By: Jeff Cater
PC gamers have been snacking on the treat-like Prison Architect for a few years now, but no more! This unique tycoon-like game by Introversion Software and Double Eleven Studios puts you in the position of a CEO overlooking a prison. With the power given to you, you’ll tailor the inmates stay to your liking – whether it’s going to be a super-max pound-you-in-the-booty lockup or more resort-like accommodations.
When a strategy game that’s native to the PC environment comes to converted control schemes users have a right to be scared. Historically, RTS and similar games haven’t translated well and have mostly been a chore to play. Luckily, the Prison Architect team took their sweet time refining the controls for a very comfortable console experience.
Various menus are accessed using the d-pad, while placing objects or modifying options can be done with face buttons. You can also zoom in and out using the triggers to get a closer look at the situation. You can pause or quicken the passage of time as well.
Presentation in Prison Architect is pretty minimalist for the most part. While the detail of the prison grounds offers varied terrain, the prisoners and staff are mostly just floating semi-circles. Some players might prefer a more realistic look in regards to the prison theme, but the character design definitely works for the game.
Speaking of minimalism, the in-game text is absurdly small — unless I’m sitting directly in front of my television, no more than five feet away, I can’t really make out most of the text. On top of that, there’s a ton of it to sift through at the very beginning, which is daunting because it contains a galactic amount of information.
At no point does the text size get much better, so you’re best bets are to either memorize which menu option does what when you push whichever button and getting very familiar with the small icons.
The sound department had an easy time with this one, as most of the sounds are just construction or building effects, until the riots start breaking out. In that case it’s hoots and hollers, screaming and banging, which really help get your blood pumping.
This game is an absolute dream for micro managers. In addition to simply finding housing for inmates, you also have to take into consideration that these prisoners need to eat, shower, have fun and, of course, poop. Once you’ve assembled a set of rooms, they’ll need to be properly connected to utilities like power and water.
Now that inmates won’t be swimming in their own feces in the dark, you’ll have to find ways to keep them busy unless you want to keep them in their cells pretty much 24/7. Do you opt to build a chapel and put the fear of God into them? Or do you build a yard with exercise equipment?
Keep all of your prisoners’ happiness in mind and you’ll have fewer riots and fights. Unless that’s the sort of thing that you crave, then you can build cramped cells and smaller lunch areas so that inmates run out of seats and start fighting with one another over who gets to sit. The possibilities are almost endless for the clever Warden. You could just not let them eat, shower, have fun, or poop.
In fact, Prison Architect is utterly daunting in scope when it really comes down to it. Yes, you can select a prefab prison and work from there, editing it to your liking, but the true Warden will opt to build from the ground up. It’s an extremely long and arduous process but also one that’s unmatched in gratification when things just click and start working.
As noted, you’ll have to supply power and water to things like lights and toilets. Well, you’ll also have to power and provide water to things like washing machines, showers and kitchen tools. Then there’s the delicate balance you’ll have to maintain between power output and supply, and making sure that any given generator isn’t stressed out or on the same circuit as another generator.
All of this consideration on top of what you’ll have to do to provide a paycheck to your guards so they don’t let illicit activities slide. And making sure that gangs aren’t forming… And making sure that a truckload of supplies stops by regularly… Did I mention that it’s daunting?
Then again, “the daunt” is entirely optional because of highly customizable options when starting a game. Prefab or free-form, limited or unlimited budget, and selectable Wardens with different perks like drugging the water supplies or buying cheaper, crappier building materials.
Those are just a few of the things you can tweak, but whether you’re a masochist and building from the ground up or a bit more casual and just want to maintain and observe, the options for a good time are there.
Prison Architect is utterly enjoyable for fans of strategy and tycoon-like games, with a highly customizable experience that is going to be as automated or in-depth as you want. The only real trouble with the game is it often makes it difficult to commit to any direction when trying to decipher the miniscule text.