You have installed a new metal detector at the exit of the cafeteria to curb the theft of cutlery, inmates are irate at the unnecessary search this yields and just as their anger hits boiling point all of your guards have decided it’s time to take a break or patrol some far flung region of your prison. If managing the incessant needs of digital prisoners sounds like your idea of a fun evening then Prison Architect may have you covered.
Prison Architect, from developer Introversion Software, is in early access on Steam and is looking to bring a new edge to the management-sim genre. Now, before we start you are going to have to realise something pretty quickly: The first prison you build is going to be a horrible mess. A horrible, bloody, mess. While I thought I got the hang of the basic controls once I had played through the game’s introduction tutorial, I soon came to realise that actually I had only scratched the surface and my first prison mirrored something similar to the film Bronson – a violent, unmanageable mess – rather than the Shawshank Redemption vision I had in my head.
But what sort of Prison Architect will you be? The game leaves that decision entirely on your shoulders once you’re settled with the basics; Prison Architect allows you to feel good about yourself, you will be able to build reform programs through education and enable prisoners to learn vocational skills through a workshop system that improves their morale and ability to reintegrate with society upon release. And, of course, if they step out of line you can chuck them straight into solitary to separate them from the main body of your population and leave them to rot which, in turn, provides a deterrent to the other prisoners who may be thinking of stepping out of line. Each prisoner you take in to your prison provides a revenue stream for you to continue improvements and is, of course, offset by the amount of danger an extra man or overcrowding your prison may cause. This delicate balancing act is how you’ll spend a lot of your game, earning some extra cash to improve but not wanting to throw too many inmates in at once.
There is a simple tech tree which allows you to slowly introduce new ideas, staff members and rooms to your prison. You may desperately need an infirmary in your prison due to a riot that injured inmates and your staff or you have had a sudden intake of high-risk prisoners which means Patrol Dogs and Armed Guards are in order. Whatever type of prison you decide to build and how fast you need to expand is all down to how you set up the game to begin with. For a more challenging trial you can set it so you have a prisoner intake every single day at 8am and this means you’ll be focusing on some rapid expansion and introducing new cell blocks constantly while having the ability to switch off Prisoner Intake means you will be able to sit back and think about your prison design and put something together that makes sense and works far more efficiently and safely for your staff. You may have prisoners in with your main population that are awaiting execution – these are the most dangerous and likely to revolt because they have nothing to lose and need direct intervention by your guards on a regular basis. You can decide on the level of management you want on individuals and ensure they’re kept separate to the low risk, short stay offenders who may not need as much of your staff’s time.
Prisoners will try and escape or smuggle contraband into your prison, they’ll walk around and take every opportunity to skip out on you by utilising any minor flaw in your prison’s design. But, once the day is over and their time is served, your prisoners will be released, reformed and hopefully willing to contribute to society once again. You can drill down and even micromanage every single need of your individual prisoners. You’ll see how long they have left to serve and and whether they’re likely to reoffend once they are released. You can hire a psychiatrist who will help you manage these needs and build the prison’s daily schedule to ensure everyone gets what they need from their day. It is usually the silly things that tend to foil me in Prison Architect – the prison had expanded so rapidly and I had not thoroughly expanded my kitchen to an appropriate level and, therefore, half my prisoners weren’t eating during the one hour of meal time I had allotted which caused the starving to push back against my guards who struggled to control such a large rabid mob.
Prison Architect’s simple two-dimensional art style feels crisp and responsive and allows the game to run on just about every PC or laptop you may have opening up the (Usual resource intensive) management-sim genre to a whole new crowd. The game looks great and brings a slight comedic twist to the violence and dark nature of running a prison full of incarcerated inmates. The interface is simple and so goes a long way into allowing creativity. With a new room or angle in your prison two clicks away creativity is easily embraced.
There is so much promise in Prison Architect, everything it already offers and the constant, major updates that are consistently pushed to Steam it’s hard to imagine how far the final game will go in polishing the base mechanics and adding new systems for the player to develop and maintain a large scale, working prison. With Prison Architect already tied into the Steam Workshop system you can download different mods and spend a lot of time looking at other people’s work to inspire the direction of your prison. The ability to share your ideas and designs means inspiration is only a click away when you get stuck or how to get yourself out of the corner you have built yourself in too.
Prison Architect is currently in Early Access on Steam and available for the PC, Mac and Linux with prices starting at £14.99 for the base game all the way up too £34.99 for the ‘Name in the Game’ edition which allows you to name a character and write their biography to be featured as a prisoner in the game.