The PC version of Prisoner of War has a nicely drawn map of the Colditz Castle POW compound on the foldout portion of the box. Unfortunately, this is but one of a very few significant differences from the Xbox version, which was released earlier. Graphics take advantage of the PC's capabilities in a way the Xbox version failed to do with the Big Green Machine, but the environment is still somewhat bland and the characters far too unrealistic in terms of movement and looks.
At its core, though, the adventure remains a slow developing, plodding trial and error affair with irritating time limitations and story elements. The very premise of having POWs play off of each other to accomplish tasks or gain information while hiding important escape secrets from one another is ludicrous at best and seems terribly misguided -- this is no bonding band of brothers. The depiction of WWII German war camps comes off as little more than a playground for Hogan's Heroes wannabes -- the gritty realities of German guard and commandant cruelties is sadly lost or ignored. Sadly, Prisoner of War fails in nearly every way to give a sense of real-world prisoner camps. Basically, it's Club-Med lite without the daiquiris.
The story deals with an American reconnaissance pilot who is shot down over the unfriendly skies of war-torn Germany at the height of WWII and is captured by Nazis and promptly taken to a war camp. From that point, the action becomes predictably repetitive, as Captain Lewis Stone goes through a series of escapes, each one landing him in a tougher camp. Indeed, you begin as an amateur escapee and work your way up to the main event at Colditz Castle, with slight variations on stealth, puzzles and action along the way.
From the beginning scenes when a fellow prisoner, a British comrade-in-arms, offers to help Stone out of his predicament (as if the other prisoners aren't in the same boat), the suspension of disbelief is lost forever. In an unwise cross between standard prison behavioral etiquette movies and The Great Escape, Stone works for (rather than with) fellow inmates by performing a series of seemingly strange tasks just to gain knowledge regarding what he needs to know to escape. Long conversations with fellow prisoners, easily manipulated guards (once you tap into their routines), cookie-cutter puzzles, slow pacing, and an unstable camera system lead to a desire to escape this miasma of misfits soon after arriving.
Prisoner of War is a game foremost of perseverance. Stay with it and you'll eventually find a way over, under, or through the walls, but always with the indignity of capture and removal to a tougher camp awaiting your efforts. If you're good and quick enough, you'll eventually be deposited into the Colditz Castle prison with the ultimate chance for a great escape.
Expect to be caught hundreds of times before making your way through the number of prison camps Stone eventually inhabits. Expect, also, to have all the guards act leniently wherever you go by simply throwing you into the slammer or infirmary (when you're unlucky enough to be shot) in a sort of adult time-out session with the loss of equipment, time, or currency being the only real punishment. Simply reloading a saved game, though, provides a much easier and less irritating method of regaining your belongings than having to replay the scenario. In fact, the save system often lets you simply keep at a task until you find the right path, talk to the correct prisoners, find the needed inventory item, or weed out the good advice from the bad information.
Obviously, real-life WWII POWs were subjected to morning and evening roll calls, exercising, meal checks, lights out, and constant surveillance, but the clock ticks along at such a speedy rate in Prisoner of War that the times given for accomplishing tasks between checks is hardly conducive to flowing gameplay. In this revisionist display, WWII POWs actually get regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner breaks! The endless need to run back to your barracks to save the game after a particularly good item discovery is more irritating than nerve-wracking, but important if you don't want redundant gameplay.
At times, the game evolves into something akin to a treasure search or weekend scavenger hunt as our hero must plod his way at an incredibly slow pace by appeasing fellow prisoners while skirting humanitarian Nazi guards. Missions are graded, and only by achieving the highest possible scores in each will you unlock secrets and hidden bonus modes. Since all actions in third-person mode are timed by a clock-like meter, the only secure method of finding your way is to replay scenes over and over until you get the timing down pat, learn the patrol patterns, and the optimum time for sneaking to a certain locale.
Camera angles are problematical and just plain irritating at times. The first and third person viewpoints, while adding diversity to gameplay, simply don't always work very well. The stealth mode, consisting of hanging in shadows, evading spotlights, dodging guards, and the like, is a definite factor but isn't as fully integrated into gameplay as one would like. Guards "see" you through guard cones, which you can track on the mini-map or compass as they pass from white, pink, yellow, and red, each color denoting another level of guard concern.
Gaining the occasional guard uniform, smudging your face with boot polish, or simply hiding from the myopic guards can buy some time and get you into places not otherwise attainable, but none of it is compelling or nail-biting stuff. To be successful, you'll need to use the dialogue trees connected with all other prisoners to their fullest extent and painstakingly unravel the information needed to complete your tasks. It's like weeding an overgrown garden to pluck the finished pod from a rotten stem.
While not an inherently bad game per se, Prisoner of War is an inherently bad "prisoner-of-war" game due to its rose-tinted glasses approach, lack of fluid gameplay, contrived timing mechanisms, and general malaise of action. Even when your character gets shot, he wakes up in sick bay none-the-worse for wear, with only his pride hurt and less time to meet the objectives. The premise is hard to take and you never actually develop a synergetic compassion with your character -- he's just a poor Joe who had the misfortune to get mixed up with a bunch of misfits -- fellow prisoners and guards alike.
Although the idea has merit, Wide Games Limited's approach fails to provide action gamers with enough action, adventurers with enough adventure, or strategists with enough tools. It's a weak mix of several genres, and with no "shooting back" or beat-em-up ability to whack a guard or two, gameplay becomes a slowly simmering cerebral contest of patience marked by the occasional breakthrough. Despite the seeming open-ended play, the plot is very linear and no advancement is made until specific tasks are completed.
Graphics: Takes advantage of PC capabilities more so than did the Xbox version of its system, but still features bland environments with stiff character movement.
Sound: Laughable voice acting, good music, but nothing memorable.
Enjoyment: Gameplay bogs down due to repetitiveness and slow pacing. Few gamers will want to spend the time it takes to ferret out the mysteries of each concentration camp. Light on action and heavy on conversation.
Replay Value: The game is fairly short compared to similar adventures and gameplay doesn't offer much of a reason to play a second time.
People who downloaded Prisoner of War have also downloaded:
El Matador, Postal 2: Share the Pain, Project I.G.I.: I'm Going In (a.k.a. Project IGI), Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Outlaws, Operation Flashpoint: GotY Edition, Soldier of Fortune, Powerslave (a.k.a. Exhumed)
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