Prison Architect has been around for a few years now, announced in 2011 and initially making its debut on PC in 2012. Revolving around the concept of building and managing your own prison, it’s become immensely popular with frequent updates and additions. Now the game is making its way to console platforms, and with that, is also moving to controllers.
• Developer: Introversion Software, Double 11
• Publisher: Introversion Software, Double 11, Sold Out Sales & Marketing Ltd
• Reviewed on: Xbox One
• Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Prison Architect is a construction and management game at its core, similarly to some of my favourite games of old – RollerCoaster Tycoon and Theme Hospital. It sees you building up your own prison from scratch in any way you like whilst also contending with a steady stream of prisoners of varying security levels.
Even though Prison Architect boasts an aesthetically pleasing cartoon art style, you shouldn’t let it deceive you. It’s most certainly a game aimed at a more mature audience with its references to drugs, murder and foul language, topped by the ability to execute prisoners with – as the game puts it – “2000 volts of justice” from the electric chair.
Prison Architect encourages you to play through the aptly named “prison stories” missions to begin with in order to familiarise yourself with how the game works, how to build the basics of your prison and how to manage prisoners and prison staff needs. Whilst it’s not necessary to play through it does a very good job of explaining everything clearly, yet it doesn’t hold your hand too much along the way.
Prison stories tell interlinking stories from mission to mission involving you taking control over prisons that are having problems such as riots or fires. The story isn’t incredibly deep but it’s a nice addition to what is essentially a tutorial before you venture off to build from scratch.
Once you’ve gotten a grip of the gameplay you can start up a new game with a clean slate – or with a pre-built prison – to build on. Building is simple and intuitive on a controller using a drag and release system to create varying sizes of rooms. Rooms can then be designated as different areas such as cells, kitchen, canteen, offices and more. Empty rooms need to be filled with objects to make them function – such as cells needing a bed and toilet – and a list of the items you need are found by hitting either “X” or “Square” when hovering over the room.
Once your prison has been built to a level where you can accommodate a handful of prisoners you can begin taking them in. Prisoners are split into security levels – minimum, medium, maximum, supermax and death row. The higher the security level the more you’ll be paid, but you run the risk of unruly prisoners causing issues.
You can also gain extra cash by taking grants. Grants give you specific objectives such as constructing certain buildings or hiring extra staff. You’ll be paid half of the grant up front and you’ll be paid the rest once you’ve completed your objectives.
Prisoners can be regulated using the regime menu. You can regulate what prisoners can do at certain times of days such as eating, showering or recreational time. Minimum security prisoners tend to be the ones you’ll give a large amount of free time to, whereas supermax prisoners are the ones you want to keep in lockdown for most of the day.
You can also view a prisoner’s convictions, biography and their needs. There’s a massive amount of information available to view and take in. Based on prisoners needs you can set up reform programs to help them if they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol or give them extra recreational options such as building a common room or placing radios or TV’s in cells.
Keeping prisoners happy is actually very important in Prison Architect. Unhappy prisoners can lead to riots and deaths of both prisoners and staff alike. Riots can very easily set you back with extra construction and repairs as well as the threat of failure if prisoners escape.
Staff management is also just as important as prisoner management. Whilst you only start out with a handful of options, to begin with you can hire a warden for your prison who unlocks more staff options through the bureaucracy. You can unlock and hire staff such as doctors, lawyers, foremen, security chiefs and more. You can also upgrade your guards with body armour and can give them weapons in an attempt to intimidate your prisoners into submission. Prison Architect is much more in depth than you might expect.
If you begin to get bored of building and playing your own prisons then you can also download and play prisons built by other people. You can do this using the world of wardens on the main menu and you can also upload your own prisons to allow others to play yours as well.
Whilst the gameplay itself is intuitive and enjoyable Prison Architect is not without its faults, and it has a few of them. Bugs such as prisoners becoming stuck in walls are annoying, and there was also a case of half of my screen turning a solid peach colour whilst in the middle of a cutscene whilst playing prison stories.
On top of this, the construction aspect of Prison Architect has a few imperfections that can become exceedingly annoying. In one case I was trying to place metal detectors around my prison in different rooms only for the object menu to rest over and over again every time I hovered my cursor over a new room. There’s also the problem of workmen getting stuck in buildings they’ve just constructed or refusing to move altogether.
Lastly, there doesn’t really seem to be an end goal in Prison Architect when it comes to building your own prison. You can play for hours and hours and build up your perfect prison, but once you’re done and you’ve managed your prison for a bit. Scenarios that you can play through wouldn’t go amiss.
But these problems aren’t enough to ruin the game and will no doubt be addressed in future patches. Prison Architect provides a decent amount of replayability for a while and will definitely scratch the itch that many people have for construction and management games. Successfully bringing a game played more effectively on a mouse/keyboard to consoles is impressive and it’s most definitely worth your time and money.