Name:

Prison Architect

Platforms:

PC, Linux, Android, IOS, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Developer:

Introversion Software

Genre:

Simulation, Construction, Management

Publisher:

Introversion Software

Modes:

Single-Player, Sandbox, Story

Release Date:

October 6th 2015

Engine:

 

Reviewer:

Charede

Product Rating:

ESRB: 

Violence, Blood, Sexual Content, Partial Nudity, Drug Reference, Strong Language

Review Score:

92/100 (92%)

Disclosure:

Copy Reviewed: PC, personally bought and played since early access.

Timing: post release

 

From time to time I experience a drought of simulation management games. This often leads me to go down nostalgia road looking for various games from my childhood. Before taking that route, I decided to pop on the Steam store. In doing so, I found Prison Architect and since then been playing it on and off since it's early access release. Much to my delight, the game satisfies my need for a good simulation game in a variety of ways.

 

Prison Architect is a 2D management simulation of a prison. The player control of a running prison and tasked with making it profitable. The player must design the prison and construct buildings. The goal is to keep the prison harmonious while expanding prisoner capacity, increasing profitability and reducing reoffending rates. The game features several modes including standard management mode, story mode and escape mode. In total, you not only get to experience the prison from the side of management but also as a prisoner too.

 

In the game's early access days, several minor issues affected the experience of playing. I could point these out, but I am taking this from the perspective of how the game plays at the time of writing. As of the 37 major updates a majority of the issues I had have been addressed. The Lack of depth in certain areas in particular AI behaviour is no longer the case. Integration of more features such as gangs and random events make for an enjoyable experience and authentic feel and further enhances depth.

 

To be successful, the player needs to meet the various needs of the prisoners. Players also set the prison schedule and can give prisoners jobs if they have the required level of education. How well the prisoner needs, punishment and rehabilitation/education are managed will affect reoffending rates. Reoffending rates are the basis for which your prison is assessed and the measure of success. The game has a significant level of depth and explores an excellent range of aspects of prison life. This provides great immersion and gives you a variety of ways to try and tackle your prisoner's issues.

 

To provide advanced education, facilities and specialist staff you will need to do research. Research is in the Bureaucracy tab and requires funds and time to complete. Research takes the form of a and certain research unlocks more in that path. The technology tree is both logical and rewarding and requires certain staff to start. The time and cost of each piece of research I feel are well balanced, and the cost reflects the later gain.

 

The game feels like a mountain to overcome at the start and a bit of a steep learning curve. On booting the game up, it starts a fresh map and provides little information to help you. There is no proper tutorial in this game. You may find the story mode helpful with a few basics. Expect to make mistakes and restart a lot; it's inevitable in this game. I found restarting was not demoralising, unlike other games I have played which expecta lot of restarts. In Prison Architect you have two options for restarting. There is a normal restart in which you just make a new save file. But there is also the option to sell your current prison forcing you to a new map. This will revert all your technology progress, lose your prisoners and buildings. The benefit is that you gain extra funds to start with based on the value of your previous prison. For example, the default start gives you 30,000 dollars. Whereas a prison I sold the other day gave me just short of 2 million dollars to start. After selling the prison and getting onto the new map, I sold all the trees on the new land. I had an awesome amount of money to start working on a fresh prison with a chance at a new layout. In this game, a restart every now is a good thing. It helps with trying out new ideas, encouraging experimentation and keeping the game fresh. At present, I am messing around with the electronics and trying to automate as much stuff as I can. This should reduce my prison expenses and create a safer max security and death row prison.  Catering to these prisoners impacts on the level of security required and reoffending rates. If you want an extra layer of challenge Prison Architect has the capcity to do this. There is an option for fail states which kick in if you fail to meet certain objectives or have too many escapees etc. Also, there is also the option for disasters. Disasters include fires, virus outbreaks and external policies you need to abide. To survive disasters you will need to react fast. In some cases you many need to implement prison-wide changes to a deadline.

 

On the technical front, Prison Architect performs well. I found it performed well on both a low-end and high-end rig I have. The game should be accessible to a majority of PC gamers with its' low requirements. I have had minimal issues when it comes to crashing and features not working. Frustration had occurred when something I believed to be a bug but was a mechanic not working in a way I expected. With some googling, testing and help from the community, I found the method to do these things. This has particularly pertained to Gang control of zones, zoning and advanced electronics. This due to the lack of tutorial the game has in the standard game mode rather than the game being broken. With time things do click into place, and the community is particularly good with helping. I have however found two genuine major bugs.  The first of which are doors not shutting once you do have prison population. The second is workers behaving normally after a riot or heightened threat. This results in them refusing to install buildings and objects. Both of these issues are fixed by saving the game and then closing and reopening the game. On loading the save the door, and worker behaviour reverts to normal. I have ditched 32 saves over this glitch till I found the solution and was rather frustrating.

 

Graphically the game is not phenomenal, but reasonable. The game would benefit from more animations for actions and a greater range of NPC visuals to distinguish individuals of the same type. I am not saying they are bad, but there needs to be a larger selection. I have had prisoners in the same cell block with a similar appearance to the point where I can't tell them apart.

 

In summary, Prison Architect is a fantastic experience which I have enjoyed a lot. The game has complex mechanics, well detailed and challenging. Mechanically is where this game excels. The many layers of the mechanics and varying complexity offer many routes to achieve your aims. The game is slightly lacking visually but the rest of the game compensates for this well. I am thus rating this game at 92/100. The game has room for improvement but is well put together and sticks to its theme well.

 

 

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