‘Prison Architect’ Review

Platforms PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC Genre Simulation

Platform Played PlayStation 4 Developer/Publisher Introversion Software/Double Eleven

Prison Architect is an entry in the simulation genre that allows players to take up the mantle of a prison owner. Despite the simplistic visuals Prison Architect contains impressive customisation options, allowing players to fine-tune their prison creations with an insane amount of freedom. While the console release of Prison Architect does have a few control issues, the overall release is an entertaining and intricate prison simulator.

Before entering the sandbox creation modes in Prison Architect, I highly recommend players experience the 5 chapter story mode/tutorial levels available. Prison Architect offers a series of tutorial missions that do an excellent job of combining a thought provoking story, while also offering in-depth walkthroughs of the multitude of options players have at their disposal. Prison Architect’s story-based mode is easily one of my favourite tutorial walkthroughs I have ever played. Prison Architect expertly showcased the systems available, while offering an interconnected 5 chapter story that presented a thought provoking narrative on the justice system.

Prison Architect’s story mode consists of achieving goals your supervisor expects, before ultimately giving the player control to harness their new knowledge and create a functional prison complex. The narrative itself is delivered through dialogue conversations and small comic book styled images. While the narrative is basic at its core, the lasting story from each chapter left a thought provoking message regarding the pros and cons of the justice system. Prison Architect’s story mode is an excellent combination of story-based entertainment and tutorial-based missions, which has ultimately set a high standard for other entries in the genre going forward.

While other simulation genre entries offer realistic visuals (SimCity), or over the top cartoon imagery (The SimsPrison Architect offers a barebones visual style. Each character in Prison Architect is simply a shape with a round head on top – and that’s it. Characters simply slide around the world to imitate the art of walking, but the visual style itself is unique and inviting. Due to the simple visual style Prison Architect never skips a beat during full scale 500 prisoner riots, and the basic design actually helps ease players into managing a sensitive real world issue. The simple visual design may make people believe Prison Architect doesn’t offer the same detailed customisation options of other simulation entries; but this is simply not the case.

Prison Architect’s building and managing systems are deeply intricate, and a sound understanding of each system is needed to create a successful prison. Building different structures is simple enough, requiring players to drag across their desired area and start the building process; but it goes much deeper. Each structure will require different items to be fully functional, like how cookers, fridges and bins will be needed to create a fully functioning kitchen. But then consider that each item will either require water or power, the fact cleaners and cooks will be needed to keep the food outtake efficient, and inmates will then need an area that can be used to eat. The smallest creation can mean players must focus on a multitude of other aspects in order to make their initial structure fully functional. It’s within these steps where I found myself losing countless hours of my day to Prison Architect as I tried to account for each next functional step to create an effective prison; which always kept me thinking and planning ahead to keep my prisoners happy.

I’ve barely begun to scratch the depth in-which Prison Architect allows players to explore, as there are also drug rehabilitation programs, education classes, inmate working courses, solitary confinement options, and a plethora of different structures to be built. These options do not even consider the fact players can micro-manage each prisoner to find out the reason they are incarcerated, punish them for breaching prison guidelines and perform prison-wide lockdowns and shakedowns for contraband material. There are so many different programs to maintain that it becomes an impressive juggling act to finally create a fully functioning and profitable complex that is not only rehabilitating prisoners, but also ensuring they don’t return to prison in the future

Originally released on PC the console release of Prison Architect is not without its control flaws, when compared to the ease of keyboard and mouse controls. The main gameplay issues that appear in the console release either relate to the camera, or the ability to place buildings and structures. The camera itself requires constant movement due to the sheer size of certain prisons, which means zoom functions and camera movements are vital. The problem is that the camera will either find itself fixated on a certain point or refuse to move. While the placement of buildings is fine for the most part, there are times where subtle movements will sent the cursor spiraling out of control which caused many bouts of frustration when trying to create well designed locations.

There were even times when after choosing an item I wanted to place the camera would move highlighting the wrong building, which then caused the item I selected to be altered. There were a number of times where this odd instance meant I created the wrong structure, which made a severe dent to my budget. There is also no easy undo option which meant that money was forever lost, and in one cased forced me to abandon my now financially incapacitated complex. Despite those issues, the console version of Prison Architect is a solid PC port; especially considering the sheer amount of options available to the player.

Prison Architect doesn’t expect each player to fall in love with the prison building system, which is why Prison Architect offers players a selection of 10 pre-built prisons to simply begin the simulation process straight away. The 10 prisons offer a great deal of variety and challenge, from smaller prisons built for luxury use, or large supermax prisons with over 500 inmates. But if those 10 options do not suffice Prison Architect also contains the option to download other player created prisons and manage them. Players can almost instantly search, download and investigate other player created designs. The system is flawless and impressively quick, allowing me to download, play and exit a prison in under 30 seconds. This allows for great freedom of exploration and allowed me to manage intricate prisons that I could have never created on my own.

Those wanting to create a prison from scratch can certainly do that in the Prison Architect mode, allowing players to choose the difficulty, size and other options. Prison Architect also allows players to choose from a selection of prison wardens that will offer minor bonuses or extra challenges, but the selection is completely up to you. I appreciated the freedom of control Prison Architect allowed, which meant that if I wanted to start with unlimited money and simply focus on the building elements I could; while I had the option to ramp up the challenge and test my prison managing skills if I so desired. This is a true sandbox mode that gives players the ability to player how they want to play.

There is one main drawback that Prison Architect has compared to other simulation genre entries and that is the lack of overall variety. Despite the prison theme of Prison Architect being extremely intricate, it becomes noticeable that most penitentiaries essentially require the same structures within the first few hours of creation. This is where Prison Architect differs in comparison to a Zoo Tycoon or SimCity release. While players can always experiment with particular animal-based zoos, or uniquely themed cities; Prison Architect is essentially always about people being in prison. While Prison Architect is extremely well made and delivers an immaculate prison simulation experience, without that overall variety the prison motif may become stagnant for simulation genre enthusiasts.

Prison Architect is essentially one of the best simulation releases on current generation consoles. There are an insane amount of intricate options players can customise and manage in order to create their own unique prison system. Players can focus on creating a well maintained prison where inmates are rehabilitated for their future or one where the inmates are forced to change due to poor conditions and fear. In the end Prison Architect does not tell you which is the better option, but instead invites players to make that choice themselves.

Prison Architect is an impressively thought provoking release in the simulation genre, one that is truly delivered in the excellent 5 chapter story/tutorial mode. While the simplistically designed narrative drives players to learn the building and management systems available, the overarching story left me with a thought provoking message in regards to real world issues; which is something I never expected from Prison Architect.

Prison Architect may offer a few cumbersome gameplay issues when compared to the PC release, but the console port is a genuinely enjoyable and entertaining entry in the simulation genre.

The Good

  • Expertly presented story/tutorial mode, with a thought provoking message.
  • Sandbox mode.
  • Intricate managing systems.
  • Excellent range of building options.

The Bad

  • Issues with camera and placement controls.
  • Lacks overall variety when compared to other entries in the genre.

The Score: 8.5