Earlier this month, when things were a little more hectic, Phantom Doctrine quietly dropped on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Good news: the game has some style.
For those who missed out earlier, Phantom Doctrine basically gives you a band of CIA or KGB (because Cold War) agents to control, flying from one spot to another to rescue informants, recruit potential new agents, discover enemy hideouts, and just generally doing Spy Things.
It's turn-based strategy straight up and down, although there's a few fun spins on the formula that fans might approve of. For instance, if you've got extra agents in the town in question, you can assign some of them to survey the map in one of four cardinal directions. If they've got a good line of sight from their vantage point, you can use them to scout out rooms without having to open the door.
But let's put that aside for a second. I need to talk about the corkboard.
As you progress through Phantom Doctrine, you might find some secrets or documents scattered throughout the levels. If you're active enough, informers will also pass on information (provided you don't let the KGB/CIA kill them first).
You then place that information on a corkboard, piece together the information you do have, and assign agents to fill in the blanks. It's not a complicated logic puzzle or anything, but it's a fun diversion that helps progress the story and builds out the whole '80s spy agency shtick.
But there's tons of other pieces, particularly in the management sections, that blend really well into the spy theme. Take your agents, for instance. The more you send them out on missions, the more their identity becomes compromised. Eventually they'll be uncovered or have to scrap their ID because of an ambush or raid on your hideout, so you'll need to forge them new papers.
So provided you've bought the forgery upgrade at your base - which you can do basically as soon as the tutorial ends - you get this cool screen:
Again, it's a little thing. But hot damn it's cool.
The levels fit the time period really well, too. While the main colour palette uses a lot of browns, concrete grey, wooden walls and generally dark-ish textures, the game's not visually unclear. The models are on the dated side - The Witcher 3 this certainly is not - and the cut-scenes are even a bit blurry.
But overall, everything fits. Including this smoking jacket, which an enemy agent unwisely opted to fuck with.
Another neat twist: there's no RNG, and this is where the XCOM comparison falls apart a little.
If an enemy isn't capable of dodging, then you will hit it. But the amount of damage done depends on the weapon used, its effective range, and how much cover the unit is in. Dodging is dependent on how much awareness a unit has, so if an agent is capable of ducking out of the way, Phantom Doctrine will let you know.
It's an interesting spin on the tactics formula, although it also highlights just how risky combat is. Your capacity for dodging enemy fire runs out very quickly, and when you couple that with the suite of tools agents have - Overwatch abilities, grenades, sniper rifles, and so on - it's pretty easy to see that staying in the shadows as much as possible is the smartest course of action.
The game's real strength is the management element, perhaps far more so than the actual combat. Every agent has their own variables when it comes to detecting, awareness, movement, and some of them even have a suite of perks that have to be uncovered over time (because they were sleeper agents, you see).
Anyway, I'll have more to say about the game next week as I've progressed through the campaigns more. But so far, I'm loving the sense of style that's going on. Even though my agents are a bit daft when it comes to inserting random floppies into their computers.
Seriously Eldritch, get your shit together.