RETROspective: Prisoner Of War

The first in a new series of articles taking a look back at different games throughout the years, we look at 2002's stealth-em-up Prisoner Of War.

Platform: PC/PS2/Xbox Developer: Wide Games/Codemasters Released: August 26, 2002 Evoking classic prison escape movies like The Great Escape and Escape from Alcatraz,Prisoner Of War was a stealth game unlike any other. Set during the midst of the WW2, the game had you take control of Captain Lewis Stone - A chiseled and brash all-American hero, kind of like a poor-man's Indiana Jones.€..If it was a film, he€˜d probably be played by Brendan Frasier. Downed behind enemy lines and imprisoned in a P.O.W camp, your task is to use stealth and cunning to find a way out by any means possible. Immediately as the game begins you are plunged into the everyday routine of a prisoner; Abiding to a timed routine of roll calls, scheduled meals and lights out. It€™s down to you if you simply go along with this schedule (making for a dull and endless game) or slyly use your time to plot your escape. It actually starts out relatively cosy - With the exception of the barbed wire fences and armed guards, it€™s pretty much your usual camping holiday. Even the Nazis aren€™t particularly fearsome, coming complete with comedy €˜Allo Allo€™ accents. While the main focus of the game was on stealth, part of its enjoyment was the way it blended RPG elements into the genre. Escaping the camp wasn€™t as easy as simply outwitting the guards and staying hidden. You would have to work with fellow prisoners, gaining valuable information as well as tools to aid your break out. This was done through exploring the camps, talking to inmates and completing various jobs. This encouragement to explore and get to know the surrounding campsite was crucial in planning an escape, helping the player learn how populated different areas of the camp would be during different times of day. Conversations with fellow prisoners were surprisingly engaging, allowing players to pick from different dialogue options which resulted in some open-ended possibilities. As well as this, conversations could lead to the player acquiring useful items and tools. These included boot polish for camouflaging your face during the night and crowbars for prying locks. Items could be hidden in your bedside chest but would be confiscated if found on the player when caught trying to escape or breaking curfew. The real focus of the game however was the stealth - being more satisfying than many other titles but also much harder. Unlike similar third person stealth games, there were no weapons, making it impossible to defend yourself against capture. If you were seen in a restricted area, Nazis would shoot on sight resulting in a trip to the infirmary. Without the ability to defend yourself or even shoot your way out of a tricky situation, the game gave the player a real sense of danger and fear of being caught. With each successful escape the difficulty was increased, with Stone being imprisoned in larger and more heavily guarded camps. Eventually you would find yourself within the huge walls of Colditz Castle. These final sections involved helping with the construction of a glider, based heavily on the real-life €˜Colditz Cock€™ airship built by actual prisoners of Colditz in 1945. Released in 2002, the game received a mixed reception. While many loved its suspenseful gameplay and unique mechanics, others hated the difficulty curve and repetitive emphasis on unforgiving stealth sections. Despite this, few stealth games have managed to replicate its unique gameplay. It remains fondly remembered by many who spent hours sneaking around guards, hiding under beds and laughing at camp German accents. It may not have been a perfect game, but the way in which it forced players to take an entirely non-violent approach to escape resulted in a satisfying feeling of achievement which deserves to be commended.

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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.