Phantom Doctrine walks and talks like XCOM: it's a turn-based strategy game where you guide agents across sprawling, gridded maps to execute infiltration and combat missions. Between those missions you spend time managing and equipping your team, completing research in your secret base, and plotting your next move on the world map. Or, perhaps, implanting a tracking device in someone's skull.
Developer CreativeForge Games isn't watering down the brutality of the Cold War in its conspiracy-rich strategy game. If you subdue an enemy while on a mission and manage to drag them to the extraction point, you can subject them to some unsettling treatment back at your base. For example, enemy agents can be implanted with a secret phrase, then released from your base. When you encounter that agent on a later mission, you can "say the magic word to make them come to your aid when the enemy is least expecting it," according to creator Pawel Kroenke.
Less insidiously, you could interrogate them to gain information, or you could try to flip their allegiance or make them a mole that continuously sends you bits of information. When you reach a tactical mission, these undercover agents that are at that location are controlled by you and can walk freely on the map, scouting, killing, or sabotaging right under the enemy's nose while your better-armed operatives move in.
But wait: all of this awful stuff can happen to your agents too. Abandon a wounded agent on a mission, and they might return later on in the campaign, claiming to have 'barely made it out,' while actually being a double agent for the enemy. My demo here at PAX in Seattle this weekend didn't provide enough time to see exactly how these techniques would play out over the campaign, but I really like that these systems are available to you and your opponent equally.
Another neat piece of Phantom Doctrine is the way information is amassed as you play the campaign. You build an actual, cliched 'conspiracy board' made up of individual pieces of information and photos, connected by lines of yarn on a corkboard.
Games like Phantom Doctrine don't lend themselves to 30-minute demos, so we'll definitely have to spend more time with it to understand how these mechanics function across the course of many hours. But so far this is looking like an inspired take on XCOM-style strategy with a dark side.