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SummaryAnd where's Steve McQueen??
The GoodPrisoner of War is an interesting example of the evolution of the adventure genre towards hybrid 3D 3rd person perspective games where action and sneaking are also part of the formula. However in this particular case the action is completely replaced by sneaking. I mean, sure, ever since games like Thief and Metal Gear Solid the sneak/action titles have been in full swing, however until now no title had based it's gameplay completely in sneaking, and that's precisely what POW does.
Basically you are an all-american bomber pilot shot down in WW2 Germany and isolated in an officer's POW camp. For most of the people caught in the camps the war was over, however you just aren't the kind of guy that sits still while the war happens around you and so your mission is to escape the camp and rejoin with the allied forces. As you escape however, it becomes evident that the Germans are using their POW camps as research stations for some sort of new weapon and thus you change plans by breaking into some camps, getting transferred around and helping a secret operative uncover the Nazi plot.
Each of these POW camps has a strict routine that must be met and (as expected) the guards eyes are almost always on you, so you have to find the way and correctly time your escapades so you don't miss the roll calls or get spotted somewhere you are not supposed to be with something you are not supposed to have in your hands. Your only weapons available are your ability to sneak around and use several every-day stuff like bootpolish and stones to distract and fool the guards, whose attitude and line-of-sights you can judge thanks to a handy top-down radar familiar to everyone that has played a game of this type.
The limited resources and the many requirements you have to meet (be in X place at Y time or a camp-wide search is triggered) put some spice into a concept that's been pretty much done to death by now, and the fact that you just CAN'T harm anyone in any way puts a nice twists in the gameplay concept as you get pushed towards a more adventuresque-mindset in which you have to think how to use the environments to your advantage. You can talk to your fellow prisoners for tips and information, or recruit them to create distractions for you and buy useful stuff from them. The currency for all this is the many items of contraband you can find hidden away in the camps and the idea adds yet another layer of depth to the gameplay concept.
The camps themselves aren't completed in a single sitting, and require you to undertake a series of missions which involve objectives reminiscent of several prison escape movies such as disabling an alarm system, uncovering a mole and several other assignments that involve the larger plot about a secret weapon. All interesting and well-designed stuff that in addition to the cool gameplay concept results in an effective 3D adventure title very similar to titles like Hitman 2 (except you don't have to kill anyone).
The BadFirst of all the limited production values take their toll on the game, which suffers from below-average graphics in which everything looks like it's made out of cardboard, with poor detail in the textures, practically zero special effects and really unimpressive character animation and design. Lazy cutscene direction results in some of the most boring and painful "talking heads" experiences and the camera in the game seems to be in love with your character's back and the walls. However, the worst aspect of it all is the voice acting, a horrendous collection of poorly scripted crap that makes cartoons out of all the characters and takes a lot of class and appeal out of the game. Basically the main hero is a super-suave take-no-shit-from-no-one superman whose arrogance and overconfidence means you never take anything for serious and nothing in the game poses a threat to you. The rest of the poor bastards that star in the game have to deal with some of the worst accents this side of Deus Ex, with the Germans taking the worst part as they also get the classic "Eeevil Guys" accent and poor dialogue that make them sound as Siegfried from "Get Smart" or that bad guy from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. In fact, now that I think about it this game reeks of a budget title that due to the cool ideas and design it hides under it's limited resources got a publishing deal... Deal that should have included some money for some serious refinements nonetheless.
Finally the game has a balancing problem, as it's default settings are way too easy (which coupled with it's short length means you can finish the game in a day or so) and if you try to tweak it you get the psychic guards and cheap stuff that just isn't fun to play with. It also offers poor replay value save from some funny options to play with unlocked via a ratings system.