Prison Architect – PC (Alpha Release)
Developers: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
Alpha Release Date: September 25, 2012 (updates monthly)
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Princess Psych
If you thought that a simulation game about running a prison would be boring, well everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Prison Architect takes management simulations to absurd addiction levels and causes someone to play 18 hours of it in two days (spoiler alert: it was me). Prison Architect is a perfect game for those moments when you have too much time to do nothing but not enough time to start something, and can also be enjoyed for hours at a time.
The time system in the game allows you to pause the flow of time, useful for placing your utilities. You can double your speed and even triple the flow of time when you’re waiting for a foundation to be built or just waiting for your prisoners to sleep through the night.
Interestingly enough you start the tutorial by creating a situation you very well may never have to use in the real game: an execution. That’s right, you start the game, by killing someone. This serves as your tutorial, where the C.E.O. takes you step by step through the highlights of the game, how to build a cell, how to add rooms and objects, how the utilities work, and how to move people around when needed. While the tutorial doesn’t cover everything in the game, it’s a nice start to the most important aspects. When you actually get to the rest of the options you can do you may find yourself a little lost and confused. While the game gives you some help through their grant list, telling you the important buildings to build and people to hire, they don’t exactly tell you how to do those things. But fear not, the Prison Architect Wikipedia is just a click away.
After you learn how the day-to-day operations of a prison work, you’re given your very own along with a sum of money to start the game. And from there, well, you can do anything. If you’re the kind of person who’s goal oriented and needs something to work for, or you just need more money fast, then there are grants you can get for completing certain goals, such as having a set number of prisoners pass an education class. If you just wanna play around and do whatever then you’re all set.
The money system pays you a sum every hour, equaling to your daily profits displayed at the top of the screen along with other useful information. Your daily profits is a combined total of the number of prisoners you have and their security level, and up to 10,000 for days elapsed without any incidents, with deductions for worker’s wages and other operating expenses. So if you don’t want to go around doing all the grants to get extra money for that decked out security system, then your best bet is to get as many prisoners as you can and try to keep your staff to a bare minimum. This system has its risks however. First of all, your staff needs rest. If anyone spends too much time on the job without being able to take a break (through use of the break room) then they will become exhausted and be less effective at their job, meaning less food produced from cooks and less physical force from your guards. If you keep your prisoners compliant, making sure they’re happy and comfortable, then at the worst you’ll have a dirty floor and a tired staff. However, if you’re planning on doing the opposite and making your prisoners miserable and shut-down, you could run into a lot of trouble.
After you hire a psychologist, you’ll be able to see the needs of your prisoners, and if you hire a security chief you can see your danger level on the top information bar. You’ll notice a correlation between the needs of the inmates and the danger level. When the inmates don’t get their needs met, they become violent. They’ll try more escape attempts and will attack staff and each other. And if you have a low staff that are all exhausted, you may not be able to contain the outbreak.
There are other tools at your disposal. Once you unlock firearms from the bureaucracy menu you can hire armed guards and allow your normal guards to carry tasers. There are three options from the start of the game, all real tools used in real prisons. The shakedown makes your guards go through the whole jail searching every nook and cranny and every prisoner, taking all found contraband and dealing out punishments (which you can control later on in the game). The Lockdown automatically locks all doors which is useful for if you’ve got a large scale escape attempt. The bang-up sends all willing prisoners back to their cells, which can protect them from riots and also get them out of your way if there’s an issue you need to fix.
If you still find yourself short on cash, then you should invest in a workshop and various classes. Once you unlock education you can teach education classes, workshop classes, and cooking classes. After prisoners take, and pass these classes, you can put them to work. They can make license plates and superior beds. And if you’re trying to keep your staff wages down, you can make prisoners cook and clean for your jail.
Now, no two people will run their prison the same. You can change everything from scheduling, to placement of guards, to building locations – it’s all yours to control. While there are many ways to play the game there are two main ways that I’ve noticed to play. You can be a beneficial god, giving your prisoners lots of free time and cozy cells. After all, who would want to run away from jail when you get three square meals, the newest novels, and learn some skills too? Or you could be maleficent (no not the dragon) and run a tight ship, with lots of armed guards and only one meal a day with lots of work and, well, more work. After all, who’s crazy enough to run away with 50 guns and 40 dogs aimed at them?
Now everything isn’t cookies and candy (I mean this is a jail right?). There’s a lot of different menus to get to where you want to go, and sometimes you don’t even know where to go in order to accomplish a task. You’ve got the building menus which aren’t terribly hard to navigate, but then there’s the bureaucracy menu.
In this you have to hire different people, such as wardens and foremen, then make sure you provide them an office. After they have a place to work you can use them to unlock different aspects of the game such as firearms and education. Then in your report menu you’ve got a bunch of useful things such as finance so you can see the details of your profits and losses. The overwhelming amount of choices can make your first play through a bit hectic.
And while the utilities section is easy enough to understand sometimes you just can’t reach that last light or shower head which can become very frustrating. The main problem comes with the water pump, where the large pipes carry a lot of water but small pipes run out of steam eventually. Prisoners can dig into large pipes and escape that way but they can’t through small pipes. So you’re either stuck building a bunch of small cell blocks so the small pipes can reach all the cells, or you run the risk of escapes.
And of course if you are goal-oriented then after a few hours you’ll find yourself out of grants and forcing yourself to come up with your own fun goals to accomplish. The last accomplishment you unlock is for making your prison able to hold 1,000+ prisoners. Which can take quite some time and will most likely require you to save up $80,000 and buy some more plots of land.
If you were hoping for this game to have some addicting music to go along with the addicting game play then you’ll be sadly disappointed. The game is relatively quiet, with only various sounds of showers and stoves going off when used and the sometimes annoying sounds of doors being opened.
If you’re looking for a game that is quickly addictive, allows you to play in any way you want, and gives you the option to follow goals or not then Prison Architect is the game for you.
Some starting tips:
Build a fence around the perimeter of your jail, it’s free and hinders any escape attempts from before you get everything set up.
Build your generator in an open space and don’t put any walls up close to it, otherwise you’ll run out of room for extensions and have a difficult time getting power to where you need it.
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