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Phantom Doctrine is a Turn-Based Tactics game developed by CreativeForge Games (whose previous credits include Hard West) and published by Good Sheperd Games, released for the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox ONE on August 14, 2018.

An espionage thriller set in the 1980s during the Cold War, players take control of a rogue cell codenamed Cabal and must unravel an international conspiracy involving world governments and leaders.

The game includes squad and base management, and a strategic world map for controlling agents. Tactical missions are turn-based with similar elements to the XCOM: Enemy Unknown (hand-crafted maps, random enemy placements, varying objectives) but also some key differences, notably the reduced impact of a Random Number Generator.

A trailer can be viewed here.


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Phantom Doctrine contains examples of:

  • '80s Hair: The primary antagonist, Valhalla, has amazing hair. And of course, you can customize your agents with some era-appropriate hair styles as well, such as huge bangs on your female agents.
  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: A generous amount of startup cash is provided, but everything costs money: hiring new agents, base upgrades, crafting items, creating new identities. Passive income is relatively low, and the only option to generate extra income early on is forging cash - which requires an initial investment to set up the forger facility and then assigning agents to print money. Selling loot from missions is another option.
  • A.K.A.-47: Many guns don't use their real names. The M1911 is just called .45, The Python is called Cobra (Not to be confused with the actual Colt Cobra), SVD is called SV-63, the Uzi is called Gal, etc. Many still use their real names however.
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  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: If you have your danger level in the red, you risk the enemy raiding your HQ so you better evacuate to a new HQ. Failure to do so results in a loss of cash and potentially a number of agents will go missing in action.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: The tutorial mission in East Berlin has the player controlling a Beholder Initative operative codenamed Kingfish. Cabal agents are not featured, though the main character (whether it's Deadpan, Kodiak, or Hemlock is mentioned in dialogue. All campaigns have a mission that has the Cabal track Kingfish to Glasgow to recover a stolen shipment.
  • Another Side, Another Story:
    • There are three separate campaigns with unique opening chapters and story missions, though the storylines converge from chapter two onwards. Two options are available initially: the CIA and KGB. Completing a playthrough as one of these factions unlocks a third, more difficult campaign featuring Mossad.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Luck is much less of a factor in Phantom Doctrine than other turn-based strategy games. Tactics play a much greater role, such as cover always reducing damage unless special abilities are used. Whether a target can dodge or receive reduced damage depends on awareness. There are some random elements which can play an important part - such as placement of enemy operatives on a map.
    • One random element that's gone is hit chance - you (and enemies) are guaranteed to hit, with damage acting as the variable.
    • In infiltration mode players can see the patrol routes of visible units and restricted areas are clearly marked. This makes it easier to maintain stealth and determine the best strategy.
    • A warning icon appears next to actions that will break stealth, but only if your agents are aware that it will break stealth. You still need line of sight on any civilian, guard, or camera that will observe the illegal action otherwise the warning won't appear.
    • You keep base upgrades even if you move hideouts.
    • Any agent not already on a mission or in transit can be sent on an assault mission - even from the other side of the world. This is true even if the Beholder agents are close to completing their task. This makes logistics a little easier, though any agent who survives is relocated to the headquarters on completion. Too bad if you're short staffed elsewhere.
    • Opening and closing doors from a static position is a free action, which allows to check inside a closed room even if the agent used all their action points.
    • As long as the option is available, disposing of bodies works absolutely everywhere, regardless of whereas the area contains spots where bodies could realistically be hidden.
    • Agents are psychologically tough and won't panic no matter how sticky things get.
    • Every non-equipped item is stored in a shared stash immediately accessible from any location, which allows to change the loadout of a team to fit your needs right before the start of any tactical mission.
    • The MK-ULTRA facility has tons of drawbacks, but operating with it doesn't require to assign your own agents to it, you only need to select the Beholder agent you want to interrogate/brainwash/execute..
  • Arms Dealer: The player can be this. One of the best ways to make money in the game is by selling unwanted weapons and equipment you acquire on the black market.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Most enemy guards aren't so smart, but enemy agents are a different matter; they'll see through your disguises, and if too many guards fail to report back, they'll start patrolling the level actively looking for you while destroying loot/intel. (On the other hand, you can use this to deliberately draw out an agent from a guarded room...)
  • Artificial Stupidity: Closed doors block AI line of sight, even when someone goes normally through them (while the game plays an animation of the door being opened then immediately closed). If one of your agents enters a restricted area (or leaves one), mooks located outside of said restricted area won't react, even if the door itself is in their visual field, as long as the agents remained unseen while inside the restricted area.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • Random generation of hired agents can result in results which were impossible in the setting, like female operatives being former Navy SEALs.
