[Review] Prison Architect

Developer: Introversion Software / Double Eleven (Console Editions)
Publisher: Introversion Software / Double Eleven (Console Editions)
Release: 2015 (PC Launch) / 2016 (Console Editions)
Platforms: Steam, Windows, Macintosh, Linux, PlayStation 4, XBOX One, XBOX 360
Genre: Strategy / Management / Sandbox Simulator
OFLC Rating: M

Prison Architect is one of those creative sandbox simulation games that will burn through hours like seconds. It’s also a game that falls into the category of empire management where balancing numbers is crucial to success in everything you do. If you’re familiar with games like Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital or Evil Genius then you should have a good idea what you’re in for. For those who aren’t, Prison Architect is a game where you essentially build, maintain and oversee the day to day running of a correctional facility. Now before you dismiss this as another educational simulation game that allows you to plan, manage finances and staff of a prison – Trust me when I say, that this game is both gritty and (more than likely) confronting. If the thought the innocent being wrongfully convicted makes your blood boil, then Prison Architect will have you meditating on every decision you make. However, anyone plays sandbox games to (safely) indulge in their sadistic tendencies – Either way, (and I speak from experience) Prison Architect will rob you of your sleep!
Prison Architect’s art style is very simple resembling what you’d expect see from a computer assisted design (CAD) program. But underneath what would appear to be a rather clean looking game is a dark and gritty experience, especially when you play the “Prison Stories” (Campaign on PC) mode. The stories in the campaign are told though text dialogue and Polaroid photographs. The campaign, while show you the basics paints a surprisingly graphic picture of the given story. The opening story “Death Row” will show how an inmate sentenced to be executed catches his wife literally having sex with another man and shoots them both in a premeditated double murder. Aside from scenes being graphically depicted through photos, you are faced with dealing with rough situations involving the inmates. Grittiness aside, Prison Architect is both satisfying and challenging to play – In fact, this game can potentially leave newcomers for dead. Whilst you can play through the episodic story-driven campaign, you can also learn the ins and outs of Prison Architect by starting up a new prison with unlimited funds allowing you to experience the game through trail and error. When creating a new prison, you have a suite of options that allow you to tailor the difficulty to your liking. The Console (PlayStation 4, XBOX One and XBOX 360) Editions offers the option to choose your initial funding as well as select from three difficulty presets – County (Basic), Federal (Intermediate) and Super-Max (Advanced).
Ordinarily when you think of a PC strategy game like this one being brought over to consoles, you’d be forgiven for having low expectations. However, the console editions have had the user interface streamline while offering concise information and a control setup optimised for conventional controllers. Normally, I would opt for a mouse and keyboard any day, but the way the game handles with a controller is surprising slick. Where you would pan you’re view with the keyboard (W,A,S and D keys), zoom using your scroll-wheel and use your mouse for getting down to business – The two analogue thumbsticks operate your camera panning and control cursor respectively, while your triggers control your camera zoom. The rest of your controls and options are displayed on screen with concise contextual prompts. Ultimately the console editions will be somewhat more forgiving to newcomers than PC, but will lack both mod support and (presently) Escape Mode.
Escape Mode is found under extras in PC version and provides a sort of asynchronous multiplayer in conjunction with the prison sharing feature (PC via Steam Workshop and Console Edition via “World of Wardens” using a free Double Eleven community membership). In this mode you start off playing as an arriving random medium security inmate, where your goal is to simply escape. Because Escape Mode plays like a roleplaying experience where you can recruit additional party members and level them all up, this game adds deep level of improvisation to your planning. However, your goal to escape or die trying will include any and all members in your party. In order to develop your characters and recruit additional party members, you earn reputation through causing mayhem around the prison along with running an eventual / inevitable killing spree. If you any of your party is caught alive (concious or not) you have the option to skip punishment by paying a single point from your reputation. At the end of an Escape Mode session you are scored according to your total time, killing spree and how many party members you get out alive along with any you lose in the process.
Playing the core experience of building and / or running a prison, you can choose from a roster of wardens the benefit your given playing style. “The Warden” offers a fairly generic playing style suited to those enjoy versatility. The other wardens, depending on whether you’re merciful or otherwise you will likely find a warden to suite – especially in the console editions with the DLC expansion pack installed.
Overall Prison Architect has a lot to offer strategy and sandbox simulation enthusiasts with it’s surprising deep gameplay.

Final Thoughts

When I first played Prison Architect is was on Steam’s Early Access program and back then it was an awesome game though incomplete. Since it’s official release, Prison Architect has only gotten better. The transition to consoles is similar to Minecraft, in the respect that the PC version is more advanced. Whether you get this on Steam or your console of choice, Prison Architect will offer satisfying strategic sandbox simulation experience.

So is Prison Architect worth it?

Let me put it to you this way…

Ever wanted more grit out your sterile management simulators? Prison Architect will either have you struggling with your morals or have you throwing your head back in maniacal laughter.

Report Card
Quality: B
Gameplay: A
Content: A
Skill: B
Technical: B
Value: A
Audience: Adult

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