Review: Phantom Doctrine lacks the fun of XCOM

I want XCOM 2 on the Nintendo Switch. I'm waiting for it. Hoping. It has yet to come, be announced or even rumored by its developers. So, of late, I've found myself looking for other ways to get my turn-based combat fix. I completed Wasteland 2 some time ago. Japanese games seldom hold my attention and, even Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has lost its charm. A couple of days ago, despite its mediocre reviews, I downloaded Phantom Doctrine, for $20. It's so close to being pretty much what I'm looking for. Sadly, it's held back by a number of issues.

In the game, you're in charge of a cell of cold-war era spies who bop around the world collecting intelligence, killing members of a shadowy opposing faction and trying not to get captured or liquidated in the process. What are they collecting intel on? It's hard to say. Unlike XCOM, which has a solid story that leads you from one plot point to the next, in Phantom Doctrine, it's hard to keep track of what why you're doing what you're doing. The game's story is paper thin and even when it becomes a little more clear, still isn't all that compelling. Mission briefings inform you that you're supposed to collect an informant or, in some cases, kill someone who recognized one of your agents. You base is always under threat of being exposed. Your spies are always run the risk of having their covers blown. It's run-of-the-mill stuff.

As with XCOM 2, your team members gain experience from every encounter they survive. Read the rest

Game review: Battletech

As a teenager in the early 1990s, I never really had friends, so much as close acquaintances. I’d see people at school. We’d laugh, maybe skip class from time to time. But I’d never see them on the weekends or in the evening. No one wanted anything to do with me. I was a spooky kid much as I’m now a spooky adult. It was unfortunate, then, that I had a love of tabletop gaming. Battletech was an obsession. Giant robots doing battle with one another on alien worlds? Tanks on legs! What’s not to like? I bought the wee lead miniatures for the game. I painted them up in my mercenary company’s colors. I read the tech manuals for them and the game’s rule books, constantly.

Then, as I had no one to play with, I did nothing, with any of it.

In 1998, I peed a little when a game called MechCommander was released. It let you kit out and command a lance of battlemechs and fight! But it was a real-time strategy—the experience I wanted was that of a table top game. Turns in table top games take time. Rules have to be double checked, movement is counted out in squares or hexes. Nerd country. 20 years later, Harebrained Schemes has finally given me the gaming experience I’ve always wanted with Battletech. It’s a turn-based combat game set in the Battletech universe. There are tanks on legs, there is tech jargon. You can ‘paint’ your ‘mechs in whatever colors you please. Read the rest