    • The "Vietnam Veteran" perk can be taken by agents of any nationality, even those from nations that did not have any involvement in the Vietnam War. Unless you assume they served with the French Foreign Legion.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: An option for agents' appearance. Some disguises also have agents dress up in formal wear or The Men in Black.
  • Base on Wheels: The lowest-budget version: your hideout is mobile, since it's mostly run out of a bunch of portable equipment that can be boxed up and shipped at a moment's notice if the heat is on. This is the only way to stay ahead of the Beholder Initiative when it's hunting down your cabal.
  • Big Bad: Valhalla, the lead agent of the Beholder Initiative. He turns out to be weaker than most mooks and has less HP than early game enemy agents. Possibly justified given the final dialogue - for the non-extended campaign at least - implies Valhalla is not the true mastermind.
  • Big Good: In the KGB campaign, Yuri Andropov himself authorizes the creation of the Cabal in order to combat Beholder Initiative.
  • Bio-Augmentation: A 1980s variant. Cabal agents only improve their stats slightly via levelling up. Major improvements are done through the injection of chemicals that confer bonuses, once the relevant facility has been unlocked. Some chemicals prohibit the use of others and the most powerful don't become available until late in the game. Achieving the best results requires experimentation, though an option to "remove all" chemicals is provided roughly half way through.
  • Black Site: A recurring theme.
    • As might be expected, the Cabal works out of a secret base. Depending on what actions the player takes, it may become necessary to relocate to a different city if the danger level becomes too high. The surrounding environment (cover buildings) and layout of base facilities varies by location.
    • Beholder cells tend to be based above ground in areas such as docks and construction sites, with plenty of innocent civilians / workers walking around in addition to enemy agents and guards.
  • Blinded by the Light:
    • Flashbang grenades substantially reduce enemy awareness. Affected units are less likely to dodge incoming shots and can't use certain abilities.
    • The blinding laser ability removes overwatch and prevents the targeted enemy firing in the next turn.
  • Boom, Headshot!: An ability which ignores cover and deals massive damage, though drains the agent's focus. Undodgable if done in point blank range.
  • Boring, but Practical: Enemy units have 'realistic' line of sight and can see Cabal agents across the map. One useful tactic if an alarm has been raised is to close doors (a free action) to restrict firing opportunities.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Agents carry an unlimited number of spare ammo for their guns, though if you're playing properly, you'll rarely need to reload.
  • Brainwashed: An option once the MK Ultra facility is unlocked. This removes Beholder programming from agents on your roster, at the risk of losing abilities.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: The "Brainwashing" option in the MK Ultra facility (likely your first) is more technically brain-cleansing, as it removes all hidden control phrases from an agent, at the risk of destroying some of their perks. Later on, when you do get the control phrase technology from Beholder, the first target the main character decides to use it on is Tai Pan, just so he'll be more likely to tell you the truth and less likely to stab you in the back (again).
  • But Thou Must!:
    • You must kill Aguirre - the game DOES allow you to use a takedown on him (normally nonlethal on Agents), but you do not have the interrogation room unlocked at this point and you are not allowed to retrieve his body.
    • Later in the game one of your agents turns out to be Undertow, a mole for Beholder. At that point you must kill him/her to progress the story.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Similar to Hard West, the player is sometimes presented with a situation and given several options to choose from. These typically involve Cabal agents and personal agendas. Consequences can be positive or negative, and are not immediately clear. Choose right, and the agent will become loyal and immune to enemy influence. Play it wrong and they will leave the Cabal and become a Beholder agent. The results of given choices appear to remain the same with no randomisation. Since there are limited scenarios, this is an easy way to gain loyal agents.
  • Classified Information: Important documents can be found during tactical missions, often from high security areas. Outside of missions, partially redacted documents can be reviewed to identify key words and phrases and form intelligence links.
  • Cleanup Crew: One of the first unlockable support options is a cleaner team that reduces agent heat from a "noisy" mission.
  • Code Name:
    • As might be expected given the setting, there are lots of codenames in use. These include Cabal and enemy operatives, shadowy organisations, and the sinister Project Iceberg.
    • On more than one occasion an unknown person is referred to by their codename, and your task is to discover their identity.
  • Combination Attack: The 'breach' action which involves two or more operatives entering via separate access points and gunning down opposing forces. This does not necessarily break stealth - if successful and silenced weapons are used.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Once the alarm has been sounded, every enemy on the map becomes instantly aware of the locations of all your agents. But the only enemies who are visible to the player are those within the line of sight of player-controlled agents. It's quite likely you'll stumble into an ambush while you're trying to get your agents to the evacuation area.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: One of the possible options for agent attire, together with matching hats if so desired.
  • Cut-and-Paste Environments:
    • There are a limited number of hand crafted maps used for missions, and players are likely to see some of them quite a few times in a given playthrough. Variety comes from random agent and loot placement (which reset upon restarting), and different objectives depending on the mission. This leads to most settings seeming American in nature independent of where the action takes place - the only cosmetic changes between maps in different nations are Soviet flags and propaganda posters plastered all over "Eastern Bloc" nations, and gangland-style graffiti being sprayed on some "lower class" maps in first world nations.
