of War, from Codemasters, broke my heart when it missed its original
June release date. Id been looking forward to it since E3, relying on
it in fact, to be the game that kept me going over the impossibly long
drought of the summer months, when the TV airs nothing but re-runs, and
game systems are left hungry for decent games. But June came and went.
No POW. With no new games to play, and few worthy games on the horizon,
I entered withdrawal. While everyone else was out swimming in baby
pools, eating hotdogs, and getting a tan, I huddled inside cradling my
lifeless Xbox and using a telescope to keep tabs on my next-door
neighbors. I eventually stopped answering the phone. I retreated into my
basement and only ventured forth to growl at the UPS man, and leave
money on the doorstep for the pizza delivery guy. I was reported missing
by three of my friends, two of them claiming that my house had
apparently been taken over by a madman who howled whenever they came to
the door. I lost most of my hair. Trust me on this one, boys and girls;
video game withdrawals are not pretty things. Thankfully, fall arrived
and games once again began to flow. My hair grew back, admittedly a bit
whiter, and my friends welcomed me into the social field with open arms,
several of them commenting that it was good to see that, contrary to
popular belief, I was indeed alive. The doctor says that the twitch will
go away with time. And one morning, I found Prisoner of War in my
mailbox. The postmark read September.
recovered from my asocial tendencies, I locked myself into my basement,
popped the game into the Xbox, and started creeping around during WWII.
Whats found in POW is a detailed and creative experience that
encompasses problem solving at its best, which, in the words of one of
my friends, "Makes you think." Paced but intense, taking at least thirty
minutes worth of gameplay to become really interesting, this is not the
game youll whip out to wow your cousin who just flew in from out of
state, but more the game that youll play by yourself when you want
something more challenging than a shoot-em-up with pretty graphics. Keep
your checkers; POW is the chess of videogames
takes place in the midst of World War II. You are an American pilot shot
down while on a reconnaissance flight over German-held territory. After
being captured, you are placed in a holding facility the first of many
various prisons that you will be exploring over the course of the game.
Your goal, at the beginning at least, is to escape, pure and simple,
though youll gain more detailed and altruistic assignments once the
game is underway. How you go about doing this is entirely up to you
well, not really, but close. Your escape plan is actually laid out for
you quite clearly in almost every circumstance cut scenes fill you in
on the where to go and when but its in deciding how to actually carry
out these plans that youre given such freedom. For example, at one
point youre asked to retrieve important documents from the camp command
office. Knowing this, its up to you to figure out how to get there. Do
you apply boot polish to your cheeks and sneak over a fence at night? Do
you make your way for the front door, dressed in a uniform you stole
from the guards laundry room, or do you climb in the back window and
hope the tower doesnt see you? For that matter, do you want to steal
the uniform, or bribe a German officer to leave one conveniently out for
the taking. Interestingly enough, in a game that regiments you to the
schedule of a prison camp, POW is defined by the freedom that it allows.
Figuring out that you need the key to open the door isnt the problem.
Figuring out how to lift the key from the kitchen without the guard or
the cook noticing thats tricky. With several ways to solve almost
every problem, Prisoner of War is one of the most dynamic problem
solving experiences on the market.
said, there are a few problems, and no, not being able to kill isnt one
of them its amazing how addictive a game with almost no violence can
be. First and foremost, the cinematics are really quite bad. Youll
notice this right off the bat, when the game first begins. More
specifically, the directing isnt very good. Camera angles hold position
slightly too long, which leads to a sense of boredom, and characters
eyes dont track very well when talking to each other. Their facial
expressions are nonexistent, and most of the dialog is cheesy. The first
scene, for example, just before your airplane is shot down, is pretty
much one long shot of the cockpit it could have been a very dramatic
scene that gets you up and going for the game. Instead you find yourself
skipping through it when your friends are over to make sure they dont
get a bad impression. While not a major deterrent in the gameplay, it
surly doesnt get the blood pumping with adrenalin. This is too bad,
since the game itself actually does a very good job of setting and
maintaining the atmosphere. I especially like sneaking around in the
rain and snow.
that the problems are not so much with presentation (as I said, the
overall feel of the game is well done), but with actual play dynamics.
The camera controls are pretty straight forward, except when up against
a building, or just after coming out from under a car or hiding place.
