Phantom Doctrine Review – Nintendo Switch

Developed By: CreativeForge Games

Published By: Forever Entertainment

Reviewed By: Tyler Higgs

Thank you so much to Forever Entertainment for providing a review code

The Cold War is not a time period that’s often used as a setting for video games. When Phantom Doctrine launched last year on other consoles, I was intrigued by it’s premise. I wondered how well a Cold War setting could translate into a tactical RPG. Now I’ve got the details so let’s dive into Phantom Doctrine.

Story

Phantom Doctrine’s story centers around the Cold War and sees you controlling a network of spies. You spend the majority of the game gathering intel and interrogating other spies to unravel what’s happening behind the scenes. You can choose whether you want to be an ex-CIA agent or an ex- KGB agent, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Your group is called The Cabal and no matter who you choose you will control this network of spies. Your mission is to take down an opposing group who’s goal is to create chaos around the world. To do this you’ll have to send your group of spies to different corners of the world to foil their conspiracy plots.

I found Phantom Doctrine’s story to be a little chaotic and it never really immersed me into it. I knew it was going on, but it felt a bit all over the place. I think people who enjoy a good spy story will enjoy this, but the average person will probably be indifferent towards the story.

Gameplay

Phantom Doctrine is a tactical RPG that blends many different mechanics together to form a very wide variety of gameplay.

Your group of spies are controlled through two separate places your hideout and on a map. The map let’s you send your spies to each of the different locations on the map. It’s all done in a sort of management simulator where you have to watch for suspicious activity. If a location blinks red then you should a send spy to it to check if there’s actually any activity going on. Sometimes you will come across an enemy plot that you’ll have to interfere with. If you get there within enough time sometimes you can foil the plot, but other times you may have to actually dispatch your spies for a mission. Instead of an enemy you may find an informant in one of these locations. If you one of your spies there for a certain amount of time an informant will come by and give you some type of intel. Intel can range from unlocking a new possible spy recruit, learning more about a specific enemy, unlocking a new ability for a spy, or gathering more information for one of your cases.

Your hideout is essentially your hub where all of the background work is done. It’s here at your hideout where you will train characters, increase their stats and equip them with new weapons. That’s not all that happens at your hideout in fact customizing your agents is just the beginning.

The hideout contains multiple areas where your spies can work in while they have some down time.

Forger: A place for your spies to passively earn extra money while they’re assigned here. Money is used to buy new upgrades for your hideout and team. Your spies can also gain heat during missions and have their identities revealed. When this happens you’ll have to pay money to forge them a new passport and identity.

Infirmary: The infirmary is for any spies that are hurt during a mission. While inside the infirmary they will passively regenerate health.

Workshop: The workshop has two essential uses. You can assign spies to the workshop in order to create new items and attachments for your characters weapons. These will cost you money and the time of one of your spies to create each one. You can also purchase tech upgrades such that unlock new abilities and improve stats such as more frequent informant discoveries and agents losing heat faster. These tech upgrades do not require an assigned agent and are crucial to your playthrough.

Analytics: You can assign an agent here to do research and uncover new vital information and intelligence.

Body Engineering: The body engineering station can be used to boost the specific stats of a specific agent.

MK Ultra: Here you can assign agents to interrogate, execute or brainwash captured enemy spies.

Once you get out into the field Phantom Doctrine plays out like a very in depth tactical RPG. Just to clarify right away this is not Final Fantasy Tactics. No, Phantom Doctrine places you in huge open levels with buildings, civilians and hostile units. Levels have buildings with multiple floors and sometimes even the basic missions will take you a fair amount of time to complete. You really have to plan out your moves in Phantom Doctrine and I know that sounds obvious in a tactical RPG, but I think it’s important to reiterate it here. The levels are vast with security cameras, and laser beam gates that will notify enemies of your whereabouts. In fact once one enemy as seen one of your spies, the mission is compromised and the only thing left to do is evacuate or pull out the guns.

Every mission takes place in turns. During your turn you will command your team of spies that you can send to stealth around buildings and corners. There’s certain spots on the map that can be interacted with such as safes and cabinets that give you items and weapons that you can take out of the level with you. You can also find intel lying around to bring back to the hideout with your team. What’s very important is to find where the security systems control panels are located. Many levels will be very hard to successfully complete without previously shutting off the security devices.