    • Averted with the main story missions, which tend to take place on unique maps.
  • Destroy the Evidence: If agents become suspicious, they will search the area and destroy any classified documents they come across. They can also reactivate security cameras.
  • Difficulty Spike: The first chapter covers a particular region of the world with cities relatively close together. As the game progresses, the map expands and incidents can occur on multiple continents, making it more difficult to respond in time. Enemy units get tougher and have more dangerous abilities. The Cabal do get upgrades of their own, but the game becomes noticeably harder in later chapters.
  • Distant Finale: The final mission of the extended campaign takes 8 years after the events of the rest of the game, when the Cabal has finally tracked down Tai-Pan, and storms in to kill him in revenge for being his Unwitting Pawn in usurping Valhalla from power.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • It's implied the Beholders bribe local cops and security forces given how they protect Beholder agents and cells.
    • There's also Agent Aquirre, a DIA agent on the Beholder's payroll.
    • Agent Snowcat is a GRU agent who's also being bribed by Beholder (and in his case, going behind the Soviet government's back to fulfill the Beholder Initiative's agenda.)
    • One of the mission maps is a police station. It seems some cops are even happy to let Beholder operate a cell from their precinct. And police officers / soldiers feature as enemies in almost every mission from the very start.
  • Disposing of a Body: In infilitration mode enemy personnel or civilians will raise the alarm if they discover an unconscious or dead person. One option (unless playing on hard difficulty) is to 'dispose' of the body by hiding it where it will never be found. This leads to a fade-to-black animation and the body disappearing from the game.
  • Double Agent:
    • As demonstrated in the tutorial, it's possible to turn opposing agents to your side through use of a code phrase implanted using the MK Ultra facility. This improves stealth options as these personnel will not arouse suspicion even in restricted areas - essentially working as a disguise. However, enemy agents will raise the alarm if they spot the controlled agent outside their designated patrol area.
    • Cabal agents may themselves be sleepers. This will result on them defecting to the enemy side in a combat situation. The MK Ultra facility allows you to create sleeper Cabal agents through the Mason Gambit option.
  • Dynamic Entry: The "Breach" option allows two or more agents to simultaneously enter a room and open fire on the enemies within, dealing more damage than they would with regular attacks. If all of the agents involved have suppressors on their weapons this action will not raise the alarm. It's a great way to kill enemy agents if unarmed takedowns can't be performed due to the enemy having higher health than the Cabal agents.
  • Early Game Hell: The initial portion of the game can be somewhat difficult.
    • There are no silenced weapons available, so the only option for stealth is to use takedowns. This means getting up close and potenitally being spotted by a patrolling guard, camera or civilian.
    • Taking down enemy units silently by melee combat requires the attacker to have higher HP. Unless an agent "gets lucky" and acquires the HP increasing survivor perk, it is unlikely this silent option for dealing with agents will be available in the early game.
    • The only support option is a spotter - of limited use in a firefight.
    • Hiring new agents increases the danger level. Early on it only takes a few to put the hideout under threat. Later in the game options appear to reduce the danger hiring cost and maximum danger limit, but the early game can be very punishing.
    • Agents incur heat relatively quickly and are typically compromised after two non-stealthy missions. This increases travel time and the risk of ambush. Heat will decrease over time - unless the agent is compromised, in which case the only way to remove this status is by forging a new identity.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The final mission in the regular (non-extended) campaign has the Cabal raiding a high-tech underground bunker on the island of Grenada to put a stop to Project Iceberg and kill Valhalla. In fact, the US invasion of Grenada was an elaborate cover for this operation.
  • Elite Mooks:
    • Enemy agents are more dangerous than standard guards and soldiers.
      • They have more health, which makes them harder to take down without weapons as the knockout ability can only be used on a target with less HP.
      • Guards have zero awareness in infilitration mode, but agents begin at full awareness. This makes them more likely to dodge incoming shots or take reduced damage.
      • Agents can detect disguises. Unless the Cabal operative has the actor perk and doesn't go too close to the agent.
      • If enough guards are taken out, agents become suspicious and start searching the area. Conversely, if agents are taken out first, normal guards don't seem to notice if their colleagues or civilians go missing.
    • The various PMC guards are tougher versions of the policemen and SEC guards you meet most of the time. They are often armored. While your agents can knock them out as easily as other guards during infiltration, they can prove to be a challenge once they get alerted. One mission even pits you against the Navy Seals.
  • Escort Mission: Subverted with informant rescue operations. Once freed informants become a controllable agent equipped with weapons, although they are classed as 'openly hostile' and will trigger an alarm if spotted by enemy units or civilians. If successfully extracted the agent joins the Cabal for free without incurring the usual danger penalty.
