Graphics: Prisoner of War won’t be winning any beauty contests, that much is certain. By today’s standards, the textures are muddy and the characters have far too many sharp edges. The environments are somewhat bland as well, though we can forgive that on the basis of realism. What’s truly surprising is that there are moments of slowdown when several characters are onscreen at the same time, though these events are fairly rare. Lackluster as the presentation may be, points must be awarded for accuracy: the barracks, mess halls and grounds of these camps are detailed and truly pull you into your environment. Nice weather effects such as raindrops hitting the camera are also appreciated, but for all they pay homage to in Metal Gear Solid 2, this game can’t begin to touch the beauty of its inspiration.
Interface: To save, you must return to your barracks and use your bed, which can be frustrating, but at the same time, this prevents the challenges of sneaking through enemy camps from becoming too easy. Vibration, video and sound settings are all there as we’ve come to expect, but the game really shines through its visual interfaces. Given the time constraints on your life as a prisoner, it’s an excellent touch to see the clock clearly marking the time remaining in your current activities. Also included in the interface is a fairly clear explanation of what each of the context sensitive buttons will do at your current location. Using icons, you can see at a glance if there are any actions to be performed, making it easier to navigate the world quickly. Also included is the standard “Soliton” style radar, making the guards’ lines of vision easier to interpret.
Gameplay: Prisoner of War is one of those delicately balanced titles; you will either love it or hate it, but very few will fall in between. For the most part, this is a solid third-person sneaker with equally solid mechanics, and if you live for stealth, this title will have some appeal. The problem is that most people prefer a bit of action in and among the mix, and, to be brutally honest, Prisoner of War has very little action at all. Yes, there are tense moments as you try to evade discovery, and certainly the cutscenes have their share of daring escapes, but at no point will you feel like you just pulled off a daring maneuver yourself. Instead, you’ll progress through both your tasks and your days in a deliberate, stately way with only your own pride spurring you to faster activity.
Also hindering the game are decidedly repetitive elements. Every goal you are given involves retrieving specific objects, and while you make the call as to how each stage goes, it’s hard to avoid feeling like a golden retriever as you run back and forth. There are moments that are just plain silly as well, adding a degree of frustration. For every member of the escape committee who walks you through how they managed to get to your next goal, you’ll grit your teeth one more time wondering why the heck they didn’t wait to get the key you just acquired before sneaking over there. In short, Prisoner of War is a solid stealth game, but it’s limited in scope and you’ll most likely find yourself wishing for more.
Multiplayer: Prisoner of War has no multiplayer mode.
SoundFX: The dialogue, and there’s a lot of it in Prisoner of War, is all recorded, and while some of the German accents may be slightly questionable, the overall experience is quite good. There’s not a lot of ambient sounds to bring the camp to life, though, and hearing soldiers working through their drills, trucks rolling in and out of the compounds and so forth would have brought a lot more realism to the gameplay. Luckily, the mandatory elements, like a “you’ve been spotted” siren and guards threatening you for minor transgressions have all been recreated very well, lending the stealthier moments some added tension. Further enhancing this edge is a heartbeat that fires up whenever you’re in a “restricted” area of the camp and grows more intense with the proximity of guards.
Musical Score: Soft and quiet for the most part, there’s a decidedly moody edge to the soundtrack for Prisoner of War. Small surprise, really, as being trapped behind enemy lines is a poor excuse for celebration. The music changes to more dynamic tracks as you start to infiltrate enemy camps, and there’s a distinctly heroic theme that only rears its head as you succeed in your objectives. All in all, there’s enough variety here to keep you interested, though not enough to make this an exceptional soundtrack by any means.
Intelligence & Difficulty: A very unforgiving game, Prisoner of War is also somewhat hit and miss in the AI department. At times the guards will seem blind and miss you when they should have noticed you with their peripheral vision, other times the corner of your coat sticking past an obstacle will be enough for these eagle-eyed sentries to call the guards upon your head. One particularly irritating habit possessed by your captors is a doggedness rarely observed outside of factory robots. If the whistle gets blown on you, you might as well give up, because they will not stop looking for you. In one instance five minutes of real time passed before one of the guards suddenly beelined for me even though I hadn’t twitched a muscle. These moments are fairly rare, but when they happen, you’ll have to resist the temptation to toss the controller into your woodchipper.
Overall: Prisoner of War is an adequate title. It’s playable, it has a good storyline and it looks fine, though it doesn’t live up to the potential of the Xbox. There are enough glitches and snags to keep it from greatness as it is, but the gameplay itself lacks any compelling reason to keep at it. Slow, stately and with an emphasis on stealth and absolutely, positively nothing else, the majority of gamers will find themselves bored. This isn’t to say that Prisoner of War isn’t acceptable; this is more to say that the game lacks mass appeal and a certain pizzazz that players have come to expect from third-person titles in general. For my money, I’d hold off and head for Metal Gear Solid: Substance when it hits store shelves.