PAX 2018: Trade XCOM's Aliens For Spies In Tactical Thriller Phantom Doctrine

In this strategy game, you'll have to brainwash, interrogate, and sneak your way to victory.


With early media access to the show floor, I usually use this time to memorize where certain booths are and try to spot some titles I had missed in preparation for the show. This is when I came across a massive, cold war themed exhibit for the game Phantom Doctrine. I circled around to see if I could get a glimpse of gameplay, but it was so early nothing was started and all I saw was a start menu. One of the exhibitors came up and I asked what the game was. They started to describe it and I immediately started picturing a spy vs spy X-Com. Turns out, that’s exactly what I was in store for.

Phantom Doctrine places players in control of the Cabal, a massive spy network, as they take on an organization bent on controlling the world by pitting nations against each other. Like XCOM, you manage a headquarter space where you’ll recruit agents, outfit them with gear, and research different ways to improve your units. Unlike XCOM, there are no psionic abilities or aliens: Every facet of the Phantom Doctrine experience is deeply rooted in the history of spies around the world.

XCOM is a whole lot of fun, but I have certainly wished for a game that played more like the earlier stages of the game where the alien tech was minimal. Phantom Doctrine seems like the tactical experience I hoped for with a spy twist I didn’t know I wanted, but could definitely get down with.

While outfitting your units before combat and scouting the battlefields before engaging is an aspect of the XCOM experience, it’s the main focus in Phantom Doctrine. You’ll capture other agents, gain informants, and engage in other activities that will give you a leg up on the enemy before even jumping into a ground level conflict. Infiltration is so fleshed out, even, I was told that you could start and finish a conflict without ever being detected and firing a single shot if you’re good enough.

Another unique element involves the agents themselves. You’ll be brainwashing them, torturing them for information, and even embedding them with trigger words. Trigger words work by investing time in the process and then releasing the agent back into the world. If you happen to come across that agent in a conflict, as we did in the demo, you can use that word at any time and he or she will switch sides. When we did this, we, unfortunately, split even with the enemy because one of our own was a sleeper agent as well.

The strategic aspect of Phantom Doctrine, the parts that take place in the headquarters, seem fully fleshed out even though the game still has a good bit of development left. Instead of intel just being some rudimentary blip in your collection of resources, you’ll actually be able to pin different notes to a board, read redacted information, and connect the different details. You can place an agent in charge of this, but you run the risk of losing out on crucial intel. If you’re successful, you can find important information like the location of a cell of agents or the target for their next attack and intervene.

Everything I saw feels like the makings of a wonderful package that I’ll lose tons of hours in. We’ll see what Phantom Doctrine is made of later in 2018.

Charles Singletary Jr keeps the updates flowing as the News Editor, breaking stories while investigating the biggest topics in gaming and technology. He's pretty active on Twitter, so feel free to reach out to him @The_CSJR. Got a hot tip? Email him at

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