Between the 1992 release of Alone in the Dark and 1995, when Prisoner of Ice was launched, horror adventure games have become a real phenomenon in the industry. The genre has the perfect devices to tell a good story, maybe not enough to startle you, but with plenty of shocking scenes. As such, the competition was fierce. Of course, some titles catering to the same audience were lacking at best, like D and Phantasmagoria, but this was also the time when gamers were enjoying Veil of Darkness and the first Clock Tower. If I would place Prisoner of Ice among these, it would be somewhere in the middle, as it does many things right, but stumbles in certain places as well.
The game is a direct sequel to Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet and follows the adventures of Lt. Ryan through a world inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Compared to the original, however, this is no longer a local affair limited to the confines of an isolated town such as Illsmouth. You are taken to exotic places, from the Antarctic waters to Buenos Aires. At times, the game tries so hard to put you into the shoes of Indiana Jones that it forgets completely about horror. Sure, it has monsters, death and occult rituals, but it lacks the genuine atmosphere of dread and despair found in the original.
As a point-and-click adventure game, it is a solid offering. The puzzles are relatively logical, although a bit on the easy side as a result. The game presents a mature point-and-click system, with intuitive controls. You use right-clicks to examine objects and left-clicks to interact with them. You can access the inventory of items you have collected by placing the cursor at the top of the screen. Inventory items can be used on certain objects in the environment or they can be combined with each other. This excellent point-and-click system has remained mostly unchanged in adventure games until today. The developers perform only minor alterations to it, according to their needs and tastes.
In Prisoner of Ice you take over Lieutenant Ryan, an American agent sent by the Office of Naval Intelligence aboard the submarine H.M.S. Victoria in order to rescue a Norwegian explorer and anthropologist, Björn Hamsun, from the Nazis. Along with him, the submarine crew also picked two mysterious crates. They are supposed to bring them all to the safety of the nearest naval base, but that soon becomes unlikely as Hell breaks loose aboard H.M.S. Victoria. The plot has some twists and turns that you might not expect, mixing sci-fi with horror adventure like only a throwback to the first half of the XXth century can. I thought it was a bit weird, but definitely worth following until it's over.
The drawing is not up to the quality seen in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers or Circle of Blood; it feels a bit barren, actually. The locations themselves are interesting choices, but as I mentioned before, the developers failed to capture the right atmosphere. While I make these complaints, I realize it's imperative to point out that even if the product loses much as a horror story, it remains a worthy game still. If I were to make an analogy, Prisoner of Ice is like a horror B-movie that would gain a cult following twenty years later. It has cheesy voice acting, hilarious scenes and overused tropes. Best of all, it manages to pull it out with a straight face. I've heard conflicting opinions about the game, in general, but this is the main reason why I find it accessible, interesting and easy to play from start to finish.
Despite its flaws, I like the game quite a bit. However, when it comes to recommending it to others... I would rather have you play better titles first. The catalogue of games is becoming so huge that filtering your waiting list is essential. In my opinion, time has more value when spent in games such as CoC: Shadow of the Comet, CoC: Dark Corners of the Earth, Alone in the Dark, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and Circle of Blood, to name but a few. After you're done with those, know that you might come to enjoy Prisoner of Ice, but if you won't, only a few will look strangely at you.
- Prisoner of Ice is loosely based on Howard P. Lovecraft's horror novella At the Mountains of Madness.
- There are three French graphic novels based on the game: La Geôle de Pandore (Pandora's Jail), Le Glaive du Crépuscule (The Dagger in the Dusk) and La Cité des Abîmes (The City of the Depths).
- If you run the game normally through DOSBox, it will store your save files in the cdrive (where you keep all your DOS games). In case you want to keep it clean, you can directly mount it (mount a c:\dos\cdrive\prison, for example) and run the game from there. The save files will be stored directly in the game's folder. This is probably not recommended, but it worked for me with no problems.
- You can run the game through either ICE320.exe or ICE640.exe (VGA or SVGA), but the save files are not compatible.