Prison Architect PS4 Review
Publisher: Double Eleven Developer: Introversion Software, Double Eleven
Genre: Management Simulator Players: 1 Age Rating: 16+
Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, Xbox 360
Prison Architect can only be described in one word – frustrating. As someone who is a fan of simulators, I prefer the instructions to be easy to grasp, but that isn’t the case with Prison Architect. The developers incorporated a story with a total of five chapters, which is essentially used as a very long tutorial, and it throws a mammoth amount of information and instructions at you. By the time I reached the third story, I still hadn’t quite got to grips with the basics, and there I was trying to get prison rioters under control, directing firemen as they put out blazes in the cells and guiding around armed guards to slap some sense into the fighting inmates. Needless to say, despite the tutorial trying to break down the instructions into digestible sections, at times it still felt completely overwhelming and despite its best efforts, I still felt the instructions were vague and didn’t cover some of the controls, and it did leave me floundering and exasperated at times. However, despite the unclear instructions, I was determined to stick with it and I soon found myself hooked; it is a very addictive game and one that has oodles of detail that really goes to great lengths to make you feel like you are a manager of a prison.
Prison Stories – as the tutorial is called here – follows various criminals and their backstories as you get to grips with the control setup. The chapters each break down the controls as a way to help you easily understand what you must do in the main game. You are given guidance by a CEO or other person of authority and they leave you with a to-do list, goals you must complete in order to finish the chapter. These goals range from building certain rooms to setting up special programs for the prisoners to follow, to employing a certain number of staff, and so on. The stories don’t have much depth to them as they are only there to accompany the tutorial, though are nicely presented and do give you a sense closure as you move from one to the next, with some stories connecting to the previous ones. There’s not much to say about characters as, again, they are only there to drive the tutorial, though it is fun to see the blocky characters moving around on-screen through the prison, and through flashbacks, as their story unfolds in the form of photographs. It’s certainly a novel way to present a tutorial and one that makes it more interesting to follow rather than the usual straightforward instructions most games throw at you.
The tutorial though is the game in a nutshell and sees you making all kinds of decisions, from the best placement of different rooms, to keeping on top of your prisoners needs in order to prevent chaos, undertaking prison shakedowns to find pilfered items, to hiring staff, setting up prison programs and regimes, deciding how many inmates to take into the prison, unlocking essential items to be used in the prison such as cameras, guard dog handlers, tasers, and handling and managing your finances. You’ll also have to be aware that some inmates will also try to make a break for it, stealing keys during riots and even digging tunnels out of the prison. There’s certainly a lot do to and Prison Architect is a game that can be played in long or short bursts, and would even make a good game for a handheld console, a game in which you can be as lenient or as tough as you would like with your inmates, running the prison with proper management and keeping everything under control, or messing around with the inmates, taking away essential items and causing utter mayhem. It’s a much more difficult tutorial than you would expect, again, thanks to the vague instructions, though the 5th story could almost serve as a full game in itself, giving you free reign to do whatever you would like. It gives you a great insight into how you must run a prison though, so the tutorial, as frustrating as it can be at times, certainly serves its purpose.
However, the tutorial is only optional, and if you are brave enough, you can tackle the main game blindly, if you wish. You have a choice of starting two modes, either Prison Architect, the main game in which you build and run your prison from scratch, or Prison Warden, in which you can choose from multiple pre-built prisons and begin running it straight away, though are set up in a way that will have you facing many challenges, such as overcrowding or prisoners being left to their own devices. Thankfully, upon starting a mode, you can change the difficulty settings and can choose from County (Easy), Federal (Normal) or Super Max (Hard), though you can also customise settings, choosing how much money you start with, what type of warden you want to use, prison size, and you can also generate certain aspects of the environment, such as adding forests, lakes and buildings, which you can develop from.
There is also DLC content available; Prison Architect: All Day and a Night contains 8 new wardens, 8 new prison maps, 8 new plots that enables you to expand your prison and new characters that will truly put your prison management skills to the test and comes at an extra cost of £7.39. The DLC also has new locations for you to set your prison, including Alcatraz Island, based on the infamous San Francisco-based prison which inspired the game. World of Wardens is a mode in which you are also able to share your various prisons with other players, though you will need to sign up for a Double ID and will receive two new wardens in return for using this feature.
A PC port, there is also the worry that a PC game on a console will experience dodgy controls, though thankfully I experienced none of that with Prison Architect, with the controls handling very smoothly, with no lag or crashes to be had. The only issue I really had was with camera angles and, at times, I thought it could do with some type of map rotation or panning system to allow you to see if your objects are properly placed in the environment for inmates to use. Other than this, Prison Architect makes for a very fun, challenging game and if you enjoy simulators, then this is definitely one to try, a game that gives you freedom to do whatever you wish.