You may know CreativeForge Games as the developer behind the rather challenging Hard West, but now the team is back with another game called Phantom Doctrine, this time taking place during the Cold War. While we were on a recent visit to the Churchill War Rooms in London we got the chance to see the game for ourselves during an extended hands-on guided by Kacper Szymczak from the studio, during which we got to see exactly what this new experience had to offer.
It's probably more accurate to say that Phantom Doctrine is set in an alternate history version of the Cold War, as we're tasked with leading a resistance organisation called The Cabal, who in 1983 are attempting to fight against a global conspiracy which is pitting world leaders against one another, pulling the strings in a high-stakes puppet show. Obviously this is riffing off of historical (and still existent) tensions between superpowers, and even weaves real events like the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 into its own narrative, which we thought was a really cool balance between fiction and reality. The espionage side of things reminded us a little of Invisible, Inc., yet the darker reality of it all set it apart from Klei's game.
At the start of our demo we were thrown into the hideout, which is essentially the base of operations. A lot of Phantom Doctrine revolves around tactical choices, strategy, and deployment of resources, all of which comes into play when you return to the hideout and look at what needs doing to take down the conspiracy. The biggest part of this is the world map, as it's here that you can see signals that may or may not indicate conspiracy activity, at which point you send your agents to these signals to investigate. As time goes on though more signals pop up than you know what to do with, and it's a case of prioritising and sending the nearest agents to each. Time is money after all.
When you're not sending your agents off to the far corners of the world there's plenty more for a spymaster such as yourself to be getting on with. For example, modifying your agents is an important part of the experience, as you can use a cocktail of drugs to upgrade their skills and enhance their stats. Be warned though, as upgrading one branch of their character locks out all others, so it's important to carefully consider how you want to alter your agents to be the best conspiracy-busters they can be.
What's more is that you can even interact with captured enemy agents in the hideout too. The studio was kind enough to give us one they'd made earlier, and here we had a number of options. Of course you can kill them, which is a valid tactic since the danger level rises the longer you have one captured, which in turn increases the risk of your hideout being discovered, invaded, and your progress hindered significantly. There are other options though, and we chose to interrogate them for intel before installing a trigger phrase in their brain, which we'll come back to later.
There's also the opportunity to interact with intel in the hideout as well, which works as a sort of puzzle mini-game. Here you gather the different documents you've collected during your time in the field, assemble them on a pinboard, and connect them with lines via keywords to try and reveal conspiracy secrets. These keywords are found via scouring the intel, like highlighting phrases in documents, and before long you'll find your pinboard to be a mess of lines and links, leaving you feeling like that meme from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (you know the one).
As you're sending agents everywhere they need to be, though, occasionally you'll run into some situations where you'll need to deploy a tactical mission. Here you're plunged into a map and have to engage in Xcom-style combat and navigation in order to complete an objective, hence why the upgrades on agents can be so useful if carefully considered. You can also call assistance from others outside of the map as well, like snipers, which places more emphasis on strategy.
What's especially interesting here is that all the maps are tailor-made but there's an element of randomness in the sense that things such as enemies and objectives change every time you play, so that no two players will get the same experience even if they're playing the same mission.