Prison Architect is guaranteed the most fun you’ll have behind bars.
Game – Prison Architect
Platform – Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4
Developer/Publisher – Introversion Software / Double Eleven Limited
Release date – June 28, 2016
Price – $29.99
The premise is outlined in Prison Architect’s 5 chapter story mode. It’s not the player’s job to decide whether or not the inmates deserve the sentences they’ve received. It’s about choosing the kind of facility they have during their stay.
“Congratulations on completing your basic induction – you are now a fully qualified Prison Architect! Soon you’ll be designing, building and running your own prisons starting from nothing but an empty plot of land and a few stacks of bricks.”
Prison Architect is an interactive prison tycoon game. It gives the player an opportunity to run a prison, and it comes with every obstacle imaginable. Manage time by pausing or fast forwarding in-game activity. The premise allows the player to earn daily income, balance it against expenses, and ultimately sell the prison for a profit. Each inmate taken onsite will earn the player a stipend. Minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates earn different tiers of cash all the way up to death penalty inmates. The goal is to find a proper balance in the prison to maintain order long enough to cash out.
The selection of preset blueprints aside, the basic building blocks allow the player to create a prison of their choice. Even with the story-driven tutorial, it takes time to become accustomed to all of the options and requirements necessary to create the essential prison structures. Start with the basics. Construct holding cells of various sizes (and solitary confinement cells). Build a shower, and a warden’s office. The cells need a bed and electrical power, the showers need shower heads and water pipes, and the warden needs office related equipment.
The title has an excellent balance of basics and preferences. For example, the basic requirement is for the player to create a holding cell, and the preference allows the player to treat inmates however they want. Make the cells small to save money, but risk a future riot from unhappy prisoners. Or spend the extra dough and make luxury-sized cells. The warden unlocks the bureaucracy tool, which allows the player to spend time and resources researching methods to contain, maintain, or grow the prison. Take a political route and incorporate classrooms and psychologists to improve the behaviors and intelligence levels of the inmates. This allows for budget friendly inmate staff in kitchens and construction. It also increases the likelihood of a parole, which creates a faster turnaround on a new inmate.
There’s at least a handful of modifiers for every structure, and the customization is virtually limitless. Power transformers trip if they’re overloaded (and cause the entire prison system to unlock). Capacitors can be added to increase power levels. Save money on sprinkler systems and toilets by creating a single large pipe and extend from it several smaller pipe lines. These are all basic practices and features that occupy several hours of gameplay. This is why Prison Architect features a mode where players are challenged to upload and run other players’ prisons. Prison Architect goes much deeper into the mechanics.
Once unlocked through the Bureaucracy system, players can add dog handlers to reduce contraband, armored guards to aid in high-threat level security areas, and borrow money from the bank thanks to some crafty Accountants. Security networks can be installed to minimize legwork by the guards and keep them from exhaustion. Hire a foreman to arrange gardeners and janitors. There’s so much going on in the prison that it’s overwhelming at times, and the craziness is half the fun. The inmates also tend to have a predisposition to rejecting the opportunities given to them to improve their lives (educational coursework). The result ultimately funnels the play style, and while it’s arguably realistic, it takes some of the fun out of opting for a minimum security reform prison.
Prison Architect is not without its shortcomings. There is the occasional text error in story mode (“It’s a good job you are here…”). The most frustrating issue is that the guard bots and construction bots sometimes get caught in walls or infinitely opening/closing jail cells. These issues happened in each of the many game modes, and only after hours of gameplay. It’s also a poor choice to force the player off their object select depending on the type. For example, precariously placing shower heads on walls can be troublesome if the player leaves the shower room because it removes the shower head as an option if the player is hovering the arrow in the yard.
The biggest challenge in Prison Architect is inmate management. There are a lot of awesome details added into the game. Inmate backstories, what sentences they already served, days since last incident, and likelihood of an additional incident (incident being fight, riot, or murder, for example). Inmates smuggle in contraband like drugs and weapons. Inmates will even try to tunnel their way out of the prison. There are precautions to help stop these actions, but there is no sense of urgency in place when things do happen. There is no quick “destroy tunnel button”: the player has to pause time, find the selection from inside the menu pathway, and go from there. Most of the time, the event stops when the game speed is paused, and it’s even harder to catch inmates in the act.
Prison Architect is a ridiculously addicting experience. It may look like it’s filled with Weebles, but it’s not a child’s game. There is a huge amount of replay in this title, and it’s definitely a unique and flavorful spin on the classic “tycoon” style game.