Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Gary Mullen0
Review: Prison Architect
There’s no question in the last few years the Indie game market on the computer has exploded, we have seen many instant cult classics such as Minecraft but we have seen a few games that better not coming out, Prison Architect is not one of those games and it has the potential to be a cult classic in the tycoon market sharing a lot of similarities as Theme Hospital or Theme Park and is so good this review is actually from an alpha version of the game that has things added on a monthly basis. So what is Prison Architect? Well you are placed in charge of a prison with the task of building a large prison and managing the prisoners while making sure everything in your prison runs smoothly. The building structure of the game is basic but does exactly what is required for this game, you first of all build your foundation for the building(s) and then start building the inner walls to create the rooms to contain our prisoners (can’t have those prisoners running wild can we). When you build the rooms you get a set list of things that must be put in the room to make it live, such as in a cell you need a cell door, toilet and bed. If you fail to add all the things required then the room does not become active until they are in place so things like cells will not accept incoming prisoners (easy to see which rooms are not live as it has a red explanation mark highlighting these rooms).
Once the basic rooms are built you move onto setting up your utilities for your prison making sure the water and power covers the section needed (there no point plumbing the breakout room for example) – this part is very basic and is treated like placing any new wall or object however if the room needs power/water and it’s not provided then the room is non-functioning (this includes toilets in cells – must have water running to them or the cells will not be able to accept incoming prisoners) and thus you will suffer the same problem if the room is missing key features but you are provided with warning to say what missing as you were with any other object. In order to do all this we rely on a friendly user interface which brings back memories of playing Theme Hospital, you have a bar along the bottom with the different sections for building your prison and hiring your staff and you select the object or room you require before dropping it into location. I do sometimes find myself struggling to find certain objects when building rooms (there is a basic filter that should show you the items you need for the room however I would like to see a search function if the list of objects continues to grow as it has been in recent updates) but beyond this it’s suitable for the type of game and is fairly easy to use if you played old style tycoon games. Once you place the markers for the objects you need to wait on the parts getting delivered to your prison then the workmen to do the labour work to place in suitable places, I have wondered if there was any risk of my workmen working in key area and getting harmed however this does not seem to happen which am glad about but at the same time I would have liked to see it happen to force me to plan things more rationally then expand new area in risky situations.
By this point you have got the basic structure of the prison setup and well in time to start accepting the long-term “guests” what’s the worst that could happen? Well you find out how the prisoners behave and they may smuggle in weapons and tunnel their way out, so you need to put things in place to ensure you don’t lose any prisoners as you will get fined for any lost/killed. In one of the screenshots you can see I decided to run a shakedown of my prison which means all object and people are searched, I was alarmed to find a set of jail keys in the list of items found but luckily I got the keys before they planned any breakout, you need to be careful with shakedowns as just like in real life a shakedown does have an impact of annoying the prisoners and this can lead to heated scenes.
You are provided with several ways of dealing with issues in your prison other than a full shakedown, ranging from metal detectors all the way to guards with guns (who you can command to shoot on sight – I may have tested this plan and well lets just say I got a lot of fines for dead prisoners). The metal detectors were one of my key items when building my prison as it stopped so many weapons being snuck around my prison (honestly who would have thought that the prisoners could get up to so much trouble!) and allowed me to run a more secure prison meaning in the long run I needed less guards overall.
The prisoners can come to the prison for a number of offences which can be classed from top security to low security level, this has an impact on how they behave in the prison and how to manage them, your serial killers who have nothing to lose are more likely to bring in weapons and try to stab people so you want to have more guards down at that part of the prison and more scanners compared to the low petty crime people who you need less guards and give some more freedom to go where they want. You can stop accepting all forms of prisoners at anytime if your prison is full or you can limit what type of security prisoners you want, the higher the risk the higher you are paid for the prisoners but remember you need more guards for the top end prisoners who want to fight 24/7.
I found this quite useful as I decided at the start I wanted only low risk prisoners and as my prison grew and got more secure I started upping the security level of prisoners I wanted and the options allowed me to manage this very easily, however best to ensure your prison is up to the level for the hardcore prisoners and was ready to deal with them without too much issues. The final stage in your prisoner management is making sure the prisoners are ready for the big bad world outside, so you have the chance to reform the prisoners, this also makes life a lot easier as this can be used for ensuring the more violent prisoners are calmed down while in the prison if they are run through the courses and pass them. Remember a quiet prison is a good prison. By putting a prison through health and safety training you can set prisoners to work in the prison working in workshops for example can help bring in some much-needed extra cash by selling the products they create whilst also keeping them busy and out of trouble which is a win-win for running the prison! Of course not everything is available at the start and some items needs to be researched in order to unlock the feature, this is normally done by having an admin office and the needed member of staff for the research, there is a slight cost attached to the research however most of them are key in making a large-scale prison such as stronger security or healthcare to help your prisoners both mental and physical health (and guards for when they get injured in the line of duty), of course it’s a prison so the likelihood of having no problems or nobody getting harmed at all are next to impossible so a health care system allows you to treat the injured and try to restore order.
So Prison Architect…. has to be one of my favourite games on the indie marketplace right now, I can save my game and jump back into it when I have 5 free minutes which is not something you can do with a lot of games on the market at the moment, it also feels old school which in many ways I love, when these type of games get too complex I often find myself just turning off and getting annoyed that too many things are happening at the same time whereas I find Prison Architect does not over complex things but gives you enough control and balance to manage what you want.
Summary: love the old school take on tycoon game this offers, all the features of Theme Hospital in the form of a prison game and brings it bang up to date, what more could you ask for?