On September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, killing 269 people including U.S. Representative Larry McDonald. A combination of fear, posturing, and paranoia led to the downing of KAL 007 and pushed the world closer to war… but what if there were an even more sinister motive behind what officially happened?

This question is what CreativeForge Games’ upcoming Phantom Doctrine explores in its conspiracy-laden Cold War setting.

In Phantom Doctrine, a shadowy organization is destabilizing the world, pushing it to the brink of chaos in an attempt to establish a global hegemony under their control. The only thing standing in their way is The Cabal, a secretive group of special agents collected from across the world and dedicated to keeping this from happening.

Paranoia is a central theme in Phantom Doctrine, evidenced by corkboards covered in photos and news clippings spiderwebbed with colored string marking tenuous links between events that may or may not be caused by the conspiracy. Agents captured by The Cabal are brainwashed, pumped with mind control drugs, and implanted with code-phrase activated triggers that turn enemies into allies, and vice-versa. The entire game is meant to make people question everyone around them.

At first blush, Phantom Doctrine appears to owe a lot to XCOM with its two-stage gameplay. Part of the action takes place in The Cabal’s hideout. It’s here where intelligence links contacts with names such as “The Purple Man” to locations such as Berlin, Moscow, and Helsinki. At this stage, world-wide communications are monitored for signs of the conspiracy and agents are sent off to inspect the validity of those leads.

Fittingly, it’s also where The Cabal’s MK Ultra program interrogates opposing agents, prying information from them by any means necessary before sending them back to their masters as double agents. At least, that’s the plan.  The opposition can use the same tactics against The Cabal, and it’s never known just how many moles might be actively working against the player at any time.

The second half of the game plays out much like the tactical missions in the aforementioned XCOM with hints of Creative Forge Games’ previous strategy title Hard West peppered in. Don’t mistake this section as being about killing everything in sight, however — for most of the level I played, little combat actually happened. I was committed to making as little an impact as possible by sending in one agent dressed as a Soviet guard while the others stuck to the shadows.

As my plant worked his way into the facility, taking pictures of whatever documents he could find, the other three worked on turning off cameras and cutting power. In fact, if it wasn’t for the unfortunate civilian walking in the path of a silenced sniper round I might have been able to finish the entire level without setting off the alarms.

Of course, I could have just gone into the place guns blazing, but having this choice between stealth and assault — and possibly more — is what excites me about Phantom Doctrine. The Cold War era was about secrets, lies, and spies. Being forced to go full Rambo every mission wouldn’t make much sense, and clash with the tone and core concept of the game. No, we’re going to play this one quietly and I’m eagerly awaiting to see just how far the rabbit hole goes.

Look for Phantom Doctrine on all platforms sometime in 2018.

Steven Brown
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5 years ago

Nice. X-com meets Hitman (kinda).