Title: Prison Architect
Version Tested – Xbox One
Available On – PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Genre – Simulation, Strategy, Indie
Official Site – Prison Architect
Release Date – June 28, 2016 (console version)
Where To Buy – PSN, Xbox Store, Steam, App Store
Prison Architect is easily one of the best simulation games this year. Coming from the combined efforts of Double Eleven and Introversion Software, this game quickly shows players that designing a prison is about more than just how it looks. The emphasis placed on people, and how they are treated, brings a whole new side to gameplay. Even though the game does have a few minor flaws, Prison Architect is still a great experience. And the game is open to more players than ever, with its recent console release.
When starting up the game for the first time, it is recommended that new players start out with the game’s tutorials. I strongly agree with this advice. Prison Architect has a lot of different mechanics to play with, and can be really overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Besides, the “Prison Stories” tutorials are actually really well done. Rather than just teaching you how to straight up how to play the game, as many tutorials might do, each story piece tells a little bit more about the prisoners and their backgrounds. In addition, the different tutorials lead into each other, connecting the snapshots one by one to an overall story. And trust me, that story is a lot more intense than the cutesy graphics of the game imply. The character sprites may look like adorable blobs, but they completely contrast the rough scenes from prison life. Prison Architect surprised me with how much I was drawn in to the story. It made me even more excited to start my own free-play prison from scratch.
The biggest thing I can praise about Prison Architect is its ability to let you do whatever you want. After you’ve finished learning the basics (and getting through the heart-wrenching story), you will have a couple of different options. Players can create their own prison from the ground up, using either prepared settings to set a difficulty level or custom settings to make things up as you go along. Players can also download preset maps to play on. A few of these maps are available for the game, and much more are downloadable through Prison Architect‘s “World of Wardens” online sharing system. Basically, the game is set up so players can build/discipline as much as they want to in their own prison.
While many players might find this liberating, I personally started out the game a bit frustrated. I had decided to start my own small prison on an empty plot of land. It started out well – the tutorials helped me understand what I absolutely needed to have. However, as prisoners started rolling in and their needs became more vast, I realized the game had left me floundering. While the tutorials teach you the basics, Prison Architect has a lot of different aspects to it, and I did not understand all the mechanics as much as I wanted to. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time searching online for how to complete specific tasks.
However, with so much to do in the game, I do not expect for Prison Architect to explain everything fully. I only became frustrated on occasion, and usually quite enjoyed designing my prison. Learning to balance funds with what prisoners needed was a challenge, especially as prisoners with a higher security risk came in. In many ways, Prison Architect reminded me of playing SimCity, Zoo Tycoon or even Parkitect. After designing the layout of buildings, you need to make sure everything has power and water. You need recreation for prisoners so they don’t lose their minds, work to help them learn new skills, phones so they can speak to their families. And then there are all of the things your staff workers need to keep them working effectively.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need all of these things, if you plan on running a brutal prison yard. Prisoners will just become more dangerous and prone to strike back. When riots get out of control or fires spring up in a kitchen, there are emergency services to help get a handle on things. Sometimes a prison can’t fully recover from such an event, especially if the funds aren’t available.
One issue I had with playing the console version was how small the text is. Most of the game’s windows for different aspects of the prison were rather small. The text was clearly designed with PC players in mind. Again, this did not distract from the gameplay too much however, it made me a bit slower in navigating through the different screens. The somewhat larger text during the tutorials was great and definitely helped. It would be nice to have larger text later on as well.
Most of the sound didn’t really play a factor in the main portion of Prison Architect. The background music was great during cutscenes of the campaign. However, during the rest of the game, I didn’t really notice sounds at all unless they were indications that something important was going on. Sound effects were good and made sense for what happens in the game (for example, clink of fork and plate while prisoners are in the canteen, or water streaming down during shower periods). Other than that, sound doesn’t play a huge factor.
Overall, Prison Architect is a great simulation game. It provides a more interesting story than expected and has a lot to discover. There were a few small things I thought could be improved. However, they did not detract from my enjoyment of this game at all. I would recommend Prison Architect to pretty much anyone who likes a challenge.
Have you played this game yet? What do you think of it? Let us know in the comments! For more video game reviews, stay tuned to The Nerd Stash!
Gameplay – Campaign “Prison Stories” are fantastic teaching tools. The main portion of the game is endless for creativity.
Graphics – Adorable character sprites contrast with rough scenes of prison life.
Sound – Mostly just sound effects. Background music is used sparsely and not really noticeable.
Presentation – A quality simulation game full of surprises. Well cared for by the devs.
- Tutorial campaign stories are unexpectedly excellent
- Endless opportunities and surprises
- Graphics are well done
- Can be overwhelming with freedom
- Text slightly harder to read on console version