  • Executive Suite Fight: Beholder Initiative has a hidden suite located in the Sears Tower in Chicago, which in 1983 was the tallest building in the world.
  • Final Death:
    • Subverted with Cabal agents. Provided they don't bleed out before the mission ends, they are considered "captured" and return after a period of absence or rescue from a Beholder cell. They only have 1 HP so require extensive healing in the infirmary and - unless their loyalty has been earned - have possibly been programmed as Beholder sleeper agents and will turn on the player in combat.
    • Played straight with agents that aren't evacuated or stabilised before theyd bleed out.
    • As a Final Death Mode, the game includes an ironman option.
  • Foregone Conclusion: One of the missions is to prevent the shoot down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. We know from history the Cabal won't succeed.
  • Foreshadowing: The tutorial mission contains a few to the CIA campaign. Kingfish refers to Deadpan as a "CIA wash-out", alluding to Deadpan turning rogue after being betrayed. He also steals documents locating Beholder Initiative goods seized by the British, and once he evacuates the map he states he's going straigth to Glasgow; a story mission for all campaigns is set in Glasgow, which consists in looking for this very cargo, and Kingfish himself is present onsite as a hostile agent.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • Forging fake IDs always resets an agent's heat meter, even if the new ID still has the same name, same country, and same ID photograph.
    • ID photographs, fake citizenships, and agents' appearance customization are purely cosmetic and haven't any effect on the agent's heat. Things that would be highly suspicious in real life (ethnicity which would be very rare or inexistent in their countrynote , face which doesn't look like the ID photograph at all, ID photograph and ingame model having a different ethnicity, etc.) are completely ignored by the AI. Likewise, some weird customization options (non black men with an Afro haircut, eyepatches, pink sunglasses, bald women, jeans pants and a suit jacket worn together, female agents wearing a hijab in missions set in a place with no muslim population, etc.) have no effect ingame, while doing so in real life would make the agents more noticeable.
    • The intermission dialog which follows the story mission inside Beirut's morgue states that a firefight happened inside, even if the mission has been completed without breaking stealth.
    • In the first chapter of the CIA campaign, once Deadpan is considered as a traitor by the CIA, you gain a story mission which consists in entering the hideout in Beirut to take the documents still inside. The game already allows to change hideout before this sequence; not only dialogs sound like Beirut is the hideout until this moment, but it also adds a plot hole: did Deadpan evacuated the previous hideout while leaving sensitive data onsite?
    • As dictated by history, key events will occur on certain dates regardless of how many days have passed on the world map.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Played with. If you haven't sound the alarm, guards have rather short view range implying they are not paying so much attention. There's also several actions which aren't considered suspicious by the AI (jumping through windows, opening-closing doors leading to restricted areas, following people, being seen leaving a restricted area, etc.) as long as agents are spotted doing them in unrestricted areas. Once they get alerted however, they can see your agents as far as your agents can see them.
  • Gun Accessories: Weapons can be modded with suppressors, expanded magazines, different barrels, Abnormal Ammo, etc. However, for an agent to be able to do so, they have to be proficient in that particular weapon and all accessories are removed from the weapon when unequipped, so one agent can't mod, say a .45 to give to another agent.
  • Gun Porn: The game has loads of Cold War era guns for agents to use with a couple of Rare Guns, such as the H&K CAWS, for good measure.
  • Gunship Rescue: On both sides.
    • In addition to personnel, armed helicopters and fighter jets are often called in to provide enemy support. These will target Cabal agents who aren't indoors.
    • At the end of the first CIA mission Cabal agents are extracted by helicopter. And using a helicopter instead of the standard van is an extraction option later in the game.
  • Grenade Launcher: Available as a support ability. Using the grenade launcher, a variety of grenades can be launched, such as smoke, poison gas, or good old fashioned frag grenades. They are loud, so it's advisable to hold off firing one off until your agents are in a position to get away or you're already in combat.
  • The Handler: In the CIA campaign your handler is Fender, in the KGB campaign your handler is Cyclone, in the Mossad campaign your handler is Delilah. All three of the handlers turn out to be traitors who were brainwashed in the 1970s at an MKULTRA black site.
  • Hazmat Suit: The first CIA mission involves Cabal agent using these as a disguise.
  • Heavily Armored Mook: You will encounter these guys later on in the game. They are immune to knockdown and the only reliable way to kill them silently is by headshot with a powerful supressed handgun or breaching with suppressed weapons.
