Let me start this article by saying that I recognise that Prisoner of War, originally released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, is not the best game ever made. It is not a bad game by any stretch either, especially for its time, but for me it maintains a special place in the canon of my video game playing history. Originally bought for me by my Dad, who is sadly no longer with us, because of my interest in history, the game follows Captain Lewis Stone, a typically mischievous American pilot who finds himself downed deep in Nazi territory.
Transferred to Stalag Luft prison camp, the player is tasked with undertaking a series of stealth based missions to further the cause of the prisoners to escape their confines. The character models are excessively polygonal, the voice acting, in the case of the evil Nazi soldiers, is bordering on the offensively stereotypical and, to be honest, it’s brilliant. The game mechanics are actually pretty well executed, with the sneaking over walls and under structures sequences really feeling quite tense. As a prisoner, you are expected to turn up to the compulsory roll-calls and, if you don’t, then the alarms go off and the entirety of the camp guard system comes looking for you.
The game contains a number of brilliant foibles, including the fact that if you hide in the middle underneath one of the camps huts, you can ride out the alarm system indefinitely, they literally never check. Boot polish is your best friend, allowing you to become even less visible in the dark, and your camp mates make for heartwarming company. All that remains relatively unimportant, however, when compared to the games true appeal – it’s atmosphere. If you asked me to pin down why, through all of it’s unrealistic aspects, the game manages to still prove itself as one of the most thrilling I’ve played, I’d have trouble doing so. Perhaps it was the age that I played it through, old enough to appreciate the enormity of the games setting, but not so old that the games technical flaws ruined it for me. Maybe it’s the fond memory of my father turning off all the lights in the room for the game’s night sequences so I really could terrify myself. The familiar shout of “hande hoch” underlining the setting I was desperate to become immersed in.
If you get the chance to play Prisoner of War, then try to forgive it’s age and wrinkles, and please do. It’s great fun, and for me at least, further testament to how even the most unlikely of video games can cement the fondest of memories.