#212: Prisoner of Ice
Initial release: 1995
Platform: PC, Mac, PlayStation/Saturn (Japan only)
Few studios have had the opportunity to play with the Lovecraft mythos as much as French developer Infogrames. Alone in the Dark and Shadow of the Comet weren’t perfect, but there was an element of care. Prisoner of Ice is schlock in comparison.
It’s 1937, 27 years after the incident at Illsmouth in Shadow of the Comet. In the Antarctic Ocean, the British Royal Navy rescues a Norwegian archaeologist from the Nazis, as well as two strange crates the Nazis were trying to take back. Onboard the HMS Victoria is an American intelligence officer, Lieutenant Ryan, who winds up taking command after the captain is killed by a monster hidden in one of the crates. After a daring — and supernatural — attempt to stop the monsters, Ryan manages to signal for help. Once safely on land at the British naval base in the Falklands, Ryan must uncover the mystery behind the crates as well as why base command is very interested in making sure he doesn’t. Things get complicated when monsters start running loose, and…
This is not a long game, nor is it a particularly difficult one. Playthroughs of it on Youtube average about 90 minutes long. It does however continue certain frustrating adventure game trends (including nonsensical puzzles to which clues are only in external materials — pirates get fucked.) And, you know, that’s all fine, I don’t mind a quick and easy game, even better if the puzzles aren’t stupid (which they are, but bear with me here.) What I do mind? The story sucks. Holy shit does the story suck. Adventure games live and die on their story — it’s often the only thing they have going for them once you get past all the jank-ass puzzles and events. And Prisoner of Ice just falls down in every respect, story-wise. There’s almost no real characterization. Things just kinda happen for no reason. Lieutenant Ryan himself is a generic everyman, which makes his secret past as the time-travelling future grandson of the previous game’s protagonist (!) even more insulting. It feels like there’s huge chunks of the story that were just cut for time; the final half hour or so of the game is borderline random as the last game’s villains return (because Nazi time travel) for another go at trying to summon the Great Old Ones or whatever.
Graphically it’s a mixed bag. The backgrounds are gorgeously hand-drawn, on par with Alone in the Dark 3. But the character sprites look like someone fucked a cat over a keyboard while poser was open. Even weirder is their animation seems to be rotoscoped. The game actually makes use of a lot of CG, especially for certain cutscenes. It’s an odd choice, but then again it was 1995 and developers were always trying new things — and CG animation was cheap enough at the time. So we get this instead of Shadow of the Comet’s celebrity-lookalikes.
Audio-wise the game boasts an honestly very good CD-ROM soundtrack that’s kind of way better than the game deserves. (There’s also a MIDI soundtrack but I didn’t use it.) The voice acting is pretty decent as well, miles ahead of Shadow at any rate.
Shadow of the Comet may be a frustratingly clunky, sometimes unfair game with some goofy ideas and bad art. It’s still far and away a much better game than Prisoner of Ice.
God, I hate 1990s adventure games.