Prison Architect is a simulation strategy game where the player manages and builds a prison. You get to manage just about every aspect from sleeping, rehabilitation programs, guard patrol and so on. Along the way, you are trying to manage the books by keeping costs low but not so low or you end up getting a riot to deal with.
The building aspect of Prison Architect for me was one of the more enjoyable parts of the game. You start off with a limited budget and a huge chunk of land to build a prison on. You have things like utilities, recreational, rehab, punishment, containment, and a bunch of other aspects to build around.
While it is tempting to build a barebones prison with just cells and allow the place to fill up overcapacity. Not only will that end up hurting the bottom line you will end up having murder, escape, and phone calls from the major breathing down your throat for making him look bad among other things.
Instead, you start to view each area you build as different wings or as the game calls it blocks. Prisoners have a bunch of needs like using the bathroom, showering, eating, laundry, a yard and so on that they want to have to remain as happy as one could in the type of prison you end up building.
I loved thinking about how can I design an area so prisoners could efficiency in a timely matter have all of their needs met. Just building one massive building on the entire map and placing a Canteen (the area to eat) on one end and the jail cells on the other create inefficiency in distance traveled, guards having to open doors for prisoner movement, and not everyone gets to eat.
Food, as you can imagine in a place like a prison, is quite a fundamental aspect to meeting the needs of prisons. If you can’t even do that I timely matter you are just one mob boss away from him not getting to eat until you have a riot on your hands.
On top of that, you have different risk levels of prisoners. Everything from people who have committed white-collar crimes who can be in low secured areas to flat out murders that need to be in a supermax cell block. Needless to say, you don’t want these two different populations mingling in the canteen where someone could get stabbed and murdered.
There are also other elements of building to manage like water and electricity. While it’s not over the top they do give you heat map to see where these types of systems are and that also makes it easier for connecting toilets to the water pipeline, and build out underground powerlines when needed. All of which could be exploited to cause mayhem in the prison itself if they fail.
You also have external forces to keep in mind when it comes to prison layouts as well. Like when visitors come to visit someone in jail. How easy or hard would it be for emergency services like the fire department to gain access to part of the building that is on fire? You also have the day to day workers who need to come and go at a reasonable rate to get their jobs done.
While the building aspect has a lot to think about. It’s also one of those things where if you just want to try and see what happens to go on and enjoy the total chaos that is unleashed into the ecosystem you were creating. It had enough depth for someone like me to enjoy hours of planning things out while also not making it over mundane either.
Management And Policy
While building plays a major part in what options you have to manage there was a lot to think about. If you go overboard in cracking down on things you could have a riot. If you were to free and outgoing drug usage, murder, and escaping would be on the rise. This ends up creating this odd relationship where you need to give a little and get a lot fewer issues in the process.
Developing a decent management system placed an interesting layer of protection so last resorts mechanics like using locked doors and fences to keep prisoners in would not even be tested. While it’s jail if you could make them happy enough with some slight scheduling changes and other things that don’t cost much if any money that is perfect.
Prison Architect gave you enough micromanagement abilities if you really wanted to target a single individual in the prison you could. Perhaps a snitch gave information on someone having a weapon or drugs. That person could be selected for a search. Once you have hundreds of people to manage that make it quite an ineffective approach if you have too many at once.
You could also do a massive shakedown of the prison searching for contraband if you felt things were getting out of hand or it had been a while. That as a result could anger quite a lot of people all at once so using the macro-management approach.
Then you had stuff like placing dog units or guards to go patrolling in certain areas. Outside of the added costs of wages, this gave you increase control and chance to catch something while it was in the act. Much better than someone tunneling out and you looking like a fool for having so many escapes in a day.
You could also manage when the overall prison population could perform a certain task. This, for instance, was many basic tasks like eating, working, showering, sleeping, and even going out to the yard. For me, it was fun changing the lengths of time for an activity and seeing what results that caused on needs being met or not.
They also gave you different door types. So instead of having to assign prison workers each individually access or have a guard let them into a more restricted area you just needed to put down a worker door for instance. Sure it’s not as secure as a prison door but it saves time while still restricting access to those who should not be somewhere.
I liked the fact that you were given enough in-game options to control large aspects of the day to day life in the prison. While also not making it an endless micromanagement game where you can’t get anything else done unless you have things paused. It was nice to know unless things got really out of hand I had things in place where I could walk away for a short time.
Grants and Funding
It was also interesting how reliant funding my operations where on acquiring grants, accepting new prisoners, and dealing with my daily upkeep costs. Things had an interesting risk to reward. If you got too greedy you could have a snowball effect that ended up costing you more than it was worth pressuring.
You might have the grant to build classrooms as a part of the education and rehabilitation program. That costs money to maintain daily with staff members and supplies. It has set up costs just to build, and you also have to think of security issues such a program could pose as well. Classrooms not the most deadly thing prisons could get access to stuff in (mostly).
Some of the grants, for instance, wanted you to build a workshop where the prisoners could manufacture license plates. That also gives them access to the tools to do that job which could very easily go missing. Maybe they will use that tool to dig a tunnel to escape, in a murder, or even an attack on a staff member.
They also give you grant money for increasing the capacity size by building out different cell blocks. Increasing the population you were trying to manage had its own risks as a simple altercation in one part of the prison could lead to a full out lockdown and riot police being called in to secure and reclaim the entire prison.
Money was not that hard to acquire as long as you stayed cash positive. I did have an instance where I was building out a new cell block and underestimated the costs to do so which slowed up my plan in getting paid the full grant quickly. Before you know it you are firing staff members and cutting back on programs trying to balance the books out. All because you wanted some quick cash from a grant or took other financial risks.
The part of the game I was not expecting was the detail and effort put into a storyline as you learned about the game and the different scenarios overall the game had. The game didn’t need it but it added another layer of depth and meaning when dealing with certain prisoners.
A good tutorial in a game is one you don’t view it as such. They took the player from the very basics and slowly increase everything they had to manage. While doing so they gave you quite the plot of betrayal, murder, and a grab for power to enjoy as you played and learned about the game. I wish more games could pull that feat off.
Some of the cut scenes where somewhat brutal but fell in line with the crime the person committed. It gave the player an understanding of the mindset even in some cases of why someone did something. While also showing it in an uncut way where you did not have too much sympathy either as the prisoner just murdered someone in cold blood.
If what is in-game is not enough the Steam Workshop is also enabled to further expand out gameplay. It looks like people have spent a fair amount of time creating custom scenarios, and ways to change the game. I love it when a game developer allows players and modders to easily come together when using this feature on Steam.
While this game would have been good enough without scenarios in it. It adds quite a lot of character and soul to what is going on. It gives the player a sense of background and makes you wonder what other crazy things transpired for a prisoner to have been convicted on the things they are severing time for. Mob boss or not I’m sure some interesting stories could be made behind many of those serving time.
Prison Architect is one of those games where you can put a lot of thought and plan behind every action you make or not and see what happens. While it’s fun when everything is running smoothly as you planned. Things kick up to an eleven once a fire breaks out. Along with you having a massive riot underway and have no eyes on the inside in what madness has transpired. That is just one of many things that occurred during my time as a Prison Arctect.
Other Game Reviews
- Plague Inc Evolved Jurassic World Evolution Viscera Cleanup Detail