Prisoner of Ice

Developer:  Chaosium
Publisher:  Infogrames
Year Released:  1995

Review by Gordon Aplin (December, 1995)
poi.jpgPrisoner of Ice is a sequel to Shadow of the Comet in Infogrames' Call of Cthulhu series which, in turn, is based on the stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I have not played Shadow of the Comet, nor read the books, so I must admit that I am not familiar with the story and background of the Great Ancient Ones. Consequently, for me at least, one of the failings of Prisoner of Ice is the lack of explanation for the motives of these aliens who want to take over the Earth. There are references to the earlier game in animated sequences, but on the whole the story assumes too much prior knowledge on the part of the player so that some parts of the plot development seem obscure.

A brief background to the story in the introduction, or even in the manual, would overcome this problem. As a rule, though, I think all sequels should be playable as a stand-alone game, particularly as some appear many years after the first game.

I am also a little confused about aspects of the time travelling component and Ryan's (your character's) relationship to people in the earlier game. Though not a great deal is made of this so I think I can safely assume that it is merely a twist in the plot and not really important.

A strange discovery
The story begins in 1937, twenty seven years after the events of Shadow of the Comet. Alien creatures have been discovered trapped in ice in Antarctica and two of them are now packed in crates aboard the British submarine HMS Victoria. Also on board the submarine is Lieutenant Ryan (you), an American intelligence operative on secondment to the Royal Navy. Oh, and the Nazis are also interested in these creatures. A minor sea skirmish results in damage to the submarine and a fire that threatens to melt the ice and release the prisoners. (Though why the ice didn't melt in the caves where lava seems to be constantly flowing is still a mystery to me.) This leads directly to the first problem you must overcome.

The rest of the plot unfolds as you play the game and, as I mentioned, parts of it seem obscure. From what I can gather, it seems that whoever possesses certain magical artifacts and incantations can open up a portal that will allow the Great Ancient Ones to return to Earth and destroy Humanity. And one of the Nazis is power crazy, or simply crazy, enough to want to do this. As Ryan, your task is to prevent this from happening and to learn about your own mysterious origins in the process.

Time limit on puzzles
The puzzles, on the whole are not too difficult, but some are made trickier by the imposition of a time limit. I must admit that I am not particularly fond of this "feature" since it involves a certain amount of dying and restoring before you get it right. To me it suggests a recognition on the part of the developers that the game is too easy, and instead of thinking of more difficult puzzles the time limit becomes a simple expedient. This is not just a criticism of Prisoner of Ice, the same device was used in Full Throttle -- it didn't work there either. To be fair, as with Full Throttle, the developers use an automatic save facility whenever you encounter a time limit puzzle. This allows you to quickly restore your game at the start of the puzzle and try again. It's still annoying though.>

With the exception of two fairly simple logic puzzles, the remaining problems generally involve searching the screen for items to use or interact with and include several pixel hunts. Bookshelves, in particular, need to be searched thoroughly. (Big hint there!)

Many of the problems are solvable within one or two screens and thus the game seems to move along in short sections. Really, only the section on the Falkland Island Base provides any sort of extended puzzle, and is, for me, the best part of the game.

Handy interface
The interface is very simple and easy to use. Your cursor is a hand that allows you to pick up or use items and also to talk to other characters by clicking the left mouse button once they are identified. Clicking with the right mouse button generally gives you a description of an item or person, though on occasion it also initiates an action. In this game the cursor doesn't highlight or change shape as you encounter a 'hot spot', but the name of the item or person appears beneath the action portion of the screen. Your inventory is revealed by moving the cursor above the picture screen. Here too, the game is made easier by the automatic removal of items from your inventory when there is no further use for them. Rarely did I have more than three or four items at any one time and I never had to wonder for long about the use or significance of a particular object.

Conversations are short and to the point and generally you have only a few questions to ask. This effectively eliminates a lot of tedious clicking through sometimes boring conversations, but also probably contributes to the lack of plot development. Balancing the amount of conversation in adventure games is a fine art and I feel that Prisoner of Ice errs on the side of too little, though other players may disagree.

The game plays directly from the CD ROM in VGA or SVGA mode and only writes your saved games and preferences to the hard drive. It also allows you the option of having text on screen as well as voices which is always a plus in my book. Speaking of voices, the accents are not very good. The graphics are, on the whole, reasonable, but a couple have a freehand drawn comic book look, notably in the submarine and in the future section which somehow jarred for me.

Smooth flowing action
Whilst experienced adventurers may find Prisoner of Ice to be a little easy, newer players may well find it to be just the sort of game they are seeking. Despite my criticism, it does have its good points, especially if you are looking for an interesting game that will provide a light diversion from full on mind-numbing puzzles. There are no drawn out conversations and no real stumbling blocks where you have no idea what to do next. The puzzles flow smoothly and come in quick succession and you can move through the game at a fair pace. Lets face it, not every game needs to have you banging your head against a wall to be enjoyable.

You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX33, 4MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, mouse