Title :Prisoner of War
Platforms :Microsoft Xbox, Windows
Publisher :Codemasters
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :7.5
Review by :Ken Gagne

Long-time readers of this column will know how highly I value successful execution of innovation. It wasn't until the recent Super Mario Sunshine that I realized how long it'd been since I'd played a non-violent game. 

Few stages in our world's history are as violent as World War II, and though the Medal of Honor series of games deserves accolades, it's still a first-person shooting game. So I was intrigued to hear of Codemasters' Prisoner of War wartime adventure for the Microsoft Xbox. The innovation? No weapons. 

A cross between Metal Gear Solid's stealth aspects and the old Nintendo game Rescue: The Embassy Mission, Prisoner of War drops players into a German camp in the midst of WWII. Stripped of all possessions and under close scrutiny, players must guide to freedom Captain Lewis Stone — who, in personality and looks, is a cross between Bruce Campbell and Pitfall Harry

To have proper expectations of this game, realize there is a difference between prisoner of war camps and the more dramatized concentration camps. Regardless, I'm challenged to believe an actual POW camp allowed its prisoners this much freedom, to retain their fine clothing, and that every guard had a smile on his face. 

They won't be smiling if they find Stone outside his province, though. Guards keep a close eye on their charges during the day, requiring that they attend meals and roll calls; Stone will get much of his exploration done at night, when boot polish will blend his face in with the surroundings. As with Shenmue II, a "timeskip" feature allows players to instantly move to any time of the day, though wasted hours count against one's final score. Regardless of the time, there's something incredibly nerve-wracking about sneaking around forbidden areas in a German camp. 

It'd be an even tenser situation if the guards shot to kill, but they always give Stone the benefit of the doubt — placing him in the cooler or, in the worst case, the infirmary. Players must bribe a guard to have their belongings returned, but otherwise there is little danger or drama to the actual act of being caught. 

Despite all the items with which Stone improvises, there is little player initiative. Each of the game's chapters is divided into tasks, such as reaching a specific building in the compound and acquiring an item. The steps necessary to make a safe trip are usually specific and must be executed to achieve success. Other prisoners will often outline the exact routine Stone must follow, from evading an enemy patrol to which key to find and use where. 

The graphics maintain some fine effects. Dreary days splatter raindrops onto the screen, not really obscuring one's vision but making the weather seem all the more present. The details of Stone's fellow inmates are difficult to discern, though. When there are a dozen people milling about the exercise yard and barracks, and players are seeking a specific one, there'll be much interrogation. This part of the game is similar to Escape from Monkey Island, and though Stone is flippant and cocky, it is without the humor. Despite the variety of people he'll meet in camps, they become little more than talking heads when encountered. 

With only so many routes players can take to escape, and with predefined outcomes, Prisoner of War is little more than a series of exercises. They can be fun and challenging, but you're still just going through the motions. It's a game that's unlikely to hold you captive.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 23-Sep-02