  • <Hero> Must Survive: If the main character dies on a mission, the game is over.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Enemies and civilians will never hear a silenced weapon no matter how close the Cabal agent is. They do come with the Necessary Drawback of reducing a weapon's stopping power (there are suppressors that can be fitted to any weapon and don't reduce damage, but they are rare and don't show up until very late in the campaign). There's even an achievement for fitting a silencer to a shotgun.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: It is unknown how your agents hide big weapons like Assault Rifles and Machine Guns without a bag. However disguised agents cannot carry anything bigger than submachine guns.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Because of the game mechanics most shots will find their target - even from great distance. This applies to both Cabal and enemy units. If awareness is high enough, the shot will be dodged. Otherwise the amount of cover and protective gear determines damage reduction.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms:
    • The CIA campaign has French soldiers in 1983 Beirut armed with AKs instead of the FAMAS.
    • Local police during tactical missions are always armed, even in countries where police don't carry firearms.
  • The Informant: Exploring suspicious activity on the world map can reveal informants who provide rewards after a time limit expires, such as additional agents or crafting blueprints. Enemy forces don't take kindly to this, so informers can become assassination targets.
  • Item Crafting: The Cabal base has a workshop where agents can be assigned to create mission equipment such as flashbang grenades and lockpicks. More options are unlocked as the game progresses, and some items are only available through crafting.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Available once you obtain the MKULTRA facility. Interrogating your own agents who have hidden perks will reveal whether or not they are double agents working for Beholder.
  • Judo Chop: How Cabal agents perform takedowns.
  • Kung Fu-Proof Mook: Takedowns won't work on characters with higher hit points than the agent attempting to perform it, except on easy difficulty. Heavily Armored Mooks can't be hit with a takedown either, for obvious reasons.
  • Limited Loadout: Agents can carry two guns, wear one set of body armour, and have two support items, such as grenades or medkits.
  • Little Useless Gun: The French DAO is one of your starting weapons. It's also pathetically underpowered, being only a .25 calibre pistol.
  • Logo Joke: The logos cutscene consists in the camera zooming in a corkboard with items linked by strings, including the names of the developer studio and the publisher.
  • Manchurian Agent: Beware of brainwashed agents who will turn on you once combat starts. Of course it is possible to reverse brainwash them. Fender, Cyclone, and Deliliah are these type of agents, having been brainwashed by the Beholder Initiative.
  • Mana Meter: Agents have a limited amount of awareness. This is required to perform certain abilities and allows agents to dodge potentially fatal shots during gunfights. A portion of awareness is restored each turn. Agents can also use the focus ability to quickly restore awareness once every three turns.
  • Mauve Shirt: Agents are always valuable resources (assuming they aren't secretly brainwashed time bombs) and losing one is always possible, but avoidable.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Mostly averted.
    • Agents - both the Cabal and opposing factions - have females in their ranks. The player can even create an Amazon Brigade if they so wish.
    • Female mook types are common among the Private Military Contractors the Cabal go up against.
    • Played straight with police officers and soldiers, who are always male.
  • The Men in Black: The Cabal can deliberately invoke this image after the forgery is unlocked. Most customization averts this, which is Truth in Television. If you can see a CIA agent or Secret Service official in a sharp black suit, there's almost certainly four or five of his coworkers dressed more like you than him.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Deadpan's CIA mentor, codenamed Leslie, gets killed in the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing to prevent him from informing Deadpan about Project Iceberg.
  • Mercy Rewarded: Inverted in the early game. While capturing enemy agents might give you a little extra intel, it also generates danger for as long as you are holding them (until you get Faraday Cages). Because of this, early on it's usually better to just kill enemy agents rather than capture them.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: If you abuse your agents via plot choices, they might just defect to the Beholder Initiative.
  • The Mole:
    • Capturing enemy agents allows you to turn them into unwitting moles by brainwashing them. Doing so allows you to sabotage Beholder cells from the inside or have the enemy agent join your side during combat. Watch out, because if the Beholders capture your agent, they can do the same to you. In the story, Fender, Cyclone, and Deliliah were all brainwashed after being captured in Vietnam.
    • A subplot revolves around a mole in the Cabal named Undertow and the subsequent hunt for them. This includes Choose Your Own Adventure scenarios for a number of agents.
    • Beholder also have a mole in their ranks. Using the codename Cardinal the mysterious insider feeds valuable information to the Cabal. This turns out to be Valhalla's right hand woman from the opening cutscene.
  • Multinational Team:
    • Every agent speaks one or more languages. This is not simply cosmetic: if an agent is fluent in the local language, they gain the distract ability and can talk to guards to make them look in a different direction.
    • Each agent has a different background, which gives them proficiencies in certain weapons. There's even an achievement for starting a tactical mission with agents from the CIA, KGB, Mossad, Stasi, and SB in a single team.
  • Multiple Identity IDs: As the game progresses agents can become 'exposed' which results in higher risk of discovery if sent on missions. To remove this negative status it's possible (via use of a forgery facility) to create a new identity. This includes a passport with customisable name, nationality and photograph. Agents other than the main character can also change their codename.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: The Beholder Initiative - a sinister group of agents the Cabal come into conflict with. Their logo, as seen in the introductory cutscene, is a triangle with an eye, suspiciously similar to The Illuminati. No surprise that their reach is global.