Every agent has access to a variety of combat and non-combat abilities. Each character can bring a primary or secondary weapon with them. Depending on the weapon you may have the ability to do single shots, burst shots, or fully automatic “spray & pray”. Your agents guns have ammunition so you’ll have to be careful not to use all your ammunition at once or they may have to take a turn to reload their gun. Sometimes you may have to stabilize a fallen comrade and pick them up to escort them to safety. Other times you will be utilizing your tactical equipment such as smoke grenades to avoid enemy fire. One really interesting mechanic that’s unique to Phantom Doctrine is its “breach” mechanic. Breaching let’s you set up multiple agents that are nearby to storm into a room and fire at any hostile units in range. It’s pretty cool to see your units breach these rooms and it ended up being a useful mechanic

Missions can vary in their objectives, but it essentially boils down to killing/kidnapping an enemy or interacting with an object such as intel or disarming a weapon of sorts. My description of the missions seemingly makes them sound generic, but there’s extra actions that come along with every mission.

You can take on a mission and instead of killing your target, take him in for interrogation. During interrogation you get some info and then finish them off or brainwash them into becoming one of yours. Then you also have to worry about events happening to your agents. If you leave an agent behind or have them leave, because of an event such as rehab, you may never see them again. Consequently, they may make their way back to you only for the surprise that they’re a double agent. Phantom Doctrine tries to add so much depth into its vast amount of hours of gameplay. It’s unfortunate, because the execution isn’t perfect.

The final mechanic that Phantom Doctrine introduces is the actual scanning through and piecing together documents. The intel you gather isn’t for nothing and in fact, it can be used to progress the story along. You’ll receive files for many cases and this intel you find will actually become tangible documents that you can interact with. The documents are essentially randomly generated with code names that you’ll actually have to read through almost like a very simple point and click puzzle. Once you uncover the code names in these documents you can start piecing them together and uncover some of your enemies true identities. This will be crucial to progressing the story and while it sounds interesting on paper it unfortunately gets very tedious. It’s really not very interesting scanning over these documents and connecting the names within them. I like the feeling of realism that comes with sorting through intel, but it’s another unnecessary addition on a game that already feels bogged down.

Phantom Doctrine can be a lot of fun for the right person and it truly feels like a tactical RPG. There just seems to be so much that was thrown together that many things feel half-hearted. There’s a little too much meaningless micromanagement and the intel mechanic feels like a last minute add on, that doesn’t add much entertainment value. The tactical gameplay itself is solid, but you’ll have to really enjoy planning out each and every move and tackling long winded missions, for you to really get what you want out of Phantom Doctrine.

Presentation

Phantom Doctrine looks a bit rough around the edges on the Nintendo Switch, but it presents itself well. While the textures and environments have become blurrier each level still looks like what you would expect from a spy themed RPG. The character models are unfortunately where the graphics really took a hit as they look like something closer to the PS2 era of graphics. All that being said for the most part Phantom Doctrine looks alright enough and is not worth passing on, solely, because of the downgrade in graphics.

Technical Issues

For the most part I didn’t experience any significant technical issues with Phantom Doctrine. The frame stayed mostly stable in frame rate and docked mode, aside from the odd dip every now and then. One thing that did disappoint me was the lack of touch screen controls that I think would have been nice for navigating the game’s many menus.

Summary

Phantom Doctrine isn’t a bad game and is truly an enjoyable experience, but not for everyone. if you can bare with the game’s unnecessary amount of mechanics and its somewhat lack of polish you will find an entertaining tactical RPG with tons of hours of content for you to spend time with. This is a spy mission worth taking on, just not for everyone.

6/10

Pros

  • Solid Tactical RPG
  • Tons of Hours of Content
  • Breach Mechanic is an Interesting Mechanic
  • Many Different Skills & Items For Customization

Cons

  • Unnecessary Amount of Mechanics With Some Feeling Like Half-Hearted Additions
  • Piecing Together Documents to Solve Identities Is Very Tedious
  • Blurry Textures and Very Rough Character Models
  • No Touch Screen Controls

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