Then the camera can be disorientating. The system automatically adjusts
forward and backward, zooming closer to or further away from the back of
your head, depending on whats behind you that could block your view.
This means that when youre up against a wall (where you tend to be a
lot in this game) the camera zooms in really close on the back of your
jacket. It doesnt zoom out again until you leave the wall, so the whole
point of taking cover in order to avoid the guards is ruined, since you
have to leave the cover in order to see where you want to go. It takes a
few minutes of play, perhaps thirty or so, to become really accustomed
to using the map and your mini-radar, which shows where the guards are
looking in the local area, to adequately navigate. Though sometimes
annoying in a panicky moment, the camera is really pretty functional.
Aside from the tap button -- which you use whenever you want the guards
attention -- being the same as the hide button when up against a wall,
the controls work relatively well.
problematic is the fact that the enemy AI is a joke. Sure, if they hear
a noise theyll come to look it over, but thats about it. Get spotted?
Run away. Theyll blame their apparently unreliable mentality for making
them see things. Apply a little camouflage and youre basically
invisible. The guards always turn the same direction when on patrol,
never look left or right, and always patrol the exact same distance in
every circumstance. Now, I nod my head to the fact that the game had to
be playable, and with truly dynamic and unpredictable AI it would be
very frustrating to the player; skill would be less a factor than luck.
I also acknowledge that the game is far from un-challenging as is
craftier AI would be a very difficult obstacle. Still, it would have
been a very realistic obstacle. It would have been nice to see the
guards turn their heads from side to side, as a real guard would. If
caught, the guards will order you to "
stop, or Ill shoot." Then they
shoot you whether you stop or notthe decision depends on how long it
takes for them to run to you. The lack of varying guard activity means
that completing a goal is a matter of figuring out the pattern. Replay
value in this is limited, even though the actual experience is quite
with the guards, there are other aspects of POW that seek to emulate
prison life. There are roll-call times when you have to report in order
to not raise alarm. This is important when on a mission, as it means
that you have only a limited amount of time to get out of your holding
area, accomplish your goal, and return before they notice that youre
missing. It really makes the game quite intense.
save feature is interestingly done, and somewhat confusing. You can only
save at your bunk, and youll always want to do so before venturing out
into the night on any important missions. While capture just means
spending a few days in the brig and having to buy back any items you had
confiscated by the guards, youll find yourself reloading and attempting
missions over again quite often, many times just to get the job done
better. Instead of saving a specific moment, the game apparently records
what items you have, and what day it is. Whenever you reload a save, it
gives you the option to start that day during any time period meaning
morning, noon, or night. The only thing I found annoying about this is
that every time you save, it behaves as if you just saved, quit, and
reloaded. Even if you had already completed evening roll call and were
about to venture forth on a bit of night-time reconnaissance, saving
would start you again at your choice of one of those three times
(morning, lunch, or night). You end up having to retrace your steps, if
only by a few feet, and Im not sure why the developers chose to do it
a final note, there was one thing about POW that bothered me, though it
had nothing to do with how the game was played. POW is a game of
stereotypes. Your main character, an American, fits the classic gung-ho,
cocky air force stereotype. His co-pilot is captured after being caught
with a German girl while in hiding, the daughter of a German officer.
The German guards, specifically the commandants, are the classic
"politely civil, yet strict and rigid" German stereotypes played out in
movies. There are a variety of slang terms used throughout the game that
are a bit unsettling. I felt that the game would not have lost any of
its playability and value had they been left out and the pre-molded
stereotypes changed just a little bit. In a game with such an original
idea at its heart, some different scripting would have been nice.
short, despite some simple flaws, Prisoner of War is an interesting and
detailed game. Sure, you wont be breaking it out during a crowded
Halloween party, but then, who ever played chess on the binge either?
The value of POW lies in its ability to make thinking fun. Creeping
around takes time and patience, but its also tremendously engrossing.
POW is one of the solidest four-star games Ive ever played: competently
built, interesting storyline, unique idea.
Aaron Stanton (10/16/2002)
Innovative gameplay; some nice visuals; strategic
stealth; develops some nice tension.
Cheesy cutscenes; some camera glitches; slow pace
will turn off some gamers.