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.

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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 Charles.Singletary@Shacknews.com.

From The Chatty

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    January 13, 2018 5:25 PM

    Charles Singletary posted a new article, PAX 2018: Trade XCOM's Aliens For Spies In Tactical Thriller Phantom Doctrine

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      January 13, 2018 5:41 PM

      That sounds FUCKING AWESOME

      I hope they release a macos version

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      January 13, 2018 5:45 PM

      This is right up my alley.

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      January 13, 2018 8:39 PM

      XCOM with spies. So....like Invisible Inc?

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        January 13, 2018 10:10 PM

        Yeah I was like I already played that

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        January 13, 2018 10:23 PM

        I want combat though I didn't like the puzzle gameplay in invisible Inc

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      January 13, 2018 9:03 PM

      already has a page on steam http://store.steampowered.com/app/559100/Phantom_Doctrine/

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        January 13, 2018 10:37 PM

        That FMV didn't tell us anything, but they had fun making it I assume?

        Screens make it seem the tactical is more like XCOM than invisible Inc. Art direction doesn't stand out though

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      January 13, 2018 9:07 PM

      Wow. Petty crazy how much the game, down to the UI resembles XCOM.

      Hope it's good!

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      January 13, 2018 9:29 PM

      This sounds like it could be awesome, but I'm a sucker for anything invoking X-COM. cold war XCOM sounds good, like silent storm! Need to see how the tactical layer plays out though. Didn't like too much stealth like invisible Inc

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      January 13, 2018 10:04 PM

      CAN'T. STOP. PUMPING. CUM.

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        January 14, 2018 7:52 AM

        I don't know.. Hard West didn't do that well

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      January 13, 2018 10:13 PM

      There are NEVER enough spy games.

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      January 14, 2018 8:05 AM

      More entries in this genre are always welcome!

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        January 14, 2018 9:27 AM

        100% true. Always happy to see another turn based, no real time decision game. Something I can play with a couple beers in me, and old person shitty reflexes, and still do fine.

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        January 14, 2018 10:27 AM

        It's curiously underused given how popular it is in other mediums.

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          January 14, 2018 10:39 AM

          2018 could be a decent year for turn-based tactics. We get this, plus the FTL devs' next game "Into the Breach." And I have a suspicion Firaxis will announce another XCOM expansion or sequel.

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      January 14, 2018 9:51 AM

      every time Charles posts an article, I hear C3PO screaming "THE SINGULARITY!"

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      January 14, 2018 10:30 AM

      Holy shit. IN.

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      January 14, 2018 10:30 AM

      The game looks beautiful. Are there any isometric perspective games out right now that have that same esthetic with the level of detail and lighting?

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      January 14, 2018 10:43 AM

      After mario rabids I want to see more genres XCOM'd. This looks dope.