Prison Architect (PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Playstation 4, XBox One, and Xbox 360)

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Managing a prison is a monumental undertaking that I hadn’t really considered before playing this game. Keeping them fed, watered, cleaned, entertained, and busy would all be pretty easy if they weren’t at risk for stealing sharp objects and trying to kill each other. These are the objectives and challenges you face in Prison Architect. Lock ’em up and throw away the key, or try to legitimately reform them? The choice is yours in Prison Architect.

History

Prison Architect was developed by Introversion Software. A small 10 person company spearheaded by Head Designer Chris Delay, Mark Morris, and Thomas Arundel. You might know them from their fantastic party game, Defcon. I don’t think they thought a game about degenerating alliances and nuclear war would be a great party game but they didn’t know my group of friends.

The big thing about Prison Architect’s development was that it was mainely funded by pre-orders. The pre-order offered early access to the game while it updated and creeped closer and closer to its final product. Introversion also gave these early adopters the opportunity to write a custom prisoner bio — which are often poorly written caricatures and silly stories but whatever, they earned it.

Prison Architect was released on October 6th, 2015. It’s competition was Armikrog (PC, Mac, and Linux), Undertale (PC, and Mac), and Warhammer: Endtimes – Vermintide (PC).

Experiences

Going into this I didn’t exactly understand how the prison system worked. I didn’t understand how prisons could enrich or exploit their prisoners. Tired of the prison industrial complex? Tired of how unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction, illiteracy, and mental illness drive otherwise normal people to crime which sends them hurtling toward a jail cell? Think it’s unfair that it provides companies access to cheap labor? Think you can do better? Try building your own prison that’s a legitimate reform center. Or say, ‘screw it’, lock men up, and use their sub minimum wage labor to fuel your own commercial enterprises.

Gameplay

Prison Architect is a Sim Cityesque game except the population you’re managing is openly hostile instead of feigning peacefullness — you can’t tell me all my city’s fires were caused by accidents. You lay foundations, fill rooms with necessary objects and accoutrements, hire staff, and designate which rooms are which. Keeping your prisoners alive is just the bare minimum for your prison. Your prison is also graded on punishment, security, reform, and the health of your prisoners. The better these all are the less likely they are to reoffend and the more likely you are to keep your job.

Punishment and security are simple things to enforce — just don’t leave the armory door unlocked — but reform and health are a risky proposition for a prison. Giving prisoners access to medical facilities, workshops, or instructional programs also leave your prison vulnerable to theft. And a prisoner with his fists is much less dangerous than one with a kitchen knife. So striking the balance between safety and freedom is a tricky proposition that you and your prison will have to tackle.

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Plan well otherwise you’ll end up with a mess on your hands.

Prisoners come in all shapes and variety. They come in low, medium, high, and super max security.These generally serve as a guide to how prone to violence they are. The higher security they are the more likely they are to have powerful traits like quick, volatile, and deadly. But, the higher their security the more you get paid to keep the locked up. They also all have different needs. Some care intensely about their religous needs or their families, others… not so much. Understanding your prisoners and their needs are vital to designing a prison suited to them.

The Gush

One of the things I’ve mentioned on this blog before is my love for creating a perfect machine, so to speak. I find the experience of using the systems of a game to make a perpetuating cycle incredibly enjoyable. And Prison Architect is an ideal opportunity to make that perpetuating cycle. A lot of free time, a hefty army of armed guards, some dogs to sniff for tunnels, and the occasional shakedown mean the prison almost manages itself.

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I only wish I had invented such a precise facility.

Of course there’s no need to build an efficient prison. You can really just have fun with it. Trying to get a prison that looks like a dinosaur or whatever but still functions is worthwhile and fun considering you can post it on Steam’s workshop so everyone can see your bizarre creation.

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Like by building a prison shaped like a turtle.

And once you’ve built your prison, precise or otherwise, you can play in escape mode. Become a prisoner in your own prison, or one chosen at random, and try to get out. Start a riot, start a gang, try to tunnel your way out, fight toward the armory and try to shoot your way out. Have a grand old time… and find the weaknesses of your prison.

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There’s nothing like being on the fun side of a riot.

The Kvetch

Sometimes things in your prison just won’t work. You’ll have set out designated family meeting areas and yet your prisoners won’t go talk to the father whose been waiting for hours. Why? Dunno, the game might be glitching or you might be doing something wrong. The game glitches so wearily often it’s usually impossible to tell. Thankfully it’s usually easy enough to fix, a simple reload usually does the trick. But it’s still a pain.

Sometimes I’ll come face to face with a problem I don’t know how to solve and can’t seem to figure out. I’ll have a prisoner who’s so stronk and crazy that even if I surround him with armed guards he will try to instigate a riot and eat buckshot in response. I keep sending him to solitary but he just keeps trying to break out, prompting more buckshot. And then I can’t get anyone close enough to feed him. At which point he dies of starvation and I get fined 50,000 dollars. It’s not my fault! This guy is high octane feral! At least I got a good story out of it.

The game has got great sound effects but there’s no music. The only noticeable music in the game is the spooky music the game plays before you execute someone. The rest is just a sort of ambiance. Sim City had a kickass soundtrack, why doesn’t Prison Architect get the same treatment?

The Verdict

It’s a little wonky and a little finicky but no matter what I had undeniable fun. I usually like building reform prisons which is very difficult but that makes it all the more challenging. It’s a little pricey at thirty dollars but it’s such a verbose and well thought out sim game that I would say that it’s totally worth it.

Next Week: X-Com: Enemy Unknown.

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