects of investigations or think it may slow the game down, no need to worry... it adds to it. The missions can be interesting (as seen below), but... I actually looked forward to what new Intel my team and I obtained to make additional connections. I enjoyed this more so than the missions at times, especially when items become unlocked to up my game on missions. Win-win!

The missions can be a challenge... especially if you aren't properly equipped. You will find yourself in between a rock and a hard place quite often... if you aren't careful, but sometimes (at least for me) I couldn't help it.

The name of the game is... use stealth to the fullest. Obtain all sorts of tools that keep your stealth game on point.

I like how you're able to load previous steps taken while out in the field. It's not a game-changing feature, but... at the same time, it is. Sometimes you may wish that you didn't take that wrong turn... where you messed up your mission or made it more challenging than it had to be. If you want to step back into the shadows, load your previous step. I think they saved this game from angry gamers by doing this, because if you're nearing the end of a big mission... just imagine how much it would suck to start over.

I had to think about a situation I was in recently, I literally approached it a few times from different angles. One of the worse situations to be in... is having to pick up a fallen agent in the field (after you've stabilized them). You can take someone in for interrogation, but... you don't want it to be one of your agents or the only other agent accompanying you on a mission. You need someone to do the shooting, deploying overwatch, giving first aid, and other tactical things if your hands aren't free. Trust me. You have the option to abandon an agent in the field... but I've never left one in the field.

You can take a few approaches in your missions. Stealth is obviously at the top of my list, but if your cover is blown, or you have no other choice... you can use the overwatch option that allows you to cover a certain area with the selected agent. That agent will shoot at any enemy that enters that overwatch area (as long as they have bullets in the gun). During other instances when you have to enter a room and take out enemy combatants... breach works wonders, it definitely beats taking turns trading fire with enemies you can just take out.

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The other management tasks that keep your organization running at a high level... may seem like a lot when you're first introduced to your hideout, but they're not. The tabs on the bottom of the screen show you each department in your organization and... your attention isn't needed for all of them all the time. There are multiple departments that you will have to buy/unlock if you want them... so it's optional to have more, but you can pop in and out quickly.

Crew Quarters is the tab where the agents are. This is the place where you'd equip characters with weapons, skills, armor, and other equipment like first aid, grenades, etc. This is also the place where you can hire and dismiss agents.

Forger... is an unlockable department that allows you to not only create counterfeit money, you can also change the identities of your agents. You may be wondering why you'd want to change your agent's identity, but... that's beneficial when an agent's identity gets exposed. It's time for a body transformation in this department when that happens because the agent won't be as useful to your organization if they can't contribute in the field. Body transformation will take you back to the character customization feature... which I like quite a bit. It's not as in depth as say... Mass Effect (where I could make a character look exactly like me, myself, and I), but you can fully customize the character with the options they have. This includes their appearance, documents, and you can even train them in deadly arts before they get back to the action. 

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Operations don't run on air, so make it a point to get this department as soon as possible. It helps with your cash flow and maintaining the stealth in some of your missions (which is super helpful).

Tip: If you can't utilize an agent in the field, put them to work in the hideout to help with operations. This can help make use of them before you unlock the forger department or if you don't have the money to change up their look at that time.

The infirmary... is the place where agents go to heal after taking damage in the field. You start out with two beds/slots, but make sure that you increase this over time as you increase the number of agents in the field. They need a place to heal, and you may not be able to afford to have them taking turns. Also, make sure you give them time to heal. Just because they can be selected for missions, doesn't mean they should be sent out on a mission just yet. First aid kits are a great gift out in the field... and if all it takes is one hit for an agent to go down and require stabilization + a helping hand to escape, that's a very optional... bad move.

Going back to the money, make sure that you spend it wisely. You don't want to be in a situation where you don't have enough money to make moves. In the image above, there is a danger meter in the corner... don't let that hit red. You need some money saved for a relocation process just in case the danger meter gets a little too close... because if your spot is a little too hot, someone's going to kick in your door. You have a globe to full of locations where you're able to relocate your hideout, some places will already have a danger level... while other potential destinations will be free and clear. If you want to move in one that's free of clear and present danger, it's going to cost you a bit more than others... so make sure that you have money to keep you safe. Cool?

