Thanks to the kind ladies and gentlemen at Introversion Software, I was given some time with their newest creation, currently in alpha form. Prison Architect is, you guessed it, about managing prisoners in a prison. Sound fun? Well if you don’t think so, maybe you should try some of the titles that have quite obviously influenced the newest creation on our doors. Theme Hospital anyone? Maybe a little Dungeon Keeper? Yea, that changed your opinion, now didn’t it!
My busy bees at work.
I’ve been intrigued by this game ever since I saw it at Euro Gamer last year, along with a dollop of info on how the game worked I didn’t have any play time with it until now. This is my story with the game so far to give you an idea about what Prison Architect is, before a review can be completed due to the game still being in alpha.
The tutorial launches the first time you play the game, and it hits you harder than expected. You don’t realise how effective a simple bit of story telling is, until someone gets it just right. The game opens up with you being requested to build an execution block for an inmate who’s been sentenced to death. At this point your thinking, good, the feller must have done something serious. He did, he killed two people in cold blood. So your brain is already in that, he deserves it mode, and you start off thinking you’re doing something good. After constructing the new facility, you get a little bit more info about the prisoner in question. A security guard walks you through the night the prisoner, Edward, committed his crimes. He walks into a house, strange prison doors attached and all. Finds two people doing their thing in the bedroom, you feel bad as you guess what’s about to go down. He walks in on them, the lady realizes he’s there, and low and behold. She’s Edwards wife, screwing some other dude. You suddenly understand, almost like a Shawshank moment. I won’t spoil too much more. Lets just say, the intro really pulls on the old strings to get you invested. Been awhile since a game did that to me, and at the very start too.
Yes, they wash all their bits.
While I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the bugs and stuff, I want to share my experience with game up to this point. I want you guys to see what this game is about, why you may love it or hate it, and finally, why you should either buy the early access version now, or wait until the game is finished and released as a whole package.
So far, that little bit of story at the beginning is all you get. The rest is down to you and your personal experiences. Think of it as a blank book, where your decisions affect you, the inmates you manage and the staff under your employment. This is what forms each and every story within Prison Architect, it’s also what makes them very unique.
I’ve currently tried four times to successfully build a workable prison complex, four times I’ve had to restart and try again. If it’s not prisoners escaping or bad design work, it’ll be running out of money. Money is very finite. You get grants at the beginning to start your first few sections off, after that, you need to make sure you have enough prisoners behind bars to bring in money along with them working in workshops creating a little extra income. If you so much as build a section wrong, you’ll either end up with gaps for prisoners to escape out off, too little room for anything meaningful to fit into the space or make it too big and go way over budget.
Whoops, oh well. They’ll never notice once it’s cooked.
They have recently changed this slightly so as to help with cash flow. Several new features like getting prisoners to clean the prison keep your own costs on staff to a minimum.
Showers, canteens, bogs, beds, walls, windows, desks and chairs. That’s just a taster of what you have to remember every time you build a room. What goes in? Who uses it? How big must it be?
They are all questions you’ll have fun working out in your first few games.
After you’ve gotten accustomed to the layout of the UI, the basics for most rooms and how you want to start the prison off, you’ll stand a much better chance of doing well from the get go instead of ballsing it all up beyond belief.
The first few prisons I built often looked like muddled messes with rooms dotted everywhere, different sizes, equipment skewered around the place and never enough staff. Then you build your fourth or fifth prison and you start to get much more organized, you have plans drawn up in your head, (or on paper, :)) you’ve memorized the building requirements for each room, know exactly where you want each guard stationed and how many doctors you’ll require after a brawl.
Although the tutorial does a decent job of teaching you the basics, learning the rest never seems like a chore. The game has a rather light-hearted feel to it throughout each play session, which never frustrates you, too much, or gets in your way. If you know what you’re doing, then editing, redesigning and recruiting becomes a simple yet quick task that allows you to enjoy the games lighter side without fiddling around constantly.
Who you looking at, fool!
Little things give humour to most of the situations you would otherwise find weird or sad. Like each prisoner has a name, crime or crimes committed list on their bio as well as what security level they are and any hassle they given you since being locked up.
Although I mentioned above that I would keep the topic of bugs to a minimum, I think it is important to anyone who hates bugs to know what awaits them in the current build. From my perspective, Prison Architect is playable for the most part. Bugs do exist and some can screw the game up well and truly, but most of these are fairly rare and with an active community, this game is bug squashing faster than Will Smith in Men in Black.
All in all, Prison Architect brings you into the role of a warden, a job that can easily be fraught with unforeseen complexities. The game gives you plenty of options to build a very customized prison, one that fits your liking and needs. If you enjoyed the two above games mentioned, or just like a little bit of management in your gameplay, then Prison Architect is the game for you. It’s witty, laid back and most of all, fun to play. You can easily lose several hours at a time as you slowly expand and grow to a super prison size complex.
Okay so that brings my little preview to a quiet end. I hope this has enlightened some of you who were on the fence before. Prison Architect is a unique game among the strategy genre, one that since Bullfrogs disappearance, has had little in the way of innovation. This game shows that innovation still exists and brings something fresh to the table. I look forward to the many updates that will likely arrive for Prison Architect in the future and I will enjoy reviewing the game closer to its official full release.