Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: August 16, 2002
Trapped by the enemy, captured, behind enemy lines and cut off from friendly support. As countless movies have proved, this can be gripping drama and enthralling storytelling. Strangely, no one’s ever tried to put it into a gaming perspective. Sure, you can assume the role of a one-man army in Return to Castle Wolfenstein on the PC, but that’s hardly in the same genre, and does a disservice to those who spent time in POW camps. Not that any game really could, but Prisoner of War, recently released for the Xbox, tries to pay homage to the men who were captured in body but never in spirit.
As ace pilot Capt. Lewis Stone, you’re on a routine reconnaissance mission over German territory when you suddenly run into heavier than expected anti-aircraft fire. Even the best pilot can’t put a 30-foot plane safely through airspace filled with flak every ten feet, so your plane goes down. As you bail out, your parachute takes you straight into the arms of the Bosch. While his chiseled good looks, strong chin and cool aviator’s jacket signal Stone as our hero, even he can’t overpower an entire patrol, so he’s taken to a temporary camp pending transfer to a full time prison. After a few witty exchanges with the commander, Stone is set “free” to carry on with his day in the highly regimented world of the camp.
Freedom is a relative term when you’re a captive, though. Stone’s days will be highly regimented, with only a few breaks in the routine that count as “free” time. Most of the time, you’ll have an exercise period and a free period, and during these you can roam certain areas of the camp with impunity. Cross the line, however, and the guards have been instructed to shoot on sight. Walk too close to certain areas, or get caught where you shouldn’t be, and they’ll likely toss you in the cells for a few days to cool you down. There’s little room for misbehavior in this tightly controlled world, and yet Stone plans his escapes from the moment he sets foot on German soil.
Your first task will be to communicate with the other prisoners. In the first camp, you’ll find two fellows who’ve been shuttled across the German internment system, and while one’s given up hope, the other will prove to be an early ally. Walking you through a tutorial of sorts, O’Brien will tell you that he’ll offer you a hand if you’ll collect him some “currency” from the sick bay. Any illegal or hard to find item such as medical supplies or cigarettes counts as currency in the camps, and you’ll often have to earn a reputation with the “in-crowd” of prisoners by acquiring some of this hard to find loot from under the noses of your captors.
Once you have some currency, you’ll typically find yourself dealing with the Escape Committee, a group of prisoners in each camp who are dedicated to breaking free. Conversations with them, as with all characters, are prescripted, but offer a choice of responses to each character’s queries, letting you work your way through a dialog tree. As Stone is usually recaptured while moving between the various camps, you’ll find that other characters are there to serve special purposes, or simply to act as texture and scenery.