Prisoner of War Preview

Colonel Klink watch out--the upcoming Prisoner of War looks like it will give the sorely neglected "escape-from-a-Nazi-POW-camp" genre a stiff shot in the arm with Metal Gear Solid-type stealth and the promise of nonviolent strategy.

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To find Codemasters' inspiration for its upcoming game, Prisoner of War, you need look no further than the classic film The Great Escape. Aside from the baseball-tossing, motorcycle-racing misanthrope played by Steve McQueen, the movie was a pretty faithful retelling of the true story about an all-or-nothing break for freedom during the dark hours of World War II. The premise of the PlayStation 2 game Prisoner of War is no different--apparently, if a concept is good enough for Hollywood, it's good enough for us gamers. Publisher Codemasters has tasked a new developer, Wide Games, with making the organization, planning, and stealth that go into any successful prison-camp break into something resembling an actual game that's fun to play.

You'll find POW's story to be your typical blend of World War II clichés. You control four prisoners, each with his own history of how he wound up in the prison camps and a determination to find a way to freedom. You will play as an American, an Englishman, a Dutchman, and a Frenchman. The game is set in 1941, but it's a safe assumption that the story will take place during the later years of the war at some point as well since there were no American servicemen in the European theater until late 1942. This isn't to suggest that POW is historically inaccurate; in fact, its settings are worthy of special note because Wide Games is basing them on actual WWII camps like Colditz Castle, Salonika, and Stalag Lufts I and III.

You'll find that Prisoner of War breaks every planned escape down into a series of smaller missions that will have you completing a variety of mundane tasks in preparation for your moment of flight. Of course, you and your compatriots will need to have expertise in a variety of fields to stand a chance of success against the Nazi captors. To this end, Wide Games has given each of the four characters special traits. Some of the planned attributes are athleticism, which lets your character run faster, carry more, and knock out Nazi guards with ease; charm, for appearing innocuous when you're caught committing a suspicious act; stealth, for added invisibility when sneaking around the camp; and reconnaissance, which gives you a greater range of sight and the ability to read your opposition, such as when you're being watched. These attributes are divided among the four characters and can be enhanced and modified while you're planning each escape.

Prisoner of War takes place in a third-person perspective using Wide Games' Atlas engine. The engine allows for a variety of weather and lighting effects, which apparently serve more than just a cosmetic purpose; they may actually assist or hinder your escape plans. For example, when it's snowing, guard patrols are reduced in number, and their visibility is limited. This makes sneaking about the camp a much easier affair. Similarly, you can use the time of day to your advantage. For instance, you will be able to accomplish some objectives only during the night. Here, stealth and deft maneuvering come into play as you try to stay out of sight of the Nazi watchtowers and patrols.

The quality of the graphics we've seen so far is questionable. They're best described as plain and consistently simple. There is a low polygon count for most characters and some rough textures, which is surprising, considering they're on the PlayStation 2. That having been said, it should be noted that the visuals still do a good job of conveying the deplorable atmosphere of the prison camps and making the degenerate environs and dirty prisoners look appropriately muddy, gray, and uninviting.

A few of Prisoner of War's important details have yet to be revealed--specifically, how much action and combat are involved in these would-be escapes. From all indications, the game looks like it's holding true to its (relatively) nonviolent premise. You can expect Prisoner of War to be a methodically paced game that will focus on stealth and time-consuming preparation and teamwork rather than mindless explosions and gunplay. Despite the vanilla graphics shown in the current build, Prisoner of War's interesting premise and unique gameplay should make it one to keep an eye on when it arrives on the PlayStation 2 this fall.

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