You can position "assets" around the world, allowing you to do things like call in reinforcements during battle... but so can the enemy (which includes heavy weapons and air support). I'm not a lightweight in gaming, but I can and I do get annoyed like anyone else. The reinforcement times annoy the flipping kangaroos out of me. It just feels like they come to quick and... you aren't even sure where they are because the area of sight is limited. This isn't new, but like I said... it can be a bit annoying. What I will say though is that... I think they did this based on a real life line of sight. We can't see around corners or through walls in reality, and so they wanted to put that in the game. I get it... I can respect it... and I can still be annoyed by it while appreciating the challenge. Call me weird, but I'll chop it up as that.

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Replay value comes in with online multiplayer battles, basically taking what you've learned in the single-player game and applying to 1v1 matches. I mention it like that because I don't advise anyone to go online before taking on the single player to get familiar with the game in general. I'm sure there are some beasts looking to gobble up noobs as soon as they arrive... so trust me on that.

Replay value is also added to the game in the main 40+ hour campaign, you notice it in the field when you retry a mission and enemies aren't in the same locations... but it goes deeper than that. It's a replayable modular campaign... where a variety of mechanics are in place to deliver a different play through each time. I'm talking new characters, backgrounds, algorithmically populated maps, etc. 

Outside of 40+ achievements you can accomplish... there is even more than what I've mentioned above as far as replay value is concerned in Phantom Doctrine. You can play the game from two different viewpoints, starting either as a former KGB counterintelligence operative or a renegade CIA wet work commando. Both have their own set of challenges... and even still there's more, because after you complete the campaign... you can play as an additional protagonist. Extended play through anyone?

I appreciate that... you're rewarded with an extended play through, instead of DLC that you have to spend more on. There are missions I'm still thinking about now that I'd like to go back to... now that I have the right tools for the job. I can't forget about the various loot and intelligence items you can collect in the field that can help your organization... (that is) if you can get to them, complete your main objective, and... make it out alive.

Visually, this is a beautiful looking game from a top side view. It also goes down to a third person view when you're ready to attack... so you can see things up close. It still maintains some nice visuals up close... and  I appreciate the detail in the environments, down to the water collecting from rainfall, it just makes the experience that more enjoyable. They could've taken the easy way out and created a flat battlefield, but... they didn't. You have various rooms, buildings, and rooftops that you can scroll up and down too... street level. Maps were hand-designed for challenging battlefields and variety, which I can appreciate because if I develop games I'd want the environment/maps/levels to be different. I just think they did a great job with it... even if some cut-scenes could be better in the visual and body motions department. I shrug my shoulders though... because some remind of me GTA 4 cut-scenes in a way.

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Image result for phantom doctrine multiplayerI didn't have any expectations for the audio, but... they didn't slack on the quality and it fits. It isn't... wow, but... it helped with the engagement and didn't annoy me (which is key). Just FYI... It was much better with quality headphones vs standard stereo speakers. Going back to DLC... I have the digital edition, so I also have the original soundtrack composed by Marcin Przybylowicz (The Witcher series, Hard West) and... Jan Sanejko. Plus, it also comes with The Art of Phantom Doctrine Digital Artbook for $9.99. It doesn't include additional game content because it was all packed into the game.

I haven't found a strong enough con to really drop on this game beyond fun factor. Don't get me wrong, its a very interesting game... but at the same time the fun factor is middle of the road for me. Fun factor goes down when it seems like an endless amount of reinforcements come in every 3 moves... if caught.

Price wise... Phantom Doctrine is at that mid-ranged price of $39.99, and while it could've been safe at $49.99... this is a sweet spot. It has depth and its packed with replay value. I think they priced it to be competitive vs being priced at a higher price just because.

Overall, Phantom Doctrine is a depth-filled game... with a well-rounded story that you play through more so than just playing from one cut-scene to the next to get updates. The price is right and there is a crap load of content to keep you going for quite a while... before taking your skills to the online arena (if you dare). If you enjoy spy thrillers, turn-based RPG's, and you're open to variety... give it a try. This may end up being a game for you.


Fun factor: 3

Visually: 5

Replay value: 5

Price: 5


"4.5 / 5 Cool Points"



Brought to you by the... Baby Fu Clothing Co!
This game has been provided to us by Good Shepherd Entertainment.