  • Necessary Drawback: Most of the available equipment has some sort of downside to counterbalance its benefits:
    • The usual semi-auto pistol versus revolvers scenario occurs with revolvers having greater stopping power balance out by their inferior ammo capacity and lower number of weapon mods' slots.
    • Full body armour gives greater damage resistance compared to armoured vests, but wearing heavier armour reduces mobility and makes your agents conspicuous, so they will be instantly spotted even if not trespassing.
    • Disguises allow agents to enter areas where they would normally be trespassing without being spotted by guard, civilians, or cameras, though enemy agents can spot them. However, wearing a disguise limits the equipment the agent can carry to pistols, revolvers, and submachine guns and does not allow the wearing of armour or the carrying of supplemental equipment.
    • Machineguns cause massive damage and suppress enemies at the cost of being unable to move and fire in the same turn.
    • Suppressors silence weapons but also reduce the damage they do. This also extends to the sniper support ability with the options of quiet and loud, with the loud version doing more damage.
    • Sniper Rifles have great range, but their minimum damage is low and their shots are easier to dodge.
    • Assault rifles and submachineguns are very similar weapons in that they are both Jack-of-All-Stats and offer selective firing modes. Assault rifles have better range, while SMGs are the only automatic weapons that can be carried while disguised.
  • Nerf: The actor perk initially made enemy agents completely unable to spot Cabal operatives who have it. The 1.0.5 patch make Cabal agents still noticeable by Beholder agents, but only if they are close to the agent.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Civilians will alert enemy forces to you if they catch you doing something illegal, but shooting them or blowing them up results in a Danger penalty, so a non-lethal takedown is recommended by the game mechanics (if not the morality of the main character).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: It's implied that, when the Cabal sabotaged the communications array to prevent the Soviet jets from shooting down South Korean flight 007, they only ensured the jets would shoot it down as a last-minute order to not attack was not received by the jet pilots.
  • Nintendo Hard: The unlockable Mossad campaign tackled on hard is essentially extreme mode. The very first mission pits the Cabal rookies against a small army of poison equipped Fang Tarantulas - who aren't normally encountered until mid-game - on a fully restricted map. With the same starting equipment and loot as the CIA and KGB storylines. Most of the guns your team have aren't even powerful enough to one shot them when unaware. And throughout the rest of the game, you are initially held off from many tech unlockables (at least until much later in the game than the other campaigns), and the story missions also have more enemies armed with tougher weapons than in the story missions for the other campaigns.
  • Notice This: Objects containing loot such as cabinets, safes and briefcases glow periodically. The same applies to intelligence documents.
  • Numerical Hard: Other than removing the option to dispose of bodies on hard mode, most difficulty changes are numeric. There is no discernible change to enemy abilities or AI. The higher the difficulty:
    • The amount of starting cash decreases, while the cost of forging new identities increases.
    • Enemies have higher HP and appear in greater numbers - making a stealthy approach more difficult. On hard mode in particular, many enemy and civilian patrol paths overlap and completing objectives can be quite challenging even with agents in disguise. Also, more enemies spawn in reinforcement waves.
    • Most danger incurring events - compromised evac, agents left behind, killed civilians, hiring new Cabal agents - result in a larger increase. As does capturing enemy agents for MK Ultra treatment.
    • Evac vehicles take more turns to arrive and become compromised after fewer turns.
    • More enemy activity in general on the world map. On hard difficulty it's not uncommon for Beholder to run multiple recon missions at the same time, and informant assassination attempts are also more common.
  • Optional Stealth: Most missions start in infilitration mode. During this phase enemy forces and civilians will not react to Cabal agents unless they enter restricted areas, perform suspicious actions or wear conspicuous clothes. If discovered, an alarm is activated, and the enemy will continually send in reinforcements. It's therefore highly advantageous to remain in stealth as long as possible, and a good idea to spend time scouting an area first.
  • Pacifist Run: There is an achievement for completing a tactical mission without killing anyone, without setting off an alarm, and without using any takedown.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The String Theory minigame has you match codenames with real people, organizations or locations found in secret documents throughout the game. These codenames are randomly picked by the game from a finite and somewhat short list. While piecing together completely different cases, you'll find that the various organizations the files belong to keep reusing codenames like "Monoxides" or "Odd tesseracts", while refering to completely different entities.
  • Permanently Missable Content: To a degree. Recovered loot is chosen from a random set of items that changes as the game progresses. Not really a problem with weapons which get better over time, but some potentially useful weapon mods such as pistol suppressors and compact followers (which increase ammo capacity) are replaced with other items. Eventually trade contacts become available so most items can be purchased, but they are no longer obtainable for free.
  • Post-End Game Content: Completing a playthrough as either the CIA or KGB unlocks a third playable faction the Mossad and the option to play an extended version of the game with more complex narrative. While the missions are essentially the same, there are additional secret files in the extended game that shed light on the internal rift in the Beholder Initiative.
  • Powerup Letdown: Before building the the MK-ULTRA facility, captured enemy agents are instantly interrogated and executed, for free. Once you build it, interrogation takes time, execution costs money, and each captured enemy agent kept in the hideout constantly increases the danger meter. Later in the game more useful options are unlocked such as programming enemy agents to reveal or destroy cells, join your side when a firefight starts or implant a control phrase. All of these can change the outcome of a mission from failure to success - particularly an ambush - but initially the upgrade can seem underwhelming.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: The player character can be male or female - there are no differences in stats or abilities. This also applies to Cabal operatives and enemy units.
  • Race Against the Clock: Played with.
    • Usually there is no time limit for completing story missions, which allows the player to perform other tasks until they feel ready.
    • During missions there is no time limit in infiltration mode, and it often pays to do nothing until the right moment if opting for the stealthy approach. Things get more hectic in combat though, with continual reinforcements and air strikes.
    • Some chapters and missions do have a doom counter though, which increases if enemy agents complete missions.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The available recruits have backgrounds in various special forces units, intelligence services, terrorist groups, gangs, and freelancers. Note that all origins are available regardless of the campaign, thus CIA agent Deadpan can recruit former Yakuza or Red Army Factionnote  members, former Spetsnaznote  and Navy SEALs operatives, former Stasi and MSSnote , along MI6, Mossad, or BNDnote , etc. There's an achievement earned by starting a tactical mission which agents from CIA, KGB, Mossad, Stasi, and SBnote  in the team.
  • Random Number God: Averted. The results of actions are based on a formula with no chance element involved. Damage is based on the amount of awareness a target has and other factors such as cover. This applies in reverse: there is no chance for a player to get lucky in a bad situation, which can make firefights brutal.
  • Real Event, Fictional Cause: A number of real historical events from 1983 feature in the game, with the Beholder conspiracy involved in some way.
    • The CIA campaign incorporates the bombing of the American embassy in Beirut.
    • In the KGB storyline one mission has your team sabotage the doomed K-429 submarine.
    • All campaigns feature Soviet fighters shooting down South Korean flight 007 and the US invasion of Grenada.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Some of the potential recruitable agents' backgrounds are The Mafia, Yakuza, and Triads.
  • Required Party Member: Story missions requires the player's avatar to be present.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: When the player discovers that Project Iceberg is located in a bunker on the island of Grenada, Cardinal remarks that President Ronald Reagan owes her a favor and that she'll convince him to authorize a full military invasion of Grenada. Talk about having friends in high places!
  • Semper Fi: One possible background for agents from the United States is that they'll be a former Marine, which gives them the "Sure Shot" ability as well as proficiency with the M16 assault rifle.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skill Scores and Perks: The levelling up process is relatively original.
    • As agents gain experience and level up, statistics improve. This is more limited than in most role playing and strategy games - the main way to improve stats is through the body engineering facility.
    • At reaching certain levels the player has a choice of perks (from four chosen randomly) that confer benefits such as immunity to suppression or regenerating extra awareness per turn.
    • Agents can undertake training that confer new abilities and/or weapon proficiencies (that allow modification and faster reload times). One slot is available initially, so training in a different skill will overwrite the current one. At later levels more slots are unlocked.
  • Spies in a Van: When required the Cabal operatives call in a van for extraction.
  • Spy Fiction: Stale beer mixed with bleach and ammonia.
  • Starter Villain:
    • Aguirre, a corrupt DIA agent running a smuggling ring, for the CIA campaign. He's identified after some investigation during chapter one, then killed during chapter one's second story mission.
    • Snowcat, a GRU Agent betraying the Soviet Union, for the KGB campaign. He replaces Aguirre as the villain you need to investigate and take care of in the opening chapter, and also in intelligence on the investigation board.
    • Komodo, a former Nazi prison guard who's taken up bio-terrorism, for the Mossad campaign, who is also the villain to investigate and take care of in the opening chapter.
  • Starts Stealthily, Ends Loudly:
    • Quite a lot of missions go this way. Particularly true on hard mode where the option to hide bodies is disabled and suspicious agents will eventually discover one (unless you can stealthily take them out of the equation first).
    • In some missions this is guaranteed to occur, as completing a certain objective triggers an alert by "Force Majeure". Even if all enemies have been taken out stealthily before that, reinforcements will be called in.
  • The Spymaster: The non-mission portion of the game has elements of this, with the player moving Cabal agents around cities on a global map.
