World War II has seemingly become a favorite setting for today’s games, with such big-name examples as Battlefield 1942 and Medal of Honor. Not to be left out of the trend, Wide Games has delivered a unique look at that time in the world’s history. Prisoner of War follows the trials and tribulations of an American officer who as been taken captive by Nazi Germany. His goal is to escape from captivity in time to turn the tide of "The Great War" back in favor of the Allies.
POW does an excellent job of retelling history in an accurate, yet entertaining manner. Life in a prison camp is depicted as predictably rigid. Waking, eating, working, and lights-out all occur on an extremely strict schedule. This deals the player a unique challenge. Information must be gathered, and plans must be made in a time frame that will not cause suspicion. Showing up late for, or missing a fall-in will result in Nazi Germany’s equivalent of an APB. That is not an ideal way to slip away unnoticed.
Instead, the hero must use small windows of free time to form relationships with other prisoners. It is only with their help and information that he can successfully escape. For instance, some fellow captives may create a diversion during which the player can successfully direct his character to safety. Unfortunately, a lot of this process is simply trial and error. Getting caught repeatedly eventually will lead gamers either down the correct path of escape or straight to frustration.
Prisoner of War’s graphics do little to push the Xbox hardware. It seems likely that the game was built for the PlayStation 2, then ported to the Xbox, without any major enhancements. That process follows an unfortunate but all-too-common trend in recent multi-platform releases. This is not to say that the visuals are bad. They are just very, very average. Considering the prowess of the Xbox hardware, it is hard to be satisfied with that level of effort on the developer’s part.
Quite unlike the visuals, the sounds of POW add to the overall gaming experience. The music is appropriate, yet not intrusive. The voice acting is superb, complete with realistic accents for prisoners from other Allied nations, such as France and England. The only downside to the game’s aural exploits are its sound effects. Much like the graphics, they are simply ho-hum. Considering the obvious quality and attention to detail given to the acting, it is unfortunate that Wide Games did not focus as much on the effects.
As true gamers are well aware, aesthetics have never made a game great on their own. It is gameplay where the battles for greatness are fought and won. However, Prisoner of War’s battle is a losing cause, as the player is almost as much a captive to the camera as he is to the Nazis. Simply put, the camera seems to have a mind of its own. It goes where it wants. It shows what it wants. This hampers what otherwise would have been a fine-controlling, well-designed gameplay system.
Much like the game’s hero, potential players are encouraged to slip away under the cover of night. While Prisoner of War has some fantastic and realistic settings and a fine premise, it is simply too flawed to gain a solid recommendation. The combination of the trial-and-error process and the autonomous camera are a mightier foe than Adolf Hitler could have ever hoped to be. Unfortunately, no one will ever find these flaws’ brains splattered on a wall in an apparent suicide.
. . . Yoshi