The plot is an excuse about aliens called the Dracons invading the Human Federation. You fly a ship armed with Phaser Torpedoes (guided missiles) and you have to kill all the Dracons.
The game has two main screens, selected with the left difficulty switch. The Sector Map screen shows you a grid of 36 sectors. You are in one, two of them are occupied by friendly starbases, and most of the rest are unknown; they could be empty, or occupied by Dracons. You move the cursor to a sector and press fire to 'warp-hop' to that sector. You can warp to any sector, but longer warps take more energy.
The Combat Action screen is where the fighting happens. You have a first-person view, and in the center of the screen is your torpedo sight, with a rangefinder. You watch the Dracons approach on radar, and once they are within range, open fire. If the Dracon is inside your sight when you fire, the torpedo will home in; if it's outside, the torpedo will fly straight ahead. The sight is small, and the Dracons move around a lot, so it's hard to stay on target.
There is also a status bar at the bottom, showing shield status (on or off), equipment status (normal, damaged, or destroyed), the radar screen, your energy level, and messages.
The Dracons come at you two at a time, and shoot torpedoes at you. Your shields, computer (for radar and torpedo targeting), long range scanner (for seeing what's in neighboring sectors) and torpedoes can all be damaged or destroyed. At some point, if they keep hitting you, your ship will be destroyed altogether. Best to warp to a starbase if you start taking damage; there you get full repairs and energy.
When the game ends, whether you win or lose, you get a ranking based on your performance.
Phaser Patrol provides examples of:
- Cutscene: Stars going by while you warp.
- Empty Room Psych: Most of the sectors are empty.
- First-Person Shooter: This is technically a form of FPS, though it's just sprite graphics, and you can only rotate, not move around.
- HUD: Your torpedo sight and rangefinder.
- One Bullet at a Time: And two enemies at a time.
- Painfully Slow Projectile: You and the Dracons can dodge each other's torpedoes.
- Power Source: Starts at 9999 and diminishes with time, warps, torpedo firing, and enemy hits. Replenish it at the starbases.
- Press X to Die: The Color-B/W switch turns your shields on and off. But why would you want to turn your shields off?
- Randomly Generated Levels: The sector map.
- Shout-Out: Phaser, warp, torpedoes, an interstellar Federation...
- Space Station: Two of them, to repair and replenish your ship.