  • String Theory: A key element of the strategy portion is finding keywords from non-redacted intelligence and linking them up. For authenticity this is done via an old fashioned pins and strings approach on a corkboard. There are red herrings and dead ends for every file, which means you can potentially solve a file without all the relevant intel documents if you get lucky. If the mess gets too confusing or you just don't feel like it, you can assign agents to solve it for you over time - though there is an achievement for analysing all the files yourself.
  • Super Soldier: Or rather, Super Spy. If you know how to take full advantage of the Body Engineering facility (which is very complex and will require a guide unless you want to spend hours experimenting with the various chemical compounds), you can create agents who have ridiculously high stats and abilities, such as having 4 movement points and 2 fire points every turn.
  • Tap on the Head: Takedowns essentially involve the old Judo Chop which counts as a fatality on guards and will cause agents to die within five turns. On civilians it is considered a harmless "put 'em to sleep" action.
  • Target Spotter: A mission support option - the only one initally available - is to assign an agent as a spotter, thus providing the ability to remove the fog of war around a specified area provided the spotter has line of sight.
  • Timed Mission: Suspicious activity can occur in cities on the strategic map, often in many places at once. Some of these are red herrings, but others are ongoing enemy operations that cause negative effects if a tactical mission is not completed within a certain time. How soon they are discovered also plays a role - earlier interventions allow more options such as reconnaissance (which allows the use of support and disguises). A last minute response forces the player to do the mission without these benefits or accept the penalty of non-intervention.
  • Trigger Phrase: Used to activate sleeper agents and put them under your control. There's even a specific action command for this. Later in the game there's the option to just convert captured enemies directly, but there's still an advantage for using the Control Phrase; a controlled enemy lets you have more assets on the field during a mission than you usually can deploy (and they count as Disguised, but with full weaponry loadouts).
  • Undying Loyalty: If an agent has the "loyal" trait — typically attained by making the right decisions in regards to that agent's personal agenda — they can never be turned into a double agent by Beholder.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Depends on the action. Opposing agents and civilians don't seem to mind if Cabal operatives jump through windows or leap off buildings when in infiltration mode, but will immediately raise the alarm if they're seen operating consoles, searching cabinets or photographing intelligence.
  • Unusable Enemy Equipment: You cannot take enemy weapons, but you can take those from chests and crates.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The MK-ULTRA facility serves to interrogate, brainwash, turn into Manchurian Agents, and execute Beholder agents. You can also use it with your own men.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • Knocking civilians out doesn't grant XP. Eliminating too much civilians result in alerting the enemy agents onsite. Dead civilians result in an increase of danger.
    • Knocking police out grants XP, but it's so pathetically little that it's not worth the effort.
  • Violation of Common Sense:
    • While the game advices to kill (or capture then kill) enemy agents each time you encounter them, buildind the the MK-ULTRA facility allows to release agents after interrogation; of course, they go back to their employer. Since Beholder Initiative progressively replaces their losses with unidentified agents, releasing live agents means you're able to keep track of agents' locations and identities longer. There's also the amusing possibility of capturing, interrogating, and releasing the same guy, again and again.
    • Active Beholder cells either reduce your money income, constantly generate danger, or both. Since the income loss is low, and there's a limit to the number of cells active on the same time, it's actually more interesting to not destroy them if they don't generate danger, since destroying a cell which drains money without increasing danger could be remplaced by a cell which generates danger (and cell localisation is hard until you're far enough in the game and in the tech tree).
  • Virtual Paper Doll: The character's creation menu allows to customize your character's appearance, with a couple of bodyshapes, varying faces, skin and eyes color, a selection of clothes (both casual and formal), haircuts, facial hair, hats, eyeglasses, scars, tattoos, make up, and various accessories. Once you research the Forger upgrade, the same customization menu can be accessed at will to modify the main player character again, or to alter any of the other recruits, for free. Mini cutscenes in missions (e.g. when your team arrives on site or leaves the area in the evac vehicle, when you use a support ability, etc.) are dynamically generated and featured the agents on site with the look you gave them.
  • Waistcoat of Style: When creating a custom appearance for an agent, one of the clothing options for male operatives is the "Desk Jockey", consisting in a shirt covered by a waistcoat worn with a striped tie (the waistcoat and tie's color are customizable, the shirt is always white.)
  • Why Am I Ticking?: With the MKULTRA facility it's possible to implant bombs within enemy agents, turning them into unwitting suicide bombers when they return to their home cell.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: If tactical recon is completed prior to a mission, agents can wear disguises. This has drawbacks: weapons are restricted to pistols, revolvers and sub machine guns, and no support items can be equipped. However the agent can enter restricted areas without immediately raising the alarm if spotted. Equipping a disguise changes the outfit to something less conspicious like a construction worker.
  • You Have Failed Me: This happens in the introductory cutscene. A female agent solves a problem by shooting an incompetent man with a fancy looking gun. The sinister dialogue and lack of blood suggests it's an advanced weapon that induces a